Wednesday 21 March 2018

Floyd Mayweather charging £2k for a chat shows just how far away he is from Muhammad Ali

Floyd Mayweather fans can meet him... for a healthy sum Photo: AP
Floyd Mayweather fans can meet him... for a healthy sum Photo: AP

Jonathan Liew

This week, the former world champion Floyd Mayweather announced that he would be bringing his “Victory Tour” to Britain.

There will be musical acts, a three-course dinner, a charity auction, an on‑stage interview. Best of all – for those pushed to the brink of stupefaction by some of his recent fights – there will be no actual boxing. Mayweather retired in September, and this is his chance to give something back.

Naturally, Floyd needs you to give him a little something first. The two private jets and the 100 cars won’t pay for themselves. Nor the extensive entourage he keeps around him, including two masseurs, a personal barber, and a guy whose sole job is to follow Mayweather around carrying his hand-sanitiser.

A glimpse of Mayweather with your supper will set you back £500. Double it, and he can throw in a quick photo opportunity. What? You actually want to talk to him? Floyd is a busy man, but if you take the “platinum package” at £2,000, he will reluctantly indulge you, as long as you swerve the awkward questions about his past. Racism, domestic violence, prison, that sort of thing. This is a victory tour, after all.

If there is something faintly surreal about charging people £2,000 for the privilege of sharing your oxygen, it has to be said that Mayweather crossed that line many diamond‑encrusted moons ago. According to his former assistant, Mayweather starts every day by visiting the bank to withdraw $100,000 (£70,600) in cash, and then makes friends sit in the back of his car so the cash can sit in the front. With Mayweather, money does not just talk; it rides shotgun.

Contrast Mayweather’s fleeting visit to these shores with those of his forebears. Muhammad Ali’s trip to Coventry in 1983, during which he greeted throngs of well‑wishers while eating fish and chips out of a newspaper, remains the gold standard, as well as – by some distance – the most interesting thing ever to have happened in Coventry. Then you have Mike Tyson’s chaotic visit to Brixton in 2000, when he was mobbed by a crowd of thousands, bringing the high street to a standstill. This was long before Brixton had been polished and gentrified into a neo‑colonial gourmet‑burger nightmare, and for all the unseemly fuss there was a sense that these were Tyson’s people, and here was Tyson – the people’s fighter – walking among them.

By contrast, when Mayweather popped into Brixton in 2014 for a haircut, he got into a heated argument with a customer who failed to recognise him. You can see it on YouTube. “I know Mike Tyson, I never heard of you,” she insists. “Google me!” Mayweather screams back furiously. And you can see the faint glaze of humiliation in his eyes, the look of a man who can get his hands sanitised on demand, but cannot summon a flicker of recognition in a random stranger.

So perhaps the real revelation here is not how Mayweather sees us, but how he sees himself. You often hear Mayweather in interviews discussing great men like Ali, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Barack Obama. And there is little doubt that he sees himself as part of that same tradition: an heir to the sacred lineage of Black America. But Dr King never had to play the Bunyan Leisure Centre in Bedford to gild his legend. Obama never had to introduce himself in a Brixton barbershop. Perhaps this is why he is charging £2,000 a ticket. It weeds out the people who have no idea who he is. The money matters less than the devotion it represents.

Then again, if it is popularity he wants, there are probably better ways of going about it. “I feel like I’m in the same shoes as Ali,” he once said. “They hate me when I’m at the top. But once my career is over, they’re going to really miss me.”

Maybe give it a while longer, Floyd?

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