Why you should care

Because Floyd Mayweather fights in one of the biggest fights of the year against Marcos Maidana tomorrow. And although he’s the world’s greatest boxer, he’s not giving even half his full effort — his words, not ours.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather earns $925,000 per minute of a fight.

That’s thanks to the legendary boxer’s record-breaking contract with Showtime, for which he’ll fight six fights in 30 months — and earn nearly $200 million. Who says boxing is a dying sport?

Mayweather, 37, has drawn big-time money to the game — which, it’s true — keeps running into new challenges, such as the swelling popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But his legacy for the sport could be as complicated as it is helpful. Because for Mayweather, who’s both at his peak and nearing the end of his time in the ring, the sport might be about playing a bigger game: The hustle for money — and legacy.

No fighter in the history of boxing has gone unbeaten as long as Mayweather.

The Michigan-born, New Jersey-bred boxer — whose father and two uncles were also professional fighters — has participated in the two highest grossing pay-per-view fights of all time: 2013’s showdown with Canelo Alvarez ($150 million in revenue) and his 2007 bout with Oscar De La Hoya ($136 million). Little wonder that last year he topped ESPN’s list of the world’s highest paid athletes, raking in $72.5 million.

And — he’s been unbeaten for nearly 18 years.

No professional fighter in the history of boxing has gone unbeaten as long as Mayweather (17 years, 6 months and 21 days). He’s also the first to carry an undefeated record past the age of 36.

The experts call him, simply, a superstar: “Barring anything that is unforeseen, Mayweather’s status as the reigning highest-paid athlete is a phenomenal achievement and something that I do not see any boxer doing in my lifetime,” says RingTV.com’s Lemuel Satterfield.

Who would have thought that the kid who was raised in a dysfunctional, drug-infested household would become the richest individual athlete in the world?

It took a little luck and a lot of talent for Mayweather to go from sleeping with seven other people in a one-bedroom apartment to his five-bedroom Vegas mansion. Boxing is the only job Mayweather has ever known, and the 1996 Olympic Bronze medalist milked every opportunity once he turned pro.

2 fighters in ring with headgear on throwing punches

Featherweight Floyd Mayweather, right, delivers a hard right to Viacheslav Smirnov of Russia, during their pre-Olympic tune-up June 17, 1996 in Miami.

Source Hans Deryk/AP

Back when knockouts — or match-ending blows — were the sport’s main attraction, Mayweather, whose major flaw was a lack of Tyson-esque knockout power, hatched a plan: He’d play an obnoxious, villainous character whose explosive personality could make up for his weakness. Not gifted with the power many fighters are born with, Mayweather figured people would pay to see him lose — arguably the greatest marketing ploy in the history of boxing.

But today’s boxing is a far cry from the knockout-style of the Rocky films; athletes win matches thanks to judges, not merely punch-power — which makes Mayweather’s skill and smooth defensive tactics a brilliant recipe for becoming a multimillion-dollar athlete.

What I want to know, though, is what could he be doing better? He pauses before responding: “In 18 years I haven’t even brought my best out.”

Which leads me to ask, “What percentage of yourself is the most you’ve given in a fight?”

“I’d say, a majority of the time, I beat fighters at about 40 percent,” he says.

Wait. What?

The notion that Mayweather’s accomplished all he has by using less than half his potential is, well, arrogant — and insulting to everyone he’s fought.

He trains relentlessly, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and never allows himself to get out of shape.

Then again, maybe it’s just another marketing ploy. In a sport where the object is to beat your opponent senseless, Mayweather skirts his weaknesses by outthinking his opponents and relying on an impenetrable defense to win over the judges.

When Mayweather fights, you can see him calculating distance, speed, angles and tendencies in the opening minutes. Once he figures out the other guy’s game plan — most likely, to hit him — Mayweather deploys his — which is, well, to not get hit.

Floyd hitting padded torso of opponent.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. trains in Mayweather Boxing Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Source Kabik/Retna/Corbis

Considered the greatest defensive fighter in the history of the sport, he employs a technique called the shoulder roll, which, coupled with hair-trigger reflexes, enables him to block punches with his shoulder or roll with the momentum of punch, thus lessening the blow, while countering with a lightning fast right hand that is hidden from view.

And the judges love it.

But it’s not all mindgames and strategy: Few work as hard as he does. Today’s workout finds Mayweather hitting the heavy bag, doing mitt work, sit-ups, dips, neck work, pushups and hitting the speed bag for three hours without a break. Later he’ll go for an eight-mile jog.

“He trains relentlessly, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and never allows himself to get out of shape,” Satterfield explains.

Mayweather v. Pacquiao could forever be known as the greatest fight that never happened.

Critics are quick to point out that Mayweather hasn’t fought the best of the best — 35-year-old Manny Pacquiao — and have accused him of avoiding tough fights or challenging opponents when they are on the decline.

Pacquiao, many believe, is the only fighter who presents a real threat to Mayweather. And if they don’t fight before Mayweather’s final match of his current contract — he claims his 49th will be his last; tomorrow’s is the third fight of his six-fights-for-$200-million deal — Mayweather v. Pacquiao will forever be known as the greatest fight that never happened.

And if this fight doesn’t take place, a disgruntled conglomerate of fans and naysayers will flag it as the reason boxing is on its deathbed. You have to give the fans what they want, and what they have wanted for half a decade is Mayweather v. Pacquiao.

“I don’t need him,” Mayweather says dismissively when Pacquiao’s name comes up. “I’m comfortable where I’m at.”

Despite his nickname of “Money,” he swears that something else drives him. “Legacy keeps me hungry. It’s not about the money anymore. I want my name and the Mayweather brand to live on.”

But what if Muhammad Ali had never faced Joe Frazier? Would his legacy be what it is had he not taken on a worthy rival? The risk is what makes a legend.

A stretch Rolls Royce with suicide doors and “The Money Team” logo emblazoned on the windows pulls up outside the gym to whisk Mayweather away. Maybe it’s not all about the money — but way more than 40 percent of it is.

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