Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Genius Of Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Caricature (And Character) Outsells Talent

One morning in 2003 I had the honor of being with both the WWE’s Vince McMahon and Russell Simmons at a political gathering announcing their collaboration in Washington, D.C. I love Russell to death but I already knew him and decided to take the opportunity and limited time to say something to Vince McMahon. Obviously tired with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee in his hand, I shook Vince’s hand and told him that it was a pleasure to meet him. I told him I thought he was a genius. Very graciously he thanked me and said, referring to Russell ‘Oh no, I was just standing next to one today.’ I told him I understood but what made him – Vince McMahon – so unique in my eyes was his ability to interpret popular culture and human nature and create characters and caricatures that represented the thoughts, feelings and social cycle of entire people. I said, anyone who could do that for so long and still be standing, is a genius.

If you really want to understand the power of caricatures you have to take professional wrestling into account.

Evidently the always in tune Cam’ron has, with his new joint, ‘Ric Flair.’ Only a man who talks like this:

“The thing people need to realize is that ‘Money’ Mayweather is a (caricature/character). And that’s what these fighters need to learn about business. If you had a character you’d have something to sell. But a lot of these fighters don’t have nothing to sell because they don’t have any personality.”

With those words, spoken by the boxer himself, and made available on a hidden away interview placed On Demand (and not during the first two episodes of HBO’s 24/7) Floyd Mayweather Jr. lays out a lesson I wish every artist would pay attention to if they were serious about succeeding in the marketplace, and not just being famous or good at what they do.

His words reminded me of one of the more interesting experiences I had handling some aspects of the business affairs of Wu-Tang Clan. In the late 1990s we were approached by the book publishing house, Double Day, who wanted to put out a graphic novel on the group. A graphic novel is essentially a comic book, but it can become quite sophisticated, well beyond what most of us think when we hear that more common term (comic book). I was assigned the responsibility of handling the negotiations with Double Day. I visited their offices in New York City, got a tour of the facility, and was shown a variety of new titles they were publishing (one of the best was the title “Warfighting: Tactics For Managing Confrontation”). When we got down to business I asked them to thoroughly explain to me the graphic novel industry and what they wanted to accomplish with a release featuring Wu-Tang Clan.

As they spoke I realized the value that such a work could hold for us, because it would bring out or further ‘dimensionalize’ that aspect of our brand which separated us from any other rapper or rap group on earth – past and present. In addition to being great lyricists with an intriguing tribal culture, the group had characters who were like superheroes, somewhat like the Superfriends animated television series (for the record, Green Lantern was the man), people related and favored different members of Wu Tang Clan based upon either their ‘powers’ (rap style and flow) their persona (personality type, slang and nicknames) and appearance (style of dress). Even though we were extremely popular I never felt we had fully brought all of these dimensions out on a big stage which would have allowed us to further expand our audience and market segments.

I could tell that the people at Double Day suspected this and could bring it out in the graphic novel narrative but I wasn’t confident that they alone would be able to market it to the kinds of emerging markets I had in mind. They gave us an industry standard book rate which I and other decision-makers felt was beneath the total value of the project, and so, we declined their offer, optimistic that a better opportunity would present itself, or perhaps, we may do it ourselves.

I once saw an interview where D.M.C. said that Public Enemy was the Led Zeppelin of rap and that Run D.M.C. was the Grateful Dead. I thought his insight was interesting and just smiled because of something I always held to myself – which was that I felt Wu-Tang Clan was the KISS of rap. I finally mentioned that publicly a couple of years ago and most of the reaction I received was negative. But my perspective was not just artistic, it was business-oriented. As a young boy like most of us who are 30-somethings – I grew up when there was no Hip-Hop and R&B formatted radio stations. I came up listening to all kinds of music, including heavy metal, and for all of the artists I liked – Boz Scaggs, The Spinners, the Ohio Players, AC/DC, Sugar Hill Gang, Yarbrough and Peoples, and Earth, Wind and Fire, the group that stands out in my mind the most is KISS.


Because they were by far the best at marketing themselves as characters and in caricature form. The result – although I can barely remember their songs, was that by the time I was 8, I had a KISS lunch box, action figures, and watched their television specials whenever they came on. For the record, I rolled with the group’s Ace Frehley whose guitar had crazy supernatural powers. People may have felt these promotional tactics detracted from the group’s talents and artistic credibility but KISS is still laughing to the bank. Just last month came the news that group members were developing a children’s show.

If I was advising Lil Wayne’s Young Money – the closest association of Hip-Hop artists I’ve seen to having Wu-like potential – I’d tell him and them to study KISS and the Clan carefully. There’s a goldmine out there for them, if they nail the science of creating characters and caricatures.

