Mayweather-Canelo: A decade on from Las Vegas coming to a standstill for The One

When you see a dominant yet poetic and artistic victory in the boxing ring, one always feels it is difficult to do it justice.

It is a violent sport, so why do you even both trying to describe punches as if they are strokes tumbling from a paintbrush, or why discuss the balletic movements of someone closing the gap and waving their fists as though they are magic wands at an entirely bewildered and bewitched opponent?

There is a brutal majesty to it. 

At what point does sport become art?

For me, it was on this day 10 years ago.

Fight week

It was mayhem in Las Vegas. The lobby of the MGM Grand, the one that hosts the iconic boxing ring and golden lion for major fights, was packed all week and unlike anything I’d seen in previous visits. A section of it had been turned into a Mayweather museum, with robes from Floyd’s previous glory nights on display in glass cabinets.

Mayweather-Canelo was billed as The One, and it felt like it. Everywhere you turned, the faces of the fighters flashed at you, on billboards, on drink coasters, on taxis, on the neon frames up and down The Strip, on the slot machines, on hotel room keycards. Just about the only thing you could not do was inject it. But as the big day drew near, you felt like a Mayweather-Canelo junkie. You were living and breathing the fight. There was no off button.

The throngs of visitors to Sin City could not drink it in enough. Everyone wanted a slice of it, no matter what the cost. Ringside seats were tens of thousands, and on the secondary market the prices were becoming more and more exorbitant and opportunities to get tickets were more and more scarce. Actually, they were nigh on impossible. 

The list of celebrities wanting to attend was in the hundreds. There were so many that organisers reluctantly started to put some in the cheaper seats, away from ringside, because there was not enough room to cater for them.

Meanwhile, back in the lobby of the MGM, a pop-up shop [with T-shirts, hats, hoodies, programmes et al] was doing business that could only be described as thunderous. There were literally constant queues of fans zig-zagging through roped off areas to get into the shop, simply to launch hundreds of dollars at stressed out till-workers, as they filled their boots with keepsakes. 

The feeling was the event would be special. The feeling was this was going to be something to remember.

There was a desperation to be involved, to be seen, to have something to show for it.

More than 12,000 attended the weigh-in at the MGM Grand. This was years after Mayweather had helped popularise these occasions with the likes of Ricky Hatton, but this was that dialled all the way up.

After the weigh-in, someone approached me outside the MGM food court and offered me $15,000 for my press credential for the fight.

Mayweather was the favourite for many, but there are some who felt the time was now for the baton to be passed, as it was – in some respects – from De La Hoya to Floyd.

Others felt the catchweight clause had the scales tipped just enough in Floyd’s favour, that Canelo being sucked down a couple more pounds would leave the youngster drained as the fight wore on. It didn’t matter. Spoiler alert. Canelo was just as ineffective at the start when his tank was full.

The fight 

I remember seeing the future great look decidedly downcast as the rounds progressed. It reminded me of how Oscar De La Hoya slumped during his fight with Filipino typhoon Manny Pacquiao, but this was different. This was no changing of the guard, this was the next big thing being turned away at the door of greatness, if only for the time being.

It is hard to tell if I thought Canelo could or would go on to do what he has done in his subsequent 19 fights. He has become boxing’s franchise player and he has, to a degree, taken the ball from where Mayweather took it and run with it. I suppose I did feel there was a risk that, mentally, the utterly convincing defeat at such a tender age could have broken him. Maybe that’s me buying into today’s hyperbole that one loss can either ruin or define a fighter; ironically something I actively preach against.

Canelo showed remarkable resolve to not make that night the centrepiece of his story.

The Mayweather lesson was part of an education that served only to improve him as a fighter. He learned about fighting smart, about ring IQ, about speed and timing acing power and strength, about being a multi-dimensional fighter.

Because that night Canelo had no Plan B, and if he did, it didn’t look any different from Plan A.

The despondent Mexican appeared like a man who held a gun but had no idea how to pull the trigger. Even if he did, the chances of him landing one hopeful bullet were slim. Floyd was the hardest of targets. He would wait for Canelo to pounce but still beat him to the punch. He would let Canelo track him to the ropes but still, using his shoulder role defence, dominate exchanges, covering up and selecting carefully crafted counters.

