Mayweather Disease Affects us All
To the average sports fan who occasionally glances at the boxing page on your average sports website, the world of boxing must appear like a circus or a soap opera, except unlike professional wrestling it’s far from scripted. Instead it’s real life, in all its senseless, chaotic messiness, and about as satisfying too. Take for instance all the craziness swirling around the proposed Brandon Rios vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa match-up, which had boxing fans salivating at the prospect of two undefeated, emerging superstars going head to head with everything on the line.
When Top Rank announced the bout just over a month ago, setting April 14 as the date for this clash between two of boxing’s most exciting young talents, the buzz was how, in what was shaping up to be a year of terrific matches – Alexander vs. Maidana, Ortiz vs. Berto II, Cotto vs. Mayweather, Khan vs. Peterson II, Pacquiao vs. Bradley – this was perhaps the most intriguing of them all. But of course it was too good to be true. Just as promotional efforts began to shift into high gear, Gamboa unexpectedly pulled out of the proposed contest. Showing an uncharacteristic flair for the dramatic, the Cuban exile let everyone know of his intentions not to fight by failing to show for scheduled press conferences in Miami and Los Angeles. The Miami press event had been reportedly requested by Gamboa, a Miami resident, and an awkward situation ensued when the press, Rios, and representatives from Top Rank and HBO showed up, but Gamboa did not. Everyone hoped “The Cyclone” would come to his senses and resurface at the Los Angeles conference the next day, but he (ahem) blew that one off as well.
The circumstances surrounding this debacle do not bode well for the fans or for the health of the fight game. More and more, the sport is being overshadowed by the feuds between the different promotional factions and the bad blood which continues to boil between Bob Arum and Floyd Mayweather Jr. The hatred and contempt these two former associates have for each other is the real reason we will likely never see Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in the same ring. And it now appears that their vendetta is spilling over and affecting other attractive matches. In the days leading up to the scuttled press conferences and the demise of the proposed fight, where was Yuriorkis Gamboa? Why, training at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym in Las Vegas.
So it would appear that Gamboa has caught a bad case of “Mayweather Disease,” a debilitating illness which inflates the boxer’s ego to grotesque proportions while drastically reducing his activity level. His career then becomes stagnant as he makes unfortunate decisions based on the erroneous idea that it’s not the star boxer — recipient of incredible financial opportunities thanks to the ticket-buying public — who serves boxing, but instead that the sport of boxing exists to serve him. Ignoring the simple truth that without the best regularly taking on the best audiences wither and revenues diminish, those suffering from Mayweather Disease accept as little risk as possible while telling fans they should be grateful for what chances they get, however seldom, to see them in action. But Mayweather himself didn’t catch his full-blown case of this affliction until after he had defeated a long list of top-tier contenders and champions, establishing himself as one of the best in the sport. Who has “The Cyclone” beaten? And can he wage war with Bob Arum and Top Rank and realistically hope to come out on top? Considering how the words “career suicide” now hang over him like a curse from Castro, it would appear doubtful.
So, instead of Rios vs. Gamboa, we have Rios vs. Richard Abril. Also a Cuban exile, also a slick boxer, Abril, with a mere 40% knockout percentage and losses to Breidis Prescott and Henry Lundy, on paper doesn’t look to be much of a threat to “Bam Bam.” There’s the possibility Rios could be vulnerable to a skilled boxer with a sharp jab and clever footwork, but there’s little to suggest Abril has what it takes to keep a human locomotive like Rios at bay. Rios vs. Gamboa is a grade A match-up; Rios vs. Abril is B- at best.
What interest there is in this fight was stoked by an altercation between Rios and Abril at the Miami press conference, the same one Gamboa didn’t show up for. Abril, an unexpected guest, gave reporters the only show worth watching that day as he stood nose-to-nose with Rios, taunting him and demanding a fight, before violently shoving Rios, sparking a brief skirmish between supporters and various security people. As far as boxing melees go, this was minor league stuff, but it did give Abril some needed exposure. At the risk of being unduly cynical (Who, me?) it’s enough to make one wonder: did Top Rank, having gotten wind of Gamboa’s intentions, stage the press conference theatrics to hype a fight that was Plan B?
Whatever the case, it doesn’t look like the public is buying what Top Rank is selling. The April 14 card is being dismissed by some as a horrible pay-per-view deal and the “bait-and-switch” stink hanging over the event is difficult to ignore. Which means Floyd Mayweather is no doubt laughing his ass off between training sessions for his May 5 superfight with Miguel Cotto. On the surface at least, it looks like this round between Arum and Mayweather goes to Pretty Boy. But spare a thought for Gamboa, whose career may be tied up in legal limbo for some time to come, while the real loser is boxing itself. Neither Arum, nor Mayweather, give a damn about the sport that is the source of their riches, and make no mistake, they’ll both, gladly and selfishly, burn it all down before they ever bury the hatchet. – Robert Portis