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Don’t Hate the Player. Hate the Game.

Floyd Mayweather may retire later this year as the only boxer to take more from the ring than he left in it. And for that we hate him.

Mayweather won more enmity in winning the most lucrative fight in history on Saturday night. For twelve rounds, Mayweather shoulder-rolled, pot-shotted, held, dodged, weaved, and ran his way to victory over Manny Pacquiao. Pretty Boy Floyd isn’t pretty. He refused to trade and rarely threw combinations, yet, in the words of Sherdog.com, “dominated” a bout in which his opponent looked the same leaving the squared circle as he did entering it.

Boxing really offers no precedent for Floyd Mayweather. Twenty-eight years ago, partisans of Marvin Hagler derided Sugar Ray Leonard for running and holding his way to a points victory. But Leonard looked like a rock-‘em-sock-‘em robot in comparison to Saturday night’s Floyd. Sugar Ray exchanged with Hagler, relied on combinations, and took the bigger man’s best shots against the ropes. Until Floyd Mayweather came along, Leonard’s upset over the Marvelous One stood as a memorable example of a fighter winning by avoiding the fight. After Mayweather-Pacquiao, any such talk sounds like a slur against Leonard.

The public displays a schizophrenic approach toward boxing. We love boxers who brawl. We hate boxing for what it does to brawlers. Mayweather, because he uses his brain in the ring, ensures that he gets to use his brain once he decides to stay outside the ring. Why hate a man for refusing to risk degenerative neurological disease for our pleasure?

Because he bores rather than brawls, many boxing fans despise Floyd Mayweather. But it’s not his job to stick his chin in front of Manny Pacquiao’s glove and let him hit it. Money may not exhibit much in the way of effective aggression or clean and hard punching, particularly at this stage. But as far as ring generalship and defense go he fights as the master. Defense doesn’t win fans but it does win fights. Simply put, Floyd always wins fights because on defense he is “The Best Ever.”

The self-proclaimed “Best Ever” made headlines prior to the Pacquiao match by one-upping an interviewer’s question comparing him to Muhammad Ali by saying his career actually eclipses the Greatest’s. The Floyd haters reacted as though Mayweather had blasphemed the Marquess of Queensberry rather than merely noted that 47-0 > 56-5.

Critics jeer that Floyd Mayweather, now one win away from Rocky Marciano’s vaunted mark of 49-0, is no Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, or even Aaron Pryor. They’re right for the wrong reasons. Floyd Mayweather never lost, never tasted the canvas, and, most significantly for the purposes of this discussion, shows not a hint of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or dementia pugilistica of any sort. His face bears no ugly scar tissue the way Miguel Cotto’s does. God and not some goon gave him the nose he wears. His smile evokes Tom Cruise and not Leon Spinks. His voice does not grow huskier or slower in cadence.

ESPN Classic may never play a single Floyd Mayweather bout 25 years from now. But if they roll out Mayweather-De La Hoya or Mayweather-Castillo, two of his more entertaining competitive bouts, a 63-year-old Floyd will be able to cogently offer commentary on his activities in the ring from decades earlier. Can you say that about Meldrick Taylor?

Mayweather, the son of a defensive boxer who endured prison and a gunshot wound but not a great deal of punishment between the ropes, knows more than most the perils surrounding the sport.

And if he didn’t learn them from his dad, he could have looked at past opponents. Arturo Gatti and Diego Corrales, combatants in the two best fights this century who coincidentally both lost in lopsided fashion to Mayweather, died before reaching Floyd’s current age.

He could look to men who held his belts before he did. Fellow lineal lightweight champions Alexis Arguello and Edwin Valero both killed themselves. Hector Camacho, who held titles in three divisions in which Mayweather boasted belts, and Vernon Forrest, who wore the same WBC junior middleweight crown that Mayweather did, died at the hands of gunmen.

He could look across the ring. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach shakes and speaks under a strain. The former gatekeeper, after a 53-fight career, likely suffers from Parkinson’s disease brought on by punishment in the ring despite retiring before his 27th birthday.

Few casual fans laying down $90 will return anytime soon based on what went down in the MGM Grand Arena. Floyd may have damaged the sport Saturday night. But the sport didn’t damage him. This makes him different from Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Riddick Bowe, and a majority of elite fighters who at one time commanded the attention of millions.

Dislike Floyd Mayweather for dodging Manny Pacquiao for the last decade rather than for dodging him for 36 minutes. Detest the boxer for transforming into a brawler in his unsanctioned, untelevised, intergender matches against outmatched, unwilling competition. Disparage him for his obnoxious materialism. Deride him for facing Shane Mosley only when age faced him first, for taking on an unheralded Henry Bruseles when better suitors awaited, and for jumping at the chance to fight Angel Manfredy, Emanuel Augustus, Arturo Gatti, and other fan favorites who brought popularity but not a challenge to the ring against Floyd.

But loathe the man for putting his health ahead of our entertainment?

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

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