With blood dribbling down his nose and welts making a rare appearance on his face, Floyd Mayweather Jr. punched his way to another world title and perhaps, more significantly, a new kind of career on Saturday night.
For years, despite winning and barely getting touched in the process, Mayweather was derided as a safety-first, defensively oriented fighter.
But in lifting the World Boxing Association super welterweight title via unanimous decision from Miguel Cotto before 16,047 at the MGM Grand Garden, Mayweather made a statement that he can entertain inside as well as outside the ring.
He puts on a better show leading into his fights than anyone. This time around, he was accompanied to the ring by rappers Lil Wayne and 50 Cent and teen idol Justin Bieber, who toted two of his world title belts. More significant than the out-of-ring show, though, was what happened when the bell rang.
Whatever the reason, whether it was Cotto forcing the issue, age slowing him down or a desire to channel his inner Arturo Gatti, Mayweather was every bit the fighter. He was pinned in corners frequently by Cotto, one of the best body punchers in the business. But instead of spinning away and keeping his distance, Mayweather chose to stand and trade.
"We gave you guys what you wanted to see," Mayweather said. "It wasn't the Floyd Mayweather who was back-pedaling, and I could have just out-boxed him and moved and made it a boring fight. But it's a recession. You guys spend your hard-earned dollars to come see me. So, I said, '[Expletive] it,' and I gave you guys what you wanted to see."
Don't get the idea you're going to get
Mayweather blamed Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum and suggested the only way the fight could occur would be if Pacquiao bolts Arum.
"Bob Arum is not going to let the fight happen; it's not on me," Mayweather said. "I went to Pacquiao and I offered him $40 million. I called him and I talked to him directly. I offered him $40 million and I told him I'd wire him $20 million within 48 hours. He turned me down. He basically said, '50/50.' I said, 'How can you ask for 50/50 and you're not doing the same numbers that I'm doing?' At first, if you go back and read the articles, he said he'd do it for less [than 50/50].
"Then, it was like, 'I don't want to take the random blood and the random urine [tests].' It's just been a problem trying to make this fight. The fans and the public are being fooled. Bob Arum does not want to make this fight happen. Once he's free from Bob Arum, will the fight happen? Absolutely."
That topic was the only downer, though, on an unexpectedly entertaining night.
Cotto fought like the vintage Cotto, the man who raced out to a 30-0 record and scored significant wins over the likes of Shane Mosley and Zab Judah.
He went hard to the body early in the bout, ripping Mayweather with hooks. But when Mayweather felt the power, he opted not to get on his toes and keep Cotto at a distance.
Instead, Mayweather girded himself and traded. He was trapped in Cotto's corner in the second round, but fired off a five-punch combination that forced Cotto to take a step back.
"Floyd did what he had to do to win, and that's what great fighters do," trainer Roger Mayweather said.
Mayweather, though, put himself through a lot more than he needed in order to get the win. For the first time since 2007, when he won the same belt by beating Oscar De La Hoya, he wore the signs of battle on his face.
He was more bruised and lumped up than perhaps at any time since he fought Emanuel Burton [now known as Emanuel Augustus] in 2000 in a non-title bout.
"Matching the best with the best is what it's about," Mayweather said. "Cotto [is a] tough competitor, very, very tough competitor. He won some rounds. He was tough. I knew this guy wasn't going to lie down."
And Cotto did not. He delivered a typical Cotto blue-collar performance, constantly working, constantly throwing punches, always looking to pressure.
The difference in quickness between them was stark, though, and was obvious from the first round.
Cotto was wobbled badly by a blazingly quick Mayweather uppercut in the final round, and then did not attend the post-fight news conference. He went to a local hospital for a precautionary check.
"The judges said I lost the fight," Cotto said. "I can't do anything else. I have to take my defense. I brought my best every morning in the training camp and I did my best tonight. I'm happy with my fight and with my performance and I can't ask for anything else."
And it would be hard to ask more of Mayweather, who took on probably the best fighter he could have other than Pacquiao.
Mayweather is scheduled to be incarcerated June 1 in the Clark County Detention Center after pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. He has said he wants to fight again this year – with good behavior, he'll likely be released by the end of July – but on Saturday, he demurred.
He said there are no logical opponents. Asked if he would retire, he said, "I don't know right know. I need to talk to my team."
If that was it, it was perhaps the best note of his career.
Rarely has Mayweather been as fun to watch.