Now, with that context, let’s get back to ‘Money’ Mayweather who further reveals the secret that artist development – A & R – is not as valuable as character development:

“When you get to talkin’ about ‘who holds the record for Pay-Per-View (buys)?’ – you’re looking at him. Or, ‘who took less punishment?’ – you’re looking at him. Or, ‘whose (punches) land with the highest percentage in boxing history?’ – you’re looking at him. ‘Who had the highest gate?’ – you’re looking at him. With or without Shane (Mosley) I’m a be fine. Like I said – all roads lead to Floyd Mayweather. That’s why every fighter is chasing me. I ain’t gotta chase nobody. I’ve been off for two years, and come back, and everybody’s chasing me…You got to realize the commentators want you to basically (be like), ‘Oh yes Sir, thank you for everything you gave me, I appreciate it. Ah, he’s the toughest guy I’ve faced.’ That’s not me, man, that’s not me. Let me be who I am. This is me. And it’s obvious that I’ve got to this point doing something right. I’m not out there making $30 and $40 million paydays not doing something right. So, its obvious Floyd Mayweather’s doing something right. But when you look at Shane Mosley, you say, ‘OK, he’s a good fighter.’ He’s a fighter. You look at Bernard Hopkins, De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Cotto – when you look at all of them, I don’t take nothing away from them, they’re all good fighters. The thing about Floyd Mayweather is that I’m an entertainer. Period. You gotta realize, without boxing I done made millions. And when you’re a real entertainer; when you’re a mega-superstar; you can go to other things and blow up, and make things happen. You can put a hundred thousand (dollars) on Floyd and it becomes a hundred million, eventually.”

I knew Floyd Mayweather was a special entrepreneur and not just a fighter, or just a loud-mouth as most believe (and as he wants most to believe) when I watched him thoroughly destroy Arturo Gatti in June of 2005. Two things he did impressed me. The first was the intensity and depth of his openly crying tears of joy and gratitude after winning. As he kept repeating ‘God is good!’ on his knees a good friend of mine who is a boxer looked at me and said, ‘You can tell he really wanted this one.’ The second thing he did that night was, while during a post-fight interview, correct an adorable child ( I believe it was his son) who had an opportunity to speak, and basically called Arturo Gatti a bum. It was obvious the child was simply and innocently repeating what they had heard Mayweather, Jr. saying publicly and privately for weeks, as part of his ‘character,’ or ‘caricature,’ to promote the fight. Mayweather, gently but firmly corrected the child, telling them no, in fact Arturo Gatti was good, and a great fighter.

It was that night five years ago when I realized that Floyd Mayweather Jr. knows exactly what he is doing and that he understands human nature and the laws of marketing which reveal that people develop more intense emotional connections to personalities than they do logical or intellectual ones to facts. People are moved more by images initially. I write about it in depth in Volumes II and III of my book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret.’

Understanding that science, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. altered his persona from ‘Pretty Boy’ to ‘Money’ Mayweather, Jr. He’s been raking in the C.R.E.A.M. at a higher rate ever since.

‘Money’ May wants you to see him as a villain because it is a better business model, right now, for him, than any other; and because he has the constitution to do it without appearing to be acting. It also is part of his strategy to get in the head of his opponents. He continues to pull in new fans, and with the help of his advisers Leonard Ellerbee and Al Haymon (the greatest concert promoter in the history of R&B music) does what it takes to make non-boxing fans cross over and make the $54.99 order to see if somebody is actually good enough to shut his mouth and put Mayweather. Jr. – this man who talks hella s—t -on his ass!

For me, one of the most humorous sights is getting a reaction from the causal fight fan (usually a woman or young male who was drawn in by the ‘Money’ Mayweather caricature) who sees him fight for the first time. It’s always the same, ‘he ain’t doing nothing…this is boring…how come he doesn’t knock him out?’ But the true fight fan, boxer, or student of the sweet science is never confused – Floyd’s defense-first/ counter-punch/stamina and conditioning wins fights formula is next to impossible to beat.

And after some kind of over-the-top ring entrance, the loud-mouth and radically flamboyant ‘Money’ Mayweather suddenly transforms into the quiet and conservative intellectual boxer, Mr. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. His whole demeanor changes from what 24/7 got you accustomed to seeing. His trainer Roger Mayweather takes over the s—t talking (and can anyone do it better than Uncle Roger?) while Floyd calms down with the objective of fighting smartly and intelligently. It is quite an evolution to observe.

Fortunately for Shane Mosley, his trainer, the unusually wise Brother Naazim Richardson, understands all of this, revealing in an incredible interview with Ismael AbduSalaam (Click here for that), “Floyd knows his audience; he got the barbershop and Hip-Hop audience, the young boys on the corner.” Naazim knows that Floyd Mayweather is first and foremost an intellectual and strategist and to beat him you have to resist reacting to the caricature and character he has constructed.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, and you can notice Brother Naazim is now going argument for argument with the Mayweather camp now even skillfully countering the allegation that Shane may still be ‘using steroids’ with a lesser known rumor that Floyd shoots novacaine into his fragile and small hands before fights. In any event, and whatever is slander, libel or true, Brother Naazim and Shane both know Mayweather earns money with his mouth, but he wins fights with his mind.

