Simply put, Floyd “Money” Mayweather is the best pound-for-pound fighter we have today. This is not an article about his skills; however, this is a piece about Mayweather and American manliness.
How do we make sense of a man who has called himself “Pretty Boy” and “Money?” A man that surrounds himself with family, yet is going to jail for domestic violence? A man who is the quintessential American success story, a Horatio Alger type, who grew up working class, worked hard, and is now worth a reported $100 million? A man who moved from the segregated neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, MI, to a mansion in Las Vegas? The definition of manhood, manliness, or masculinity, depending on the term you want to use, is a social construction that has a number of variations, but in America the dominate term is a middle class characterization. Although this construction is fluid, there are some core values like the ability to support one’s family that define manhood. This middle class meaning has always been tied to the market economy. Thus to succeed as a man, one has to be discipline, responsible, and work hard, the “invisible hand” of the market will take care of everything from there (so we hope.)
This version of manhood also favors the married man who has a family and protects his family. Most men condition themselves to fit that model and are judged by this version of manhood. Not Floyd “Money” Mayweather. To be clear, we see elements of middle-class manhood in Floyd, such as discipline, success in business, and his ability to provide for his kids and create a family atmosphere in his gymnasium, but Mayweather has lived his professional life as a sporting man, and thus his manliness is judged and understood within this sporting context. He is one of the few professional athletes in modern American history that has chosen to live his life and prove his manliness in the sporting culture. Some like Dennis Rodman failed. While he briefly succeeded in this lifestyle, it ultimately spit Rodman out. It did the same to Tiger Woods. Like Tiger, most men who try to live the sporting life do it away from the public eye. They fear how we might react and judge them. But Floyd is open about his life. His reputation and manhood is made in the sporting world.
The sporting lifestyle is essentially a male bachelor subculture. Once married, most men leave this life behind them. Married men that stay are deemed unmanly and irresponsible. They spend their money on drinks, gambling, and occasionally on women. A sporting man flaunts his success. Floyd owns a fleet of expensive cars, millions of dollars in jewelry, and he throws his money around to prove his point. He doesn’t play by middle-class America’s rules, who shun most of his antics; he plays within the sporting subculture. And there is nothing wrong with that. As a man, he has gambled on his skills and has won to the tune of $100 million dollars.
His two nicknames during his career, “Pretty Boy” and “Money,” are monikers that suggest his manly rise within the sporting fraternity. The first name “Pretty Boy,” is one that has a duel meaning. “Pretty” is a reference to his fighting propensities and defensive skills that allow his face to go unaltered in the violent sport of prizefighting. “Pretty” is also an allusion that he is handsome and a well-dressed man. In other words, he is a dandy or a player, respected characterizations within the sporting context. “Boy” was a simple acknowledgement that he was not a man yet and thus as a “boy” he could and did things irresponsible.
As he aged and succeeded in his career as a boxer he made millions in the ring, and bet millions outside of the squared circle, and he changed his name to “Money.” Instead of choosing a moniker that reflected a conversion from a boy to a man by middle class standards, he uses a nickname that explains his success and his manhood within the sporting fraternity.
Manliness in the sporting world is also defined by a man’s ability and willingness to gamble, and protect his name, or his honor. As a professional fighter Mayweather defends his honor in the ring. His opponents have challenged him, and disrespected his name by thinking they can beat him, and as a man he is expected to fight or risk ridicule. To prove his manliness, he puts his health on the line and wagers money on his abilities. Two signs of manly confidence. Outside of the ring he bets huge sums of money, honors his bets, and as the most successful man in his posse, he pays for food and drinks. Honor and manliness also explains the stalled negotiations with Manny Pacquiao where Floyd has turned down a reported $70 million dollars. Undoubtedly, as a sporting man he hears the cries of coward because he won’t fight his main challenger. There is no room for a coward in the sporting culture.
While outsiders think he is crazy or afraid, Floyd is really being honorific. He argues that Manny is being dishonorable because he uses PEDs. A true sporting man gambles but doesn’t cheat and won’t be cheated, so Floyd won’t risk his reputation by fighting someone who is dishonorably trying to sway the odds in his favor. He also asserts his own honor by requesting a 60/40 split of the money. He is saying that he has no equals and giving Manny a fair share of the money would suggest that much. So while the public screams for these two men to beat each other up to prove their manliness, Floyd has steadily, as a man, demanded that the terms of the match protect his honor. And if they ever square off in the ring, honor will be at the center of animosity for both men.
Of course, we can’t excuse his domestic violence charge which also begs the question; can he continue to live this sporting lifestyle? History tells us no, but I wouldn’t bet against “Money.” In the meantime, while we speculate on his downfall he will continue to earn millions of dollars and spend it lavishly as proof of his manliness.