“I’m just an American dream,” Floyd Mayweather said at some point deep into Saturday night, standing at a microphone with a pair of smiling ring girls in Tecate halter tops strategically posed behind him. He had just dismantled Manny Pacquiao in a fight that was disappointingly dull and utterly unsurprising on every level, and now he was discussing his favorite subject, which happens to be himself.
Mayweather is that rarest of public figures: A talented athlete who is the picture of oblivious villainy outside the ring, but is also inherently boring inside the ring. He’s the worst of both worlds, in that there’s nothing much to like about him in any sense, other than the fact that he’s probably never going to lose a fight in his career. And this is not just a problem for his own legacy, which took a serious hit even as he did most of the hitting against Pacquiao; this is now a problem for boxing, which once again tried to wedge its way into the mainstream, and once again failed miserably.
This was a fight that never really had a chance of living up to the hype surrounding it, in part because Mayweather is not that kind of fighter and Pacquiao is no longer that kind of fighter, and in part because boxing is not that kind of sport anymore. It exists on the fringes, on the margins of popular culture, condemned for its barbarism and for the glorification of dubious characters like Mayweather. The only way to see this bout was to shell out an absurd chunk of change for a pay-per-view broadcast riddled with massive hiccups, and then to stay awake deep into the night hoping that something interesting might justify the purchase.
Is it a surprise, then, that people were disappointed? It’s almost like that’s what boxing does: It sets itself up, every few years or so, to allow us to remember why we forgot it in the first place.
And this will go down, most likely, as a forgettable era for boxing. Mayweather was a great fighter with nothing to recommend him; Pacquiao was exciting, until he wasn’t anymore. The Mayweather-Pacquiao bout happened five years too late, and did nothing to pull the sport back to the masses. All we have left now is nostalgia for the way things used to be. At the very least, watching Mike Tyson pummel people was an opportunity to confront the violent nature of the sport itself; watching Mayweather fight may be an advanced course in the tactical elements of boxing, but this has never been the popular allure of the sport. Without that looming sense of menace, there isn’t much to pull a casual fan into boxing. Without those moments of unbridled fury, boxing can feel almost toothless.
Still, in a perverse way, Mayweather is correct about himself. His comical ego, ridiculous opulence and utter disconnection from the real world make for a pretty solid representation of everything that’s twisted about the American dream in the 21st century. He’s an unethical and stupidly rich human being who got rich by slowly dismantling the people who stood in his way. He is boxing’s version of a vampire squid, and he will fade off into the sunset now, clutching his millions and clinging to his own perverse sense of morality.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb