Floyd Mayweather's failings turn runaway success into a train wreck

Floyd Mayweather Jr should be the saviour of boxing and not, as he would like us to see it, the sacrificial lamb.

Only Sugar Ray Leonard of the modern era has rivalled the unbeaten, five-division world champion for pure talent; nobody in the fight game today is more controversial, charismatic, outrageous or gets bigger pay-per-view hits than the man who calls himself "Money May"; few are more obnoxious; no fighter is less dispensable.

And, as he heads for 90 days in the county jail – an American cliché ready-made for his rapper friend 50 Cent to immortalise the way Bob Dylan did for Hurricane Carter – boxing needs its childish genius more than ever.

This is no doubt some consolation to him as he packs his designer luggage in preparation for a trip in the new year to the Clark County Detention Center from 6 January after pleading guilty to domestic violence charges this week.

At the end of a depressingly familiar year of discord Mayweather has let down his sport again, not to mention those much closer to him. His sense of grievance is unconvincing. He stood in court in Las Vegas on Wednesday like the entitled and consistently indulged star he is, fiddling with his shiny watch and cufflinks, the accoutrements of his considerable wealth, as justice of the peace Melissa Saragosa gently dressed him down.

He was relieved after plea bargaining to avoid related charges of coercion, robbery and grand larceny that could have put him away for 34 years.

Saragosa was particularly concerned that he had committed the admitted offences in front of children. Mayweather could only shake his head, a petulant child himself.

The listed charges against him said that on 9 September last year he argued with his former girlfriend Josie Harris, grabbed her hair and threw her to the floor. He also allegedly threatened to kill Harris and her boyfriend. He would make her boyfriend "disappear", the complaint said. A protection order claimed Mayweather punched Harris in the head and twisted her arm while she screamed for their children, aged seven to almost 11, to call the police.

Harris and Mayweather separated in May 2010 after an on-and-off relationship of 15 years.

Those troubles ought to be between Mayweather, his estranged partner and their children but he lives in the public glare willingly. He goes to nightclubs and throws money at his fans in celebration of his wealth. He brings his children to press conferences. He is a regular on social media outlets and has figured in HBO's 24/7 documentaries to promote his fights, letting the cameras roam his gym, where, before his most recent fight, he engaged in a volatile exchange of expletives with his father, Floyd Sr. There is not a lot we do not already know about Mayweather and his family.

Floyd came to this court hearing in between nightclub engagements and left in his beautifully cut brown suit lumbered with half of a six-month jail sentence to serve, along with a $2,500 (£1,500) fine, commitment to 12 months' counselling and 100 hours of community service. It was hard to feel sorry for him. Those who have suffered for his ego are the ones who deserve sympathy.

What does his imminent incarceration mean for boxing? Uncertainty. His fight with Manny Pacquiao, the most ballyhooed and aborted in the industry since Muhammad Ali was rebuilding his career after his own three-and-a-half-year exile, is in jeopardy again and might not now happen.

For nearly three years Mayweather and the promoter Bob Arum have let their greed and intransigence get in the way of the fight. It matters not who was right or wrong now; the damage has been done.

If the fight ever happens, it will be so devalued as to be a major anticlimax. Mayweather will be 35 when his jail term ends in April. Pacquiao, whose ring strength is fading in proportion to the distraction of his new office as politician in the Philippines, will remain a draw only for a little longer, given his recent struggles.

Others will queue up to fill the vacuum left by Mayweather – Tim Bradley, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan – but they were always going to be following rather than leading in the dance. Only Mayweather and Pacquiao were equals, in the ring or at the box office.

Mayweather, through his weaknesses, has inadvertently hurt the sport he professes to respect. What might have been a glorious career has descended into a train wreck that nearly everyone saw coming but the man himself.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Kevin Mitchell, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 22nd December 2011 22.15 Europe/London

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