He has called himself “TBE” the best ever. His most passionate fans will ascertain that he’s indeed the best and then some. His detractors argue that he manufactured his career by picking his opponents through meticulous matchmaking. The truth lies somewhere in between his prodigious boxing skills and the business model he manufactured and perfected.
“Boxing has always been independent contractors vying for their own short term interests, often times at the expense of the long time health of the sport” said HBO Boxing Analyst Max Kellerman in an interview with EsNews. Kellerman explains the state of boxing with the tragedy of the commons, a sociology/economics theory that essentially argues when there is open access to something whether a field, a fishing ground, etc… and there are no regulations, it can become easy for someone to take advantage of the situation and profit off the anarchy while hurting everyone else.
How does this theory tie in with the state of boxing? Well some would argue that Floyd Mayweather Jr. made boxing better for the fighter despite the lack of rules and structure, and in many ways he has.
The stories of promoters robbing their fighters are a dime a dozen… “They stole like 16, 17, 18 million from me, I never got to see my money,” said former junior middleweight champion Ricardo Mayorga in an interview on his former promoter Don King. Mayorga is not the only one who has accused King of stealing their hard earned money. “Iron” Mike Tyson had his tussles with King claiming he robbed him of millions.
“You can talk about Don King, you can talk about Bob Arum, to me those guys are thieves,” said Mayweather in an interview with FightHype.com
Promoters for many years were able to make millions off their fighters due to this lack of structure. As Kellerman said boxing is really just a group of independent contractors seeking to maximize their interests. Mayweather flipped the script and became his own boss cementing his legacy upon his defeat of Oscar De La Hoya.
He soon transformed from “Pretty Boy” to “Money” and further cemented himself as the top draw in boxing. As he toppled Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Victor Ortiz, Shane Mosley, and Miguel Cotto he cemented himself as the man, he would never again be the B-side.
Upon signing his record breaking deal with Showtime, Mayweather set in motion a new business-model that brought him incredible success and further added to his undefeated streak. Mayweather picked all his opponents carefully while maximizing profit and reducing risk. Mayweather became the ultimate A-side fighter, no matter what fight he was in he would always call the shots. Where promoters in the past would take advantage of the fighter with complete disregard for the fighters’ health and safety, Mayweather gave ownership back to the A-side fighter.
While this all sounds very positive, it has also been incredibly detrimental to the sport. Mayweather fought substandard opposition in the final stretch of his career with the exception of Manny Pacquiao, and a very young Canelo Alvarez en route to his 50-0 career and there was no way of stopping him from doing so. In other sports the promoter or central authority would mandate that the best fight the best.
Mayweather in essence became bigger than boxing, the last major star outside of Manny Pacquiao, this “lineal A-side” brand gave him so much power that it turned the boxing world upside down.
The model he constructed in essence is become the top dog and call all the shots…pick who you fight, where you fight, how you fight (gloves), and even when you fight (Cinco de Mayo weekend and Mexican Independence day weekend). The tragedy of the commons is no longer that promoters take advantage of their fighters for their own reward, but that the lineal A-side takes advantage of the lack of central authority to make substandard fights at his command while pulling all possible strings to tip the scale in his favor.
While this is great for the lineal A-side all other fighters are getting the short end of the stick. Fighters in Mayweather’s era were waiting to hit the Mayweather sweepstakes and make some money by fighting Floyd or even Pacquiao, but the sweepstakes was never about matching the best with the best. Therein lies the large downside to this model, fights happen, but are they the best fights possible? If your answer is no, that’s a safe bet.
This is not to discredit Mayweather’s career, many of his critics forget about his defensive wizardry and matrix like skills, he’s an amazing fighter who deserves to be in the hall of fame. It’s just the model he introduced while it benefits the lineal A-side, it deprives the sport of quality fights that could be made if a fighter were mandated to do so.
Many would argue that the new “lineal A-side” is Canelo Alvarez. He dictates who he fights, when he fights, how they fight, and where they fight. He has taken over the dates Mayweather previously owned and runs a similar business/career model to him. After his controversial draw with Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in September we are all eager to see who wins the Canelo Sweepstakes in May. The bright side, however, is that it does indeed seem that Canelo has a vested interest in fighting boxers that are legitimate threats to his crown.