Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is hanging up his gloves. Retiring undefeated at 49-0, universally recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation, he has long been lauded as one of the sport’s most intelligent and hardest working fighters. He also happens to be a pretty unlikeable dude. A repeated domestic violence offender and all-around bigot extraordinaire, he leaves behind a perplexing legacy. Much like Mike Tyson before him, he is someone we are forced to compartmentalize, admiring his athletic feats while abhorring his behavior outside the ring.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Mayweather has been boxing’s brightest star for more than a decade, generating more than a billion dollars in pay-per-view revenue from his fights. Our society is fascinated with celebrities, especially complicated ones. Whether we want to or not, we form opinions about these people. Compartmentalizing makes sense rationally, but that isn’t how our gut feeling works. Involuntarily, we find ourselves in one of two camps: those of us that love them, and those of us that hate them.
On some level, Mayweather understands this particular psychological phenomenon, and has used it to his advantage. He has often stated he is comfortable playing the villain, using it as fuel for his competitive fire. But it’s more than that: After all, the best part of following a villain is the anticipation of someday seeing them get what’s been coming to them. To that end, Mayweather has parlayed the vitriol his detractors have for him into the biggest paydays that boxing, or any other sport, has ever seen. In 2015 alone, he has personally earned more than $300 million, mostly off of his match with Manny Pacquiao in May. Leading up to the fight, Pacquiao famously said that God was on his side. Not even the atheists batted an eye, such is the hatred for Floyd. The world tuned in, smashing all previous pay-per-view records, only to watch in silence as Mayweather thoroughly outclassed the underdog, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in the process and cackling all the way to the bank.
We don’t have to like the people we learn from, but to ignore what Mayweather has done in promoting his fights is denying ourselves a valuable takeaway. He took what he knew people found interesting about him, his athletic greatness and his first class assclownery (yes, that is a made up word), turned both of them up to eleven, and stopped caring about anything else. He adopted the nickname “Money” and flaunted his immense wealth, made racist comments about Pacquiao, alluded to women being property in interviews, and all the while kept dominating the sport. His evil genius is summed up in perhaps his best quote, “Some pay to see me win, some pay to see me lose, but they all pay.” No one has worked harder to make themselves great and hated like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. He’s comfortable with his legacy, riding off into the sunset even as he knows most of us will be hoping he gets tossed from his horse, black hat and all.