For a while, anyway.
The displays of faux indifference and cries of good riddance were to be expected in the aftermath of Floyd Mayweather Jr. outclassing Andre Berto in a glorified Vegas sparring session last weekend and subsequently confirming his retirement.
A vocal portion of boxing aficionados have long since made their dislike of Mayweather’s style, in and out of the ring, abundantly clear and they were determined not to lose any sleep over the greatest fighter in a generation departing the scene. Determined not to lose any sleep by staying up all night vociferously stating their disinterest on social media in some cases, but such is the life of the contemporary fight fan with a Twitter account.
What cannot be denied by even Floyd’s biggest critics, however, is that his passing leaves the sport with a gaping 147lb hole (we’ll leave the similarly-shaped 154lb hole for another day) to patch over as quickly as possible with the best filler currently at hand. It is in many ways reminiscent of the situation the heavyweight division faced in the late 1960s, albeit for vastly different reasons.
When Muhammad Ali, who didn’t have no quarrel with them Viet Cong, stood in front of military induction officials in Houston on the 28th of April, 1967, and refused to take the symbolic step forward upon hearing his name called, his enforced 43-month exile from boxing began. Within 24 hours he’d been stripped of his title, had his licence revoked, and the WBA were busy plotting the best way to replace the Greatest.
Their solution was an eight man tournament between the highest ranked fighters available. Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Ernie Terrell, Floyd Patterson, Thad Spencer, Leotis Martin and Karl Mildenberger all signed up and, within a year, Ellis walked away with the crown.
There has thus far been no definitive announcement from either the WBA or the WBC on the status of their welterweight and junior middleweight belts: the four bejewelled accessories that Floyd and his entourage carried from the MGM Grand ring last Saturday.
The WBA tend to have an interim or regular understudy tucked up their sleeve for moments like this, and the WBC may choose to maintain an undignified silence until their annual convention in China at the start of November, but there exists a creeping suspicion that the relevance of the traditional governing bodies and their belts is diminishing fast. And one man in particular is masterminding the downfall.
The Cleveland-raised, Harvard-educated, publicity shy, mysterious businessman’s mysterious businessman, Al Haymon is boxing’s answer to Keyser Söze. Omnipotent yet rarely seen, Haymon operates in the shadows, a field of play so murky it is not even clear whether he’s an advisor, a manager, a promoter, or whatever combination of all three best suits the situation.
He slipped largely unnoticed into the boxing world around the turn of the century. The late Vernon Forrest was his entry into the game and he has spent the last 15 years quietly accumulating fighters at a rate of approximately one a month. This year Haymon founded Premier Boxing Champions and set about buying up airtime with a range of free and pay TV networks in order to broadcast his PBC bills.
The result is far greater exposure for his boxers and a chipping away at the entrenched Pay-Per-View model that certain promoters would have the public believe is the only viable way to finance elite championship fights.
The other result has been an increase in criticism, from rivals lamenting his cornering of the market and alleged breaches of the Ali Act, to fans attacking every uncompetitive fight he is responsible for. Al, like his star client Floyd, appears entirely immune to the condemnation. It is clear that he is focused on a bigger picture.
It did not go unnoticed that, at face value, Andre Berto was a particularly strange opponent for a champion of Mayweather’s status to select as his swansong. But the choice makes more sense when viewed as simply another chess move by Haymon as he positions himself to checkmate the boxing establishment he holds in such disdain.
In having his man defeat Manny Pacquiao last May, then seeing out his Showtime contract with a cakewalk against Berto, Haymon has manufactured the perfect vacuum into which he can now step and consolidate his growing influence over the sport of boxing.
Floyd and Manny have succeeded in transforming the 147lb weight class into boxing’s marquee division, the weight class with the money and the glory. It is no coincidence then that Haymon has been busy stockpiling an army of welterweight talent capable of dominating the division for the foreseeable future.
Berto is a PBC fighter as well, of course, but with three defeats in six, he was the obvious choice for a sacrificial lamb while Haymon kept the rest of his younger, fresher, more valuable powder dry. Al holds enough cards at 147lbs to effectively ignore whatever the WBA and WBC decide to do. He can practically run the show himself now.
Shawn Porter, Devon Alexander, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Errol Spence Jr. are all Haymon fighters ready to battle it out to succeed Mayweather as the boss at welterweight. (Ditto for Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, Carlos Molina, Vanes Matirosyan, Julian Williams and the Charlo brothers at junior middleweight, but as stated previously, that’s another conversation). Within twelve months of in-house action, Haymon could crown a PBC champion at 147lbs that would render whatever the rest of the sport does in those divisions totally redundant.
Back in the late 1960s, the WBA were not completely successful in signing up all the key pretenders to Ali’s throne. A certain Smokin’ Joe Frazier opted out of their tournament and forged his own path to glory. He defeated Buster Mathis for the New York State Athletic Commission’s version of the heavyweight crown before destroying the WBA’s Jimmy Ellis in four rounds to unify the division. He then waited for Ali’s return.
Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Kell Brook are all highly ranked welterweights currently operating outwith Team Haymon. Any two of the three could play the roles of Frazier and Mathis in this modern-day remake of a 60s classic with aplomb.
The script is still a work in progress, but if the next 12-18 months sees a PBC welterweight shoot-out, with the sole survivor taking on the winner from the Pacman-Bradley-Brook triumvirate, to earn the right to stop Mayweather reaching 50 and 0 upon his inevitable return, who wouldn’t want to watch that movie?
Get your tickets from Al Haymon now.