Long before Roger Mayweather became famous for twelve-letter expletives and for discovering A-side Meth, he was a bold case study in hot-and-cold, up-and-down, and what-goes-around-comes-around. With a skull-and-crossbones stitched on his trunks and a right hand that could have doubled as a maul, Mayweather alternated upsides and downsides for the better part of the 1980s because of one simple detail: He owned a chin as fragile as a sparkleball.
What made him even more compelling was the fact that he knew it. “Live by the sword, die by the sword,“ he told KO Magazine in 1988. “It’s the same with Tommy Hearns or anybody else who’s a good puncher. Come to see me fight and something will happen.” But, more often than not, what happened took place between strange longueurs after the opening bell rang. His career was like a haywire movie theater where the projectionist had mixed up the reels of My Dinner With Andre, with, say, The Road Warrior. Nothing happened for a little while, or something thunderous did, or, more often than not, a little of both, or something in between, if that makes any sense at all.
But even more fun than watching Mayweather rise and fall and fall and rise again, was reading about the agita his manager, Billy Baxter, suffered through from fight to fight. Baxter, see, was also a world-class gambler, and a WSOP stalwart during the days when Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Bobby Baldwin, and Stu Ungar were some of the top poker pros on the scene. Betting on a fighter as frail as Mayweather was a serious risk for a bankroll, and boxing—Mayweather, in particular, although future psych ward inmate Bruce Curry was also more than just a handful—probably gave Baxter more ulcers than any ace on the river ever did.
Only 21 when he stopped established pro Sammy Serrano to win the WBA super featherweight title in Puerto Rico in 1983, Mayweather, tall, sinewy, and forever on the prowl, was unable to muster up the discipline necessary to remain champion for long. He was always ready to run wild, in the ring, where his showboating got him banned from the amateurs as a teen, and out of it, where roadwork meant howling at the moon from one end of the Vegas Strip to the other. “When you’re out screwing all night and not eating or training right,” Jesse Reid said of his unbridled pupil, “of course you’re not gonna take a punch.”
A charter member of the Las Vegas Nighthawks League, Mayweather lost his title after only two successful defenses. On February 26, 1984, Rocky Lockridge nearly decapitated him in 91 gruesome seconds. Mayweather immediately tomcatted his way into a slump until he spectacularly remade himself—now sporting a sombrero—in the city of reinvention: Los Angeles. He became a firestarter for the Southern California afición, scorching a slew of Mexican fighters at the sacred and profane Olympic Auditorium on Grand Avenue in the mid-1980s. This unusual hot streak was enough to propel Mayweather into one more shot at the big time. In his last fight of the 80s, Mayweather earned a rematch against Julio Cesar Chavez, who had previously obliterated him in 1985. This time, Chavez ground him down in 11 rounds at the Great Western Forum. It was one of the few times Mayweather was predictable. By then, however, a recurrent shoulder injury had taken away his wrecking-ball right, and Mayweather became just another fighter, and the surprises and shocks he used to deliver with regularity vanished like cassette tapes or Pound Puppies.
Here is Mayweather, more than three years after the Lockridge debacle, upsetting the dope with an abrupt KO of crowd favorite Rene Arredondo at the L.A. Sports Arena to win the WBC junior welterweight title. Naturally, little occurs over the first few rounds, then, suddenly, Arredondo is on his back, then on his face, and then, finally, like a Skid Row drunk looking for the right gutter, helpless on his side as “The Black Mamba” celebrates another snakebite.