Imperious doesn’t cover it. Flawless doesn’t either. It was majestic. It was painting a Picasso with Beethoven playing the background. It was boxing mastery at its highest.

I’d like to say I’m as impartial as any journalist covering the sport, and I certainly didn’t care who won. But when I saw Floyd doing what he was doing, landing shots and moving away, staying in the pocket and outscoring the Mexican, I could feel a ripple of applause from the far reaches at the back of my brain. It was uncontrolled and I didn’t act on it, but by God I knew I was watching someone and something special. Floyd, it turned out, was The One that night.

Well. In the ring he was The One. Floyd might have done what he does in the MGM, but that didn’t stop boxing doing what boxing does. I don’t recall scoring a round for Alvarez. It was not a great fight in that it was a one-horse race, but it was a great performance. 

Yet when the scorecards were read out, and CJ Ross had scored it a draw, I wondered why we even bothered trying to say this sport has a level playing field. I wondered how I would or could possibly justify that kind of imbecilic scorecard in my column that week. It was putrid, and it instantly left a vile aftertaste to Mayweather’s virtuoso display. The part of my brain that had silently applauded Floyd earlier, was now telling me to not stand up and shout, ‘What the fuck?’

The aftermath

In many ways, I would contend this was the pinnacle for Mayweather. I saw only one more fight of his life, the first battle with Marcos Maidana; an underrated classic and it was incredible how Maidana managed to bring so much more heat than Canelo. Canelo was supposed to be a more multifaceted fighter and Maidana more one-dimensional, but that dimension worked. The crazy Argentine, in layman's terms, stuck it on Floyd from the first bell. Floyd gave Maidana a rematch, then he fought Pacquiao, Andre Berto and Conor McGregor*.

Maidana was again competitive. Financially, the Pacquiao fight dwarfed everything else, but unlike the display against Canelo, Floyd was so good and Manny so abject all boxing people could really do was mourn what the fight could have been five years earlier, while the business heads celebrated the perfect timing. The selection of Berto kept Mayweather active and McGregor was Business 101 if not Boxing 101. It took Mayweather to the 50-0 mark that he’d already trademarked.

There had been unexpected jeopardy against Maidana, but Canelo was probably the last boxer Floyd faced where he was either not expected to dominate or certainly face down jeopardy.

Pacquiao fans would argue otherwise, but if you look at the Filipino’s run post 2011, the Mayweather fight was only going to go in one direction, damaged shoulder – Manny’s post-fight excuse – be damned.

Canelo did not take Mayweather’s throne, either that night or afterwards, but he carved his own path. He got better quickly, too, and started to fill the holes in his game.

Over the years, he has become the hunted rather than the hunter, the role he had for Floyd. His marquee name has had a target strapped to his back almost ever since.

We probably never thought he would go up to light-heavyweight from a couple of pounds south of junior-middleweight to win a title, but he did. He has faced a who’s who of his era. He’s got some gift decisions over the years, which is not something you can really level at Floyd, even if Jose Luis Castillo fans will be shaking their heads by this point. He has also displayed his fair share of perhaps a more violent than artistic mastery. Canelo has become calculated. He can control distance and entire fights while not throwing shots, and that’s not a criticism – it is a sincere compliment. He is not afraid to let his hands go, of course, and he’s still the exciting, heavy-punching threat to the body and head he has always been. But, perhaps like Floyd’s were against him a decade ago, Canelo’s best days are surely behind him.

We are 10 years on from The One. I still have the press credential that I didn’t sell and a T-shirt from the event, and I almost never buy them and do not collect them.

Mayweather retired at 50-0. Canelo, who meets Jermell Charlo – ironically coming up from 154lbs – on September 30, across the street from the MGM Grand at the T-Mobile. It will be a happening. It won’t be The One. Nothing will be. There will be better fights than The One. There will be special nights. But The One was the blueprint for a mega event of boxing in Las Vegas in this century. It was a week when the city stood still and everyone bought into the hype. Aside from that erroneous scorecard, everything about it made it special. It would even make Canelo special. 

Just about everyone was a winner, in one way or another, and it’s not too often you can say that about a roll of the dice in Las Vegas.