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Floyd Mayweather's Brash Style Has Split Fan Loyalties


Boxers Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao face off Saturday in Las Vegas. It's being called the fight of the century and it presents a matchup of contrasts. Pacquiao is expected to be the aggressor, Mayweather the defensive counter-puncher. When it comes to personalities though, it's Mayweather with the swagger. His brashness and run-ins with the law have split fan loyalties. Some hate him, some love him. NPR's Tom Goldman reports on one of boxing's most polarizing figures.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Making his professional debut, introducing Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather.


TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: That debut at age 19 ushered in what's become one of boxing's greatest careers. Floyd Mayweather has a 47 and 0 record, championships in five different weight divisions and his nickname and persona have evolved from Pretty Boy Floyd to Money Mayweather. Bomani Jones is an ESPN host and commentator.

BOMANI JONES: As a boxer, he is highly ranked. As a capitalist, you'd also have to say that he's highly ranked.

GOLDMAN: A decade after his pro debut, Mayweather made a calculated business move. He bought out of his contract with Top Rank promotions and essentially became his own promoter. In doing so, Mayweather gave up big guaranteed pre-fight money for even bigger revenues tallied up after his matches. Striking out on his own was easier for Mayweather; he had unique abilities in the ring and an audacious personality, also calculated, that thrust him into the spotlight. Again, Bomani Jones.

JONES: The way boxers, typically black boxers, can get themselves into positions to be famous is normally by being antagonists. And so Floyd decided to become that antagonist. He was that guy; when things went bad for America, Floyd Mayweather was still doing well and threw his money in your face.


FLOYD MAYWEATHER: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten - 500,000. That's a half a million dollars right there.

GOLDMAN: Flashing huge wads of cash like in this 2008 video, vulgar trash talk about his opponents, the usual Money Mayweather behavior largely has been absent in the lead-up to the Pacquiao fight. After five years of delays and anticipation, Mayweather says the matchup doesn't need excessive theatrics. But there's always been a part of his narrative that Floyd Mayweather hasn't been able to control.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, KC and Lisa, Mayweather was cuffed and escorted out of the courtroom with - by court marshals.

GOLDMAN: Mayweather served jail time in 2012 for domestic violence. It was one of a number of assaults against women that have resulted in arrest or citation. His behavior has not caused a great public outcry, but Mayweather's actions and his public lack of remorse have alienated some boxing fans, among them, African Americans who've historically drawn strength from champion black boxers - alienated some but certainly not all. Dr. Harry Edwards says many African-Americans still embrace Mayweather as part of that long boxing continuum. Edwards is a Professor Emeritus in Sociology at Cal Berkeley.

HARRY EDWARDS: African-Americans don't simply look at the deportment of a Floyd Mayweather or a Mike Tyson or a Muhammad Ali by the standards of prescribed behavior at its noblest in American society. They look at it relative to how African-Americans themselves are treated.

GOLDMAN: And Edwards says it's especially true now when that treatment includes the recent high-profile deaths at the hands of police, meaning perhaps a hardening of support for Mayweather. Support from blacks, whites, anyone - support is the key word for Floyd Mayweather. In a recent ESPN interview, he was asked about his record of domestic violence and answered like a fight promoter.


MAYWEATHER: You know, when it's all said and done, only God can judge me. But I don't want people to miss this fight, it's an unbelievable matchup - Mayweather, Pacquiao, May 2, be there.

GOLDMAN: Many will in Las Vegas or in bars and living rooms around the world, shelling out money to watch, to cheer, to boo; money that could earn Money Mayweather close to $200 million for a night's work. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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