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This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
These days, the serial documentary is a routine feature of the buildup to big fights, same as splashy posters, contentious news conferences and tense staredowns at the weigh-in.
But in 2007, HBO's 24/7 docuseries was a novel addition to the pre-fight hype process, turning fighters from athletes known mainly to sports fans into characters who could appeal to a broad cross-section of viewers, get them invested in storylines, and rope them into buying the fight.
The first 24/7 series introduced casual fans to Floyd "Money" Mayweather — loud, rude, arrogant, and sensationally skilled — before his blockbuster bout with Oscar De La Hoya. Mayweather, previously nicknamed "Pretty Boy," turned heel and wore the black hat with pride and panache, stoking spectator hatred that he would turn into pay-per-view buys for the rest of his career.
And 24/7 introduced non-boxing fans to Roger Mayweather, Floyd's uncle, trainer, and a former world champ in two divisions, whose lightning-fast right hand earned him the nickname "Black Mamba" while Kobe Bryant was still in grade school. Roger Mayweather understood the allure of the idea that the heroes on the B-side of these fights could teach his villainous nephew a lesson in humility. But he also knew the sport, and, in one early 24/7 episode, expressed a level-headed truth.
"Most people don't know shit about boxing," he told HBO's cameras. "At all. Period."
That analysis explains the otherwise inexplicable interest in the eight-round exhibition match this past Sunday between Floyd Mayweather, 44 years old and retired from competitive boxing, and Logan Paul, a 26-year-old YouTube celebrity who outweighed Mayweather by 34.5 pounds, but had lost his only previous sanctioned boxing match. What other sport could persuade consumers to pay retail prices to watch a competition between a middle-aged retiree and a novice?
The Roger Mayweather Theory also helps us make sense of the post-fight disappointment many spectators expressed.
Sunday's exhibition ended with boos from people in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium in suburban Miami, as if pairing a grandfather and a social media influencer in a boxing ring would yield anything besides awkwardness. Paul had a reach advantage, but couldn't land a jab. He had a size advantage but could only use it to absorb punches that might have dropped someone smaller, or to drape himself over Mayweather whenever the former world champion worked his way to close range.
To the extent that anyone landed punches, it was Mayweather, speed and skill dulled with age, but still sharp enough to puncture Paul's porous defence.
Which is the point.
Logan Paul, as much as he trains, is not a pro boxer. Mayweather, as much as he has accomplished, has been retired since 2017. Each man is only as good as his limitations. Keeping that reality in mind the next time somebody proposes a fight like this might keep a damper on demand, or at least help us dial back expectations.
But, even though Mayweather is in his mid-forties and Paul is winless, and both safety and common sense suggest they should both do something else with their futures, we should brace for more bouts like this. This current wave of novelty bouts hasn't crested yet. World champion strongman Hafthor Bjornsson is boxing now — an exhibition against a boxer last week, with another scheduled against fellow strongman Eddie Hall. Logan's brother, Jake Paul, has signed to box retired MMA fighter Tyron Woodley in August. A June 19 card in Mexico will pit faded boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. against former UFC star Anderson Silva, with a Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. exhibition on the undercard.
Richest fighter in history
We don't know whether novelty bouts are here to stay, but they're here for the summer, and probably beyond.
That setup suits Logan Paul, who boasts nearly 44 million combined followers on YouTube and Instagram. They have proven they would pay to watch him fight anything. A parking ticket. A cold. A feeling.
It might not suit Mayweather, who has been boxing since childhood, but he might struggle to break the cycle he established with his win over De La Hoya. He became the richest fighter in history by riling up the public against him, then selling his opponent as the person who could beat him into humility. Each win would increase the demand to see him lose, and as long as he's undefeated that desire remains unrequited. Until somebody pummels him, a market will exist to see people try.
Mayweather understands that dynamic, and cashed in on it in 2017, when he collected a $100 million US guarantee, and millions more in pay-per-view revenue, to pound on UFC star Conor McGregor. In late 2018 he pocketed a reported $9 million more to starch Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Yasukawa in an exhibition.
And then came the Paul matchup, calculated to project the appearance of risk. Paul is a former high-school wrestling star who still ripples with muscles. He trained for this fight in Dorado, Puerto Rico, sharing a gym with Montreal's Jean Pascal, who was scheduled to compete on Sunday's undercard before he flunked a drug test, but who vouched for Paul's boxing skills.
"For a guy who only has two fights, he's very good," Pascal told the New York Times before the failed drug test. "He's very athletic and has good cardio."
Few Paul punches landed
Mayweather, of course, presented a smaller target, so Paul missed most of his punches on Sunday. And, predictably, Mayweather baited Paul into some big shots, including a right hand to the forehead that had the younger man teetering. The replay appears to show Mayweather catching Paul, then propping him up so the fight could continue. From there, the exhibition sputtered to an anti-climactic finish. Predictable if you had reasonable expectations, but frustrating if you're that sports fan Roger Mayweather described, and had talked yourself into expecting something special.
For Paul, simply lasting eight rounds felt like a win.
Mayweather expressed happiness with the outcome, but his body language in the post-fight interview hinted at frustration.
"I'm not 21 anymore," Mayweather said Sunday night. "But it's good to move around with these young guys."
Translation: I'm too old for this.
Except, offers will probably keep coming, because seeing Mayweather labour with an oversized hobbyist isn't the same as seeing him humbled by a thorough beating. As he moves deeper into middle age, Mayweather will need to decide if the money in these exhibitions justifies the risk of injury, and the inconvenience of training.
Because these bouts are exhibitions nobody wins, technically. And the only guaranteed losers are the viewers who spent real money, and tuned in with expectations.
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