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Johannesburg – Floyd Mayweather was welcomed to South Africa by Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister, on Wednesday night, who believed his visit would inspire the future of boxing in this country long after he left. The best fighter in the world, though, was not too sure and when asked about his expectations of his visit to South Africa, answered: “Um, I don’t know. I really don’t know. We got so many great places to go and see, so I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.”
Mayweather is here, according to the press release, to “spearhead the ‘Reawakening the Giant” initiative to invigorate the sport across the country”. A gallant, noble and necessary campaign for a sport that has consumed itself and is in dire straits, a sport that has left boxers destitute, been muddled by administrators and seen fingers pointed at promoters. There is much mystery over who has paid Mayweather to be in South Africa. The sports ministry have denied he is getting a fee and on Wednesday when the ministry’s spokesperson Paena Galane was quizzed on Twitter about how much South African taxpayers’ money was being spent on Mayweather’s trip, refused to answer the question, saying: “I said if you wanted answers you should ask rather than lie. Ask. Ask. Don’t lie and ask for answers afterwards. Simple.”
When Mayweather was asked about how much he was getting paid, he did not answer. When he was asked what legacy he hoped to leave behind from this trip, replied: “A lot of fighters are looking at being the best. I’m looking at being the smartest outside the ring.” It was the right answer, a good one, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be on such a short trip to South Africa, which has seen a visit to East London, where so many South African champions were born, bred and trained, cut out.
Mbalula was much taken with Mayweather, so much that he arrived on time for the press conference, a first in recent memory. He was early, though, as the press conference began 30 minutes late because SABC wanted to take it live. What followed was 30 minutes of praise-singing as many Mayweather fans had managed to enter the room at Olympic House, with two of them declaring themselves his biggest fans and then arguing about it.
“I’m your biggest fan in South Africa,” said a man with an American accent. “No, you’re not,” shouted out a man off to his right. The conference was told Mayweather would only be answering boxing questions, which precluded asking about his 2011 conviction for domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, for which he served two months of a 90-day sentence. He was accused of punching and pulling the hair of Josie Harris in front of their two children after he found text messages from another man on her phone. Questions on whether taxpayers’ money was being spent on bringing a man convicted of beating a woman would not be “indulged”. It was that sort of night, begun by the ever-effusive Mbalula.
“It is indeed a great moment, we are in the presence of greatness,” said Mbalula, before admitting he was still in a little shock Mayweather was sitting next to him. “This is not Floyd Mayweather, this is his brother. He is going to tell us he could not make it. You are finally in South Africa.
“You were born in America, but we are blessed to have you in the land of Nelson Mandela. His grandson is here. We are grateful to host you as a champion. We don’t host mediocrity, we host greatness. You are the rose that grew from concrete. Champ of all times, incomparable.”
Mbalula said he, Mayweather, would interact with local boxers and hoped that some of his influence would “rub off on them … (in the) sport of the poorest of the poor.
“It’s always been one of my dreams to come back to the motherland, but I’m here now,” said Mayweather.
“It took 36 years. I don’t just represent the red, white and blue, Floyd Mayweather represents the world. I’m very grateful for all those who bought pay per view.”
He said he would find out in the next seven days who he would be fighting next on pay per view, but he hoped it would be someone very exciting. Mayweather will visit a clinic in Dube, Soweto on Thursday, before heading to Cape Town to visit Robben Island.
FLOYD MAYWEATHER FACTFILE
Floyd Mayweather jr, born February 24, 1977 in Grand Rapids, MI, US with the name Floyd George Sinclair
Record: 45-0, 26 KO
Rounds Boxed: 339
Knockouts-to-Fights Ratio: 58percent
Net Worth: $170-Million (est)
Difficult to hit cleanly
Natural athletic ability
Good ring instincts
Strong amateur background
Major World Titles
WBC Super Featherweight
WBC Light Welterweight
WBC Light Middleweight