Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Pretty Boy' puts on a handsome performance

I love watching artists perform. It doesn’t matter if it’s a jazz virtuoso like Joshua Redman or a singer with the operatic-like range of Aretha Franklin. I just wish I could have walked into Andy Warhol's or Jackson Pollock's art studio and watched him create.

Artists tend to hone their craft in private, and all we get to see and enjoy is their finished handiwork, which can be spellbinding when it presents the artist in his finest moment.

Late Saturday night in Las Vegas, in front of a Pay-Per-View audience around the world, an artist performed at his finest. His art was the sweet science, which might not earn the artist -- the glib, flashy Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- a Nobel Prize, but it did re-enforce his boast of being the best fighter in the world.

That’s good enough for men and women who still fancy themselves as boxing acolytes. They pray for performances like Mayweather’s; they long to see great fighters inside the ring, plying their craft, showcasing their skills and dazzling the world.

And, oh, did Floyd Mayweather dazzle.

He left little doubt he was Juan Manuel Marquez’s superior. It was hard to find a single round that Marquez won, and none of the three judges gave him more than two rounds, which in itself was an injustice of the worst sort. Marquez was a thoroughly beaten fighter – from Round 1 to Round 12.

Yet I had expected as much. I saw no way the smaller Marquez (50-5-1), a champ with moxie and grit and pride, could handle the stronger, faster and more polished Mayweather, who came into the bout with a question hanging over his head: What would a 21-month layoff do to his skills?

He needed 10 seconds to answer it. The layoff didn’t affect his skills one bit -- not a hint of rust against Marquez. For in winning a bout only promoter Oscar De La Hoya thought he would lose, Mayweather kept Marquez’s face on the business end of his left jab.

He controlled the pace of the fight and kept Marquez in the center of the ring, a terrible place to be for a man who wants to brawl. The center of the ring is for an artist like Mayweather; it was his canvas, because the center of the ring gave him room to roam, letting his fleet feet and quicksilver combinations keep Marquez from getting inside and punishing Mayweather’s body.

At fight’s end, the unbeaten Mayweather was every bit the “Pretty Boy” he had been before he climbed inside the MGM ring. His dark face was unmarked, his toothy smile still wide; except for the marathon of fighting 12 rounds, he wasn’t overly weary from his performance, as complete a show of his excellence as any performance he’d given in his career.

Questions to answer still -- Mayweather? Not a one. In winning, he reclaimed the “unofficial” title as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Who would dare challenge Mayweather for it? What fighter in any weight class has put on a more overwhelming performance against a top-flight challenger than he did -- Manny Pacquiao or Sugar Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto or, perhaps, Paul Williams, boxing’s most avoided man?

I see no purpose in debating what others might want to say about laying claim to the title. Right now, with Mayweather’s performance so clear in my mind, I see nobody more worthy of it than “Pretty Boy Floyd.” His latest work should silence any talk to the contrary.

Just hang that masterpiece inside a gallery and let patrons of the art of boxing enjoy it.

(Photo of Mayweather-Marquez fight by G10 Classified)


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