LAS VEGAS – It's all been an act, Floyd Mayweather says. All the trash talking, all the outrageous stunts, the burning of $100 bills in a night club. It's all been an effort to hawk tickets and pay-per-view sales.
It's laughable now to think there was a time early in his career when Mayweather was considered a poor draw.
He's shattered records along the way to becoming the greatest pay-per-view attraction in boxing history because he has a brilliant marketing sense and an uncanny understanding of his audience.
There are many, he knows, who want to see him knocked cold, humbled in the most dramatic way possible.
To those, he's taunted and teased and poked and prodded and generally infuriated, turning them into reluctant buyers who would then cross all of their fingers and plead with a higher power for some justice, to see this cocky, audacious man not only lose but be put firmly in his place.
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He's also, though, a genius at understanding how to endear himself to his own fan base, and thus he sells pay-per-views as if they were $1 beers on a 100-degree day at a NASCAR race.
"The thing is this," Mayweather said the other day. "Everything was a business plan. My business plan was to be very, very entertaining, be very wild, turn it on when it's time to turn it on, turn it off when it's time to it off, and that's what I did. I built my fan base. I became a mega-star. That was the ultimate goal."
The act would have worn thin, though, without an enormous amount of talent. That's the part that can't be overlooked.
He's held a world championship since beating the great Genaro Hernandez in 1998 when his next challenger, Canelo Alvarez, was just a few months past his eighth birthday.
Mayweather has beaten 17 men (one of them twice) who have held or would go on to hold a major world title.
What is truly astounding about what Mayweather has accomplished are the records of his opponents in championship matches at the time they faced him. Those men were 967-69-22, an eye-popping .924 winning percentage. Add Alvarez, who he faces Saturday in a super welterweight title bout at the MGM Grand Garden, into that mix and his opponents' winning percentage jumps to .928.
Mayweather is 44-0 and thundering down the stretch of his brilliant career like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont, a vast distance ahead of his competition.
A 49-0 record is a very real possibility if Mayweather gets past the 42-0-1 Alvarez.
Mayweather insists he'll retire after he completes the six-fight contract he signed with Showtime earlier this year. After the match with Alvarez, there will be four more bouts left on that deal.
Given that there are no opponents on the horizon in or around his weight class who would seem to be a threat to him, the odds are great that Mayweather will finish unbeaten should he beat the 23-year-old Mexican star.
Alvarez is about a 2 ½-1 underdog, so it would hardly be the biggest upset in boxing history were he to win. Mike Tyson lost as a 42-1 favorite against Buster Douglas and as a 24-1 favorite to Evander Holyfield.
The losers in many of the other great upsets in boxing history were among the greatest fighters ever: Sugar Ray Robinson was 128-1-2 when he lost to the unheralded Randy Turpin in 1951. Leon Spinks had only seven pro fights under his belt when he upset Muhammad Ali in 1978. Roberto Duran seemed finished when he lost to Kirkland Laing in 1982.
Alvarez appears to be a far better fighter than Laing and Spinks, though he's nowhere near as accomplished as Holyfield was in 1996 when he beat Tyson.
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya has been predicting the upset, though since Mayweather beat De La Hoya in 2007, De La Hoya has subsequently predicted every man that Mayweather has faced would beat him.
Given that he thought he'd beat Mayweather himself, that makes De La Hoya 0-7 in picking Mayweather bouts over the last six years, but he says he believes in Alvarez's ability to pull it off.
The buzz around the fight is intense and De La Hoya believes that's because fans feel there is a legitimate shot that Mayweather may finally lose.
"Well, I know why it's caught on so big is because people have hope and people strongly feel that Mayweather is going to get beat," De La Hoya said. "You know that's why I feel this fight is catching fire. You have a young guy in Saul who is like a seasoned veteran. He knows what he's doing. He's a fighter who has a game plan, who is in the best shape of his life.
"People have hope, and people strongly feel that Mayweather is going to get beat."
A Mayweather loss would actually lead to a mega-fight rematch. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer made a trip to New York last week to talk to financial media about the incredible business the fight is generating.
But if Schaefer thinks this fight is big, if Alvarez wins on Saturday, the rematch would break all records.
In that regard, a Mayweather loss might be best financially for the fighters as well as Showtime and the two promotional companies.
But if Mayweather runs the contract undefeated and is sitting at 49-0, there will be enormous financial incentive for him to fight one more time to get to 50-0. That, too, would be a massive fight, almost regardless of the opponent.
Mayweather doused speculation he caused at a news conference when he said he might keep going past the Showtime deal. A few days after that in an interview with Yahoo Sports at his gym, he said he was kidding. He still plans, he said, to retire when the Showtime deal expires.
"Aw, man!" he said. "I was trash talking, man! I was having fun with the fans. I keep my fingers crossed and I believe in my skills and I believe in my talents. Hopefully, I get to 49-0 in my career and I will feel as if I had a great career. Everybody is trying to push me to that 50-0, but I'm OK with that 49-0."
The truth is, he may be OK with 49-0 and he may not be. He has the right to change his mind, and when he sees what's there, he may choose to try to make it a nice even 50-0.
But whatever he does, it will be done with a master stroke.
He's played the bad guy a lot, but Floyd Mayweather has never played the fool.