Floyd Mayweather stares into the abyss after exhibition against Aaron Chalmers
Maybe the half-empty O2 Arena was not quite a literal abyss, but it might have been a metaphorical one. When your career has been built on a communal interest in watching you get knocked out, what remains when that very possibility is removed? Whatever is left, it is not nearly enough to fill the O2 Arena, as Floyd Mayweather found out on Saturday night, when he boxed in the UK for the first time ever.
That was the major selling point of this exhibition bout against Aaron Chalmers, the reality TV star-turned-fighter who stepped in for kickboxer Liam Harrison. But the major selling point ended up being a minor one, as Mayweather – sporting Union Jack shorts – toyed with and taunted Chalmers across eight two-minute rounds, in front of an underwhelming and underwhelmed audience in the English capital.
The jarring event, taking place a day after Mayweather turned 46, in fact resembled the kind of sad, ill-attended birthday party that an unfortunately unpopular child might stage during their primary-school years. Mayweather, it turns out, isn’t the popular kid anymore. The curtained-off upper tier of the O2 indicated as much, and so did the many rows of empty seats. The first fight of the night was delayed by an hour in case any more attendees arrived with presents, but that hardly had the desired effect.
While some seats suddenly found company in time for the main event – in which Mayweather would have been a clean sweep, 80-72 winner if there had been scorecards – it was an odd moment when the American told the crowd post-fight that he would return to the UK if they so wished; almost all in attendance offered a positive response, it’s just there weren’t too many of them.
Yet it could – perhaps should – have been very different. Mayweather’s professional career remains a storied one, involving multiple world titles and a claim to being the greatest boxer ever, and ending with the American’s stoppage of MMA behemoth Conor McGregor in 2017, as “Money” finally moved to 50-0. While that carnivalesque contest was still a professional one, it paved the way for the kind of exhibition in which Mayweather and Chalmers participated on Saturday evening. Similarly, it was the first stepping stone on the path to Jake Paul and Tommy Fury’s clash on Sunday, one that will in fact go down as a professional bout – and one that has overshadowed Mayweather vs Chalmers.
But with such a storied career having largely taken place in Las Vegas (Mayweather’s last 15 fights over 11 years were staged in Sin City), the strategy of parading the veteran in fresh pastures should have been a sound one for this appended phase.
There was an element of intrigue to Mayweather’s first exhibition, against Tenshin Nasukawa in the kickboxing star’s native Japan, on New Year’s Eve four years ago. But when Mayweather boxed YouTuber Logan Paul two summers ago, Miami was not the most alluring location. His next outing, against retired boxer Don Moore last May, might have constituted sportswashing had more people actually cared about the contest in Abu Dhabi. The same could be said of Mayweather’s most recent bout, against YouTuber Deji in Dubai, while last September’s clash with mixed martial artist Mikuru Asakura marked a return to Saitama, Japan – where the novelty had started and ended with Mayweather vs Nasukawa.
And that brings us to London; that brought Mayweather to London. By this point, there is little to no momentum to the 46-year-old’s slow-rolling exhibition tour, which would have been better served by a series of fights staged in quicker succession and in a greater variety of locations. Mayweather in London, Tokyo, Berlin, and Beijing over the course of a year is the kind of gameplan that might just have functioned more effectively, especially had it marked a guaranteed farewell to one of the greatest ever.
Yet, even then, the exhibition format removes one of the key selling points of Mayweather’s professional career: the chance of a frustratingly clinical defensive boxer getting knocked out and finally being humbled. Chalmers, though he holds a 5-2 MMA record and is 1-0 as a pro boxer, was never going to be the one to stun Mayweather – not if Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, “Canelo” Alvarez, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto couldn’t. Chalmers effectively confessed as much to The Independent this week.
So, we await the announcement of Mayweather’s next exhibition, possibly in the Middle East and likely whenever the veteran fancies another payday. But based on Saturday night, there might not be many left for “Money”.