The real ghetto superstar: Why Floyd Mayweather is no Muhammad Ali
After claiming the 44th win of his career, the undefeated streak of boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather continues. A future hall of famer, he may be the finest boxer of our generation since Sugar Ray Leonard and arguably one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters to have laced a pair of gloves.
Ranked by Forbes as the world’s highest paid athlete and signed to a six-fight $240m deal with TV network Showtime, the champion is sure to have the high rollers flocking to Vegas for the final five bouts of a glittering career, before bowing out of the game.
But to many African-Americans in the ghettos, Mayweather delights and infuriates with equal measure. They’ll be the first to applaud him after 12 rounds of ring generalship. But the moment he’s draping the rears of strippers with wads of cash and making a ritual display of diamond-encrusted watches aboard a luxury yacht, their ability to comment on his brilliance dries up. Suddenly, the master of the sweet science becomes the object of passionate hate and falls out of favour with those he claims see him as a ghetto superstar.
I recently spoke with a few of Floyd’s critics. Hailing from some of America’s poorest neighbourhoods, including Fountain Park, St Louis and Brownsville, New York, all had a bone to pick with the five weight world champion. Apparently, Mayweather had “forgotten his roots” and his philanthropic phases were just a “PR fad”. The champion’s brazen display of riches meant he was out of touch with African Americans confined to the hood’s knee-deep poverty. He may hand out turkeys during thanksgiving but never tires from “publicising his riches for everyone to eyeball.” What also makes their blood boil is when Mayweather turns up at a club, with an ever-evolving circle of trophy girlfriends and yes men, only to “make it rain” with hundred dollar bills.
Like most people, they find Mayweather’s squandering of wealth distasteful. And it’s not because he worked his way out of the hood to amass a fortune. Nor is it because he’s chauffeured in custom-built Maybachs while the rest of them barely get by. What raises their hackles most is a boy from the projects who makes a showy, bellicose display of wealth once the privilege comes his way. And that, according to one community worker from the Bronx, was “disrespecting the ghetto”.
Just to be clear, no one was saying Mayweather and company should feel guilty for leaving the projects. They weren’t ‘knocking his hustle’, and nor were they suggesting he treat his hard earned millions like a shameful secret. In fact, they congratulated Mayweather on being crowned the sport’s cash cow. Their point was that if he genuinely carried the scars of a previous life of poverty, he would be more humbled by his success. Floyd’s common cries of “Hard Work” and “Dedication” no longer reminded them of the sacrifice he made to reach boxing’s dizzying heights.
One of them told me: “When Ali shouted the same slogans, we felt part of his struggle. But with Mayweather, it’s not the same. Now he’s showing off with the thing we don’t have – money, and he’s blasting it in our f***ing faces”.
You could sense this was a heart-felt grievance. A high school teacher who emerged from the slums of Missouri said Mayweather alienated a large part of his ghetto fanbase by adopting a persona with money as the be all and end all. The “blood, sweat and tears” which he put into his craft was now being used to justify an ugly sense of entitlement and warped desire for uniqueness: “We’re not sure if Mayweather wants to be remembered as a great boxer or a money making machine. Somewhere down the line, money became his idol, boxing became his pastime and we became nothing to him.”
When I drew comparisons between Mayweather and Muhammad Ali, it was clear who was the real ghetto superstar in their eyes. Since Mayweather and his entourage held themselves to a different standard, he could never “rep” the hood with the same genuineness as Muhammad Ali. In the words of a retired bus driver from Harlem: “Ali wouldn’t keep telling others how much he was worth. When Ali came by the projects, he seemed like a regular guy. And we loved his trash talking because it was real hype and not the manufactured bulls**t you get with Floyd. Ali never forgot his roots. Salute to him.”
He has a point. Ali was dubbed the “Louisville lip” for his showmanship, but didn’t spend every waking hour splashing the greenbacks for us to ogle. He didn’t make every media appearance a circus for splurging on the bling. Doing so would rub salt in the wounds of a community he loved dearly. And he will always be more revered than Mayweather, not for becoming the mouthpiece for a demoralized black generation which left him in their good graces, but for being sensitive to the attendant responsibilities which came with being in the spotlight.
Mayweather’s sin isn’t that he failed to live up to Ali’s revolutionary billing. After all, most athletes wouldn’t qualify to hold the legendary heavyweight’s jockstrap let alone be a catalyst for social change. But for a man who wears his hood status like a badge of honour, surely there are more subtle ways of letting others know you’ve moved on up ? Again, those dwelling in the ghettos were not asking Mayweather to apologize for his financial blessings and spare them a dime. The have-nots in the slums can take encouragement from a rags-to-riches story. But what they can’t stomach is being on the receiving end of a braggart’s voyeuristic glimpses – the very braggart who makes pretentious claims of being hood to the bone.
So should Mayweather think twice before showing off the fruits of his labour? The ghetto certainly thinks so. Like Ali, if there’s one thing he owes them, it’s the self-discipline to temper that naked pleasure.Tagged in: Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali
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