Several weeks back I wrote a piece for called, “The Business of ‘Story’ (A Rapper’s Brand and Image)” (Click here for that) where I explain how the most successful artists and entertainers become commercially lucrative by managing their brand, image, and reputation, making sure they are always in alignment. I explain how even Jay-Z failed to do so and how it cost him, temporarily.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has so far managed this process as flawlessly as his boxing record but he will likely have to soon make adjustments. He’s extremely sensitive with a caring personality and passion for his community which at times is hindered by the ‘Money’ May caricature. Off stage he’s much more serious-minded and substantive than that projected image and those who make money off of ‘Money’ have little interest in showcasing his consciousness. A classic example is the difficulty his camp has had in getting HBO to feature is sincere efforts to help the communities of Grand Rapids, Michigan (his hometown) and Las Vegas.

I saw the same with launch of Wu Tang Clan’s foundation and our efforts to feed, educate and bring recreation to inner cities across the country and the group’s hometown Stapleton and Park Hill Projects in Staten Island and our Feasts of The 12 Jewels which I coordinated in Chicago in 1996. The media (even to the level of the Associated Press) in FBI-like COINTELPRO fashion repeatedly lied about violence at our Park Hill Days and they absolutely would never cover our unique Feast Of the 12 Jewels Dinners where we fed hundreds for free.

In trying to balance a billionaire’s caricature, with his more genuine personality as one who gives back and who is a thinker-strategist, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is dealing with some of what such wealthy men as Andrew Carnegie once experienced.

In his excellent biography titled Andrew Carnegie (which I hope someone will give to Floyd) David Nasaw writes of the dilemma of the self-made millionaire, “He was thrilled with his success as a businessman and capitalist, but far from satisfied. He wanted more from life – and would spend the rest of his days in pursuit of it. His ultimate goal was to establish himself as a man of letters, as well known and respected for his writing and intellect as for his ability to make money.”

The author sums up the challenge of the billionaire’s brand when he writes:

“Yet for all that he accomplished and came to represent to the American public – a ferocious businessman and capitalist, a self-educated writer, peace activist, philanthropist, lover of culture, avid self-promoter, and vehement proselytizer of the virtues of American democracy – Carnegie has remained, to this day, an enigma and a man of striking contradictions.”

When you hear or see Floyd speak intelligently on the realities of race relations, poor communities, and even bringing standards to the sport of boxing you can see a bit of the struggle he faces as he wrestles to reconcile the self promoter in him with the philanthropist-activist – an image that his external business partners and associates have little interest in promoting.

Strangely, I actually think that Floyd would be freed from the strait-jacket that his character and caricature have placed him in, should he eventually lose in the ring (or barely win in a warrior-like tough fight). Then his brand, image and reputation could evolve in new directions more compatible with who he really is and what he cares most deeply about, aside from money.

In a sense, he is the only person I would put above LeBron James (see my “The Crossover Journey: Why Lebron Comes To New York”), in terms of the potential for being both a ‘billionaire’ and force for social change – answering the challenge of Jim Brown and even Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers who perhaps framed it better than anyone in the track ‘Black Business,’ “Where do Blacks with crazy cash and knowledge of themselves live at? Teacher haven’t seen none. Many sold their souls for cash.

But for now, here’s to the genius of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – a man who is much more than he appears, on purpo$e.


Cedric Muhammad


Inside camp Mayweather: Uncle Roger can’t deny that Pacquiao weighs heavy on the mind

Sitting on the corner steps of the ring in Floyd Mayweather’s personal Las Vegas gym, Uncle Roger has the look of a man who has been here before. While Team Mayweather is currently less than two weeks away from a pivotal bout against very dangerous Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand you wouldn’t sense the seriousness of the situation by analyzing Roger.

The 48-year old trainer must have a lot on his mind with a pending court case coming up where he has been accused of physically assaulting one of his previous female fighters. While that is certainly out of the ordinary, working with his nephew for yet another high-profile contest is like second nature. Speaking on the subject further Roger notes that it is simply a matter of the team doing their homework in order to get ready for the challenge at hand.

All through their time working together Roger has never held back his feelings on Floyd Jr., pointing to his accomplishments in the squared circle time and time again. When asked what specifically has set Floyd Jr. apart from other fighters of his generation, Roger begins to open up adamantly.

“Floyd has won six world championships and most people have never had one,” Roger says. “Floyd won six world championships and won in five different divisions. I mean when you start talking about boxing Floyd is one of the elite fighters in the sport of boxing. When history goes down it will be like this. When history is made Floyd will be one of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing, period. So that’s what makes him different. You have a lot of great fighters but the difference between good and great is what separates them. That’s why they called Muhammad Ali the greatest heavyweight ever. That’s why you call Ray Robinson the greatest fighter ever. So when you start talking about what someone has accomplished that’s when you realize what greatness is.”

With the word greatness in the air it is only fair to bring up Mayweather’s upcoming dance partner Mosley into the equation. Having won multiple titles in three different weight classes himself while facing a myