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The Ridiculous, Not-So-Ridiculous Spectacle of Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul

“Why is Floyd Mayweather getting in the ring with me?” That was the question Logan Paul asked in a recent promotional video, and he wasn’t the only one wondering. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is one of the great boxers of the contemporary era, a slick and evasive virtuoso. He ran his record to 49–0 and then, in 2015, he retired, having absorbed a relatively small amount of punishment, and an absolutely large amount of cash. (He reportedly earned more than two hundred million dollars for a single fight, against Manny Pacquiao.) Since then, Mayweather has unretired for a series of novelty fights: he wore down and stopped the mixed-martial-arts star Conor McGregor in 2017, and he quickly dispatched a kickboxer named Tenshin Nasukawa the next year. Mayweather has been happy to discover that, having conquered the world of professional boxing, he can now get paid to box people who are not professionals. And on Sunday night, in Miami, he is scheduled to box eight rounds against Logan Paul.

Paul, like Mayweather’s two previous opponents, is not really a professional boxer. Unlike them, he is not really a professional fighter of any sort—in fact, part of the reason some people like him, and that many more do not, is that he does not seem to be a professional anything. He dropped out of college to make prankish online videos alongside his younger brother, Jake Paul, and he achieved viral infamy on New Year’s Eve, 2017, when he released a video in which he visited a forest in Japan known as a site of suicides, and encountered the body of a man who had apparently hanged himself. (Paul, wearing a lime-green hat with an antenna and three eyeballs, based on the aliens from “Toy Story,” says, “I think there’s someone hanging, right there. I’m not even fuckin’ kidding!”) Logan Paul is a blond jock who projects bro-ish self-confidence; that persona, combined with the tasteless video, turned him into an international pariah, a symbol of everything that everyone hated about YouTubers and other online influencers.

So why is Mayweather getting into the ring with Paul? Because people, perhaps a substantial number of them, are willing to pay $49.99 to watch the outcome. In Mayweather’s prime, he was the sport’s most reliable pay-per-view attraction, largely because he was so good and so polarizing: fans were eager to watch a series of opponents try—and, invariably, fail—to shut him up. In this case, many of the paying customers will doubtless be expecting and hoping to see Mayweather do the shutting up. After all, he is a legendary boxer, and Paul’s official boxing record is 0–1, which understates his experience only slightly: along with that official loss, he has an unofficial draw, from an exhibition fight against the same opponent, a YouTuber and rapper known as KSI. Sunday’s fight is an exhibition, too, not an official match. Knockdowns and knockouts are allowed, but there will be no judges, and possibly no winner—if the fight goes the distance, spectators will have to decide for themselves who fared better. Even so, Paul has a chance to give Mayweather his first loss, while earning his own first victory.

But how much of a chance? Not much, according to the oddsmakers. In the run-up to the fight, Paul has conceded Mayweather’s huge technical advantage, and he has been emphasizing his superior skill at provocation. During a press conference in May, Paul’s brother Jake stood toe to toe with Mayweather and snatched his white baseball cap then turned to run, crowing, “Gotcha hat!” Mayweather, enraged, gave chase, accompanied by a pack of bodyguards; in that promotional video, Jake Paul said that Mayweather eventually caught up to him, and delivered an uppercut. A few hours afterward, Jake Paul commemorated the encounter by uploading a video of him wearing sunglasses, possibly to hide a black eye, while getting a tattoo of his new catchphrase: “gotcha hat.” Jake Paul is a boxer, too, and more accomplished than his older brother, with a 3–0 record compiled against an increasingly credible series of opponents. On August 28th, he is scheduled to fight Tyron Woodley, a former M.M.A. champion; unlike his brother, he is being given a good chance to win.

Early in the press conference Mayweather reminded the crowd of Logan Paul’s Japanese misadventure. “You have to pay for what you did to Japan,” Mayweather said. “I know what you did to your wife,” Paul responded. Mayweather has never been married, but in 2012 he spent two months in jail after an altercation with Josie Harris, the mother of three of his children. Harris died last year, from what was determined to be an accidental overdose. Often, just when it seems that boxing couldn’t be any more ridiculous, it ceases to be ridiculous at all.

Boxing fans frequently put money on the underdog, because the faint hope of a big payout is more exciting than the near-certainty of a small payout. Once you have placed such a bet, of course, you are obliged to seek out reasons for hope, and every underdog provides some. The best case for Paul is that he is bigger than Mayweather: he made his professional début at cruiserweight (two hundred pounds), where many of Mayweather’s biggest fights were at welterweight (a hundred and forty-seven), a division in which he already seemed smallish. Paul stands around six feet two, where Mayweather is five-eight. Paul was asked, in the video, whether he thought Mayweather was overlooking something. “He’s not overlooking anything, because he can’t see over me,” Paul replied, with a smirk, and he gestured at his own bare chest. “He’s looking right here. Direct eye contact with the nips.”

In addition, Paul is only twenty-six, while Mayweather is forty-four, a grandpa in the ring and also a grandpa out of the ring—earlier this year, his daughter, known as Yaya, gave birth to a baby boy. (The father is apparently NBA Youngboy, one of the most transfixing and troubled hip-hop stars of the current moment.) Especially for a fighter like Mayweather, known for his speed and reflexes, age poses an existential threat. Four years ago, Conor McGregor was competitive against Mayweather, for a while, and although Mayweather later claimed that he only let McGregor hang around in order to make the fight “look good,” there is an alternative explanation: maybe Mayweather simply isn’t as quick as he used to be. If he keeps booking fights against underqualified young opponents, he will eventually find someone who is not supposed to beat him, and beats him regardless. It would be rather sad and embarrassing if that someone were Logan Paul.

Not sad and embarrassing, of course, for Paul himself, who has framed his foray into boxing as a journey of personal growth. For the moment, he has traded social-media celebrity, widely perceived as one of the easiest jobs in the world, for boxing, widely perceived as one of the hardest. He thinks—or, at any rate, he says he thinks—that this willingness to do hard work and take hard punishment has provided him with a chance at redemption. In a recent pre-fight documentary, he called the furor surrounding his Japanese video “the lowest point” in his life. “Boxing gave me an opportunity to hit the Reset button on my life,” he said. “Literally fight for who I wanted to be.” It is, by any measure, a gruelling form of self-actualization: to climb into a ring where there is a good chance that Floyd Mayweather, Jr., will beat you up. But anyone who loves boxing may find it hard to dismiss Paul entirely. At least so far, his ability to punch people in the face is less impressive, and less interesting, than his willingness to get punched in the face, especially since he has gentler professional opportunities available to him. In this case, as is often with boxing, the pointlessness is the point. The sport is inseparable from suffering; even Mayweather, known for his risk-averse approach, will surely pay a price for his long and extraordinary professional career, which began a quarter of a century ago, and somehow hasn’t ended yet. Paul thinks that on Sunday night, he can earn some respect, and possibly score a shocking upset of a great—or once-great—boxer. And he may be right, even if he is almost certainly wrong.


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