Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. does everything to the point of vulgarity. Flanked by a rapping Lil Wayne and painfully awkward Justin Bieber because that's something Money would do, he was minutes away from facing down Saul "Canelo" Alvarez -- the 23-year-old Mexican telenovela subject-to-be and platonic ideal of cast-iron bastardry in the ring.
Money was wearing an electric blue, short-sleeved Thriller jacket remix complete with matching shorts and snakeskin patches made from whatever the world's rarest and most expensive snake is. It was a vainglorious testament to the strain of American duality that venerates greatness while equating it to stacking stacks in the most conspicuously self-aggrandizing fashion possible. Money is America.
And then the fight started. Canelo, the boxer-puncher feared for the latter and emerging as the former, opened with audacity befitting a 23-year-old superstar by allowing Money to play the aggressor. The stone-faced insistence that he could box with anyone started as predictable pre-fight hype, but Canelo was as dead-serious as he sounded. The tactic was as novel as it was smart: Money uses the first third of his fights to hoard micro-packets of data on his opponents and calculate strategies that mirror the elegant certainty of a physics equation. By refusing to lead, Canelo was making Money give up as much data as he gained. It was a flash of unexpected brilliance, and it never even came close to working.
Giving Money the lead meant Canelo was casting aside his most obvious advantages: 15-plus pounds of weight and the vague hope that he could drag this generation's most sublime boxer into a war of attrition. Canelo's strategic ploy succeeded only in forcing Money to rely more on the jab than the cross. That's an honest tactical victory for anyone fighting Money -- once he starts landing that lead cross with impunity, well, game over. Trying to box by far the most sublime boxer of this generation means even smart decisions yield predictably poor results.
Canelo's overall strategy became clear as the fight progressed past that crucial opening third. Gradually, the would-be heir to Julio Cesar Chavez began to walk down Money, who made him look like a dog chasing its own tail and taking the occasional newspaper slap to the snout. In giving Money so much time and space early on, he allowed Money to hone the range and timing of his jab in relation to Canelo's tendencies. This is a fancy way of saying that Canelo needed a tower shield to stop Money's jab.
To his credit, Canelo never stopped trying. The problem was that nothing worked. Nothing ever works against Money. Even when something does work it's understood as working only in the sense that it failed less miserably than anything else would have failed. Nothing in sports matches the stark existentialism of watching Money make money.
That appreciating what Money does is synonymous with accepting the unyielding nature of reality makes perfect sense. He is the best, richest athlete alive and an objectively noxious human being. He's been charged with domestic violence several times over and is always a heartbeat away from launching into an hour-long TED Talk devoted to how much money he has, how much more money he has than you, and how much more stuff he can buy than you because he has so much more money than you. He's basically a Goldman Sachs VP who happens to be a breathtaking boxer.
This is what he projects to the world and that's how we see him. A factory-tuned heel who delights in manipulating perceptions to the point that we all grudgingly plunk down seventy-five bucks to either delight in his soulless libertarian spectacle or pray to our most pagan Gods for something resembling cosmic justice via knockout.
What we don't do is consider Money's childhood spent in poverty with a drug-addicted mother and drug-dealing father -- the sort of upbringing that damns kids of every color to miserable childhoods bookended by miserable adulthoods. Imagine growing up poor in a country that mocks, demonizes and alienates the poor -- how it would affect you is unpredictable, but it would have an effect on you. Nor do we consider Money's generosity with his friends and family, how the ever-present leather duffel overstuffed with crisp, bundled hundred dollar bills keeps an indefinably large network of friends and family in the money. If anything, he's mocked for it. As if keeping those bills in a bank would be more noble than forgetting the people he grew up with.
What makes Money register as being so supremely despicable is the fact that he's not one-dimensional. There's a literary quality to him, one that falls far short of superseding the fact that he's a woman-beating psycho-narcissist, but makes him complex nonetheless. We just can't pin down this enormous turd and it drives us insane. We love Money. We hate Money. We hope he never loses. We wish someone would knock him out.
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Tomas Rios is a freelance NYC-based writer who has covered MMA for The Classical, Deadspin, The Pacific Standard and Slate. You can find him @TheTomasRios.