By Jorge Arangure Jr.
On the night that would change boxing forever, neither the man who lay lifeless and unconscious on the mat, nor the man who had delivered the crushing blow, would be most affected by the events of Dec. 8, 2012.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his very able advisors must have surely thought of the financial implications as they watched presumed rival Manny Pacquiao taken apart by a vicious counterattack punch from Juan Manuel Marquez in that December fight that has now changed boxing. As a result of that fight, Mayweather has become the most indestructible force in the sport, both in and outside the ring, leading to his just-announced record-breaking deal with Showtime for up to six fights in the next 30 months. The first of those fights is a May 4 matchup with Roberto Guerrero.
In a sport where the last man standing wins, Mayweather stands tallest.
The contract -- according to Showtime's release, although details were kept confidential -- is the most lucrative in boxing. Should Mayweather fight all six times, Showtime says, "It will be the richest individual athlete deal in all of sports."
At a time when his career should be winding down, the 35-year-old Mayweather is poised to become the most powerful fighter of all time. Mayweather may be criticized for having a soft punch, but he packs the best wallop in the boardroom.
Ironically enough, most thought Mayweather's chance at a big payday had disappeared with Pacquiao's knockout. The megafight between Mayweather and Pacquiao was the most anticipated matchup in the sport. Yet what happened was that Pacquiao's fall -- the Filipino has now lost two consecutive fights -- has elevated Mayweather to boxing's undisputed main draw. He was always one of the most popular. Now he has no rivals in that regard.
Pacquiao's fall also gave Mayweather an unprecedented bargaining position in talks with HBO, with whom he had partnered for his entire career, and Showtime. In the end, Showtime's deal was simply too enticing, and Mayweather's 17-year-old relationship with HBO was dissolved.
Mayweather's deal assures that he will be considered the defining boxer of his generation, although not necessarily because of his fights. By many accounts Mayweather has become an empty champion with a résumé that is heavily slanted toward the early part of his career when he scheduled aggressively as a 130-pounder. His recent fights against a lackluster welterweight division practically ensured positive results in the ring while he continued to build his brand.
Mayweather's popularity has always been somewhat of a mystery. Although he's certainly skilled, his defensive style is hardly crowd-pleasing. In the heavier weight divisions, he has yet to fight a significant fighter in his prime, and he's known more for the fights he did not make than the ones he did. And he's not incredibly likable as a person.
Yet he's been masterful in self-promotion, and it does say something about his bargaining acumen that he has negotiated such a deal less than a year after spending time in jail for domestic abuse. Nobody in the history of the sport has done a better job of monetizing his skills: Not Muhammad Ali, who, although wildly popular and a generational talent, was still handcuffed by the heavily promoter-influenced era of the sport; not Mike Tyson, who became undone by personal problems and advisors who took advantage of him; and not even Oscar de la Hoya, who realized too late the potential of his star power and has handled the business world better in his post-fighting career than he did as a boxer.
Mayweather is a trailblazer who brightly bought out his Top Rank contract for a piddly $750,000 in 2006, a transaction that changed his life. Funnily enough, like he has so desired, Mayweather made history -- just not really for what he has done in the ring.
Mayweather's claims that he's the best fighter of all time mostly fall flat. And yet he continues to sell, he continues to make money, he continues to have the last laugh on all his critics.
In that respect, he's the perfect fighter for a generation that measures popularity and success not by accomplishment, but by such things as Twitter followers and reality show appearances. (For the record, Mayweather has more than 4 million Twitter followers and his appearances on HBO's "24/7" reality series have been among the most compelling reality sports television ever created). In the current era, it's better to be known than to be good.
This new contract should amplify Mayweather's star power tenfold. Part of the deal stipulates that Mayweather will be heavily promoted on CBS, a partner of Showtime and the highest-rated television network. If CBS has no shame in naming LL Cool J, a star of one of the network's shows, as the host of the Grammys, is it so farfetched to think that Mayweather may soon be making a guest appearance on "Two and a Half Men"?
Much will be made of how Mayweather's move to Showtime might prove to be a crushing blow for HBO Boxing. Obviously, losing the sport's top draw will sting, especially since the network had helped turn Mayweather into a star by making him the centerpiece of the "24/7" show. But Mayweather's contract is a boon for boxing in general. It diminishes the silly notion that boxing is dead as a sport. It expands the market. It shows that boxers, if they're careful and shrewd with their marketing and money, can be stars just like athletes from other sports. For a sport that has recently suffered from a dearth of talent, perhaps this deal inspires more kids to take up boxing. There is certainly money to be made.
Let's also not forget that HBO still has the best produced and styled boxing show on the air in "24/7." There will be opportunities for other fighters to benefit from HBO's formidable marketing power.
Most important to remember is that boxing is a sport constantly in flux. There are always new fighters, always new storylines, always knockouts that can change the landscape of the sport -- even if you aren't the one in the ring to deliver them.
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Arangure has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post.