Is boxing really better without Mayweather?

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

They said that boxing would be better without the best.

They said the sport would thrive in the absence of the man has been its face for most of the last decade.

They said we should look forward to the departure of the man who compelled fight fans to drop $50 to $100 on pay-per-view bouts where the pace was deliberate and the outcome predictable; bouts that fans complained about for weeks and months afterward … and would then come back and pay to watch him do it again and again.

They said that the sport he had played for all its worth would improve after he was done with it.

It looks like they were wrong.

It has been seven months to the day since Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought what he called his final professional fight, and quite frankly, I haven’t seen how boxing is better off without him.

Mayweather is a villain in the sports world. He is almost everything that Stephen Curry is not, almost everything that Russell Wilson is not. Mayweather has a criminal history that includes several reported incidents of domestic violence against women. He does not even pretend to be humble or modest. He flaunts his money and would mock his opponents. He never tried to change his in-ring style to be more fan-friendly, choosing to win with his defense and accurate counter-punching rather than hunting for knockouts and letting himself get into entertaining brawls.

Some say he was only playing the “Money Mayweather” character because it was good for business. Some say he really was being himself.

Either way, the public and the media ate it all up. Mayweather (49-0, 26 knockouts, 12 world championships) retired following his unanimous decision victory over Andre Berto on Sept. 12, 2015, having made more money than any boxer in history and holding the No. 1 spot on Forbes‘ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

When he left, critics claimed that boxing would see a renaissance now that everything didn’t revolve around Mayweather. They said new stars would emerge, that more competitive fights would happen, and that fighters would be less worried about protecting undefeated records (like Mayweather) and more worried about scheduling the toughest competition.

Seven months later, we’re still waiting for that improvement to show itself.

Who is the face of boxing right now?

Manny Pacquiao, who lost to Mayweather on May 2, 2015, in a bout that was hyped on “Fight of the Century” levels and turned out being the most lucrative boxing match ever — but was also widely criticized as a disappointment in the end — just had what many believe was his final pro fight this past weekend. Even if Pacquiao does continue fighting, he did major damage to his marketability and public image by making anti-gay comments in recent months.

Canelo Alvarez — who has also lost to Mayweather in his career — is the middleweight world champion according to The Ring magazine and a superstar in his native Mexico. Alvarez beat future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto last November in what was probably boxing’s biggest non-Mayweather event of 2015. Alvarez is scheduled to defend his WBC middleweight title on May 7 against Amir Khan, a Muslim of British-Pakistani heritage who is a two-time world champion. Alvarez has the talent and the fighting style to be boxing’s flagship performer, but he doesn’t seem to have the charisma to resonate with the public globally.

Gennady Golovkin, the knockout artist from Kazakhstan who holds multiple middleweight titles, has crowd-pleasing power and has endeared himself to fans with his affable personality. He has fought once since Mayweather retired, an 8th-round TKO of David Lemieux, and he’s scheduled to face Dominic Wade on April 23. Golovkin has potential to be boxing’s top attraction, but his lack of English speaking skills may limit his appeal to American and British fans, and he has historically had a hard time getting top fighters to agree to fight him.

Light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev is another power-punching KO artist, but the Russian star is the opposite of Golovkin with his rough and sometimes icy exterior.

Tyson Fury may be the closest thing to Mayweather in terms of using controversy and boorish behavior to his advantage. The heavyweight champion from the United Kingdom — who upset longtime heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko in November and is scheduled for a rematch in July — says offensive things and acts disrespectfully to his rivals. And also like Mayweather, Fury’s in-ring style isn’t particularly entertaining. If he doesn’t get flattened by Klitschko in their rematch, he could be the guy to carry boxing for a few years.

Flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez is entertaining in the ring, but the world of tiny pro boxers (the flyweight limit is 112 pounds) is almost a foreign one to U.S. and European fans, as most of the top fighters are from Latin or Asian countries.

Among the American crop of fighters, those vying for the title of boxing’s main man include heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder; The Ring lightweight champ Terence Crawford; super middleweight champ Andre Ward; and 21-year-old undefeated lightweight prospect Gervonta Davis, whom Mayweather himself has pegged as the next Mayweather. And there’s also Adrien Broner, the talented yet troubled welterweight contender who seems to view himself as the next Mayweather, but hasn’t really backed it up in the ring.

The supposed upside of Mayweather’s retirement was that after the one man who had dominated boxing for so long stepped aside, opportunities would arise for a whole cast of previously overshadowed and underrated stars to claim the spotlight.

So far, the diverse group of contenders for the crown has failed to produce one standout superstar to fill the shoes Mayweather left vacant.

Whoever eventually fills that role — if someone eventually fills that role — the trick will be in not just getting the mainstream public to respect his fists, but also to recognize his face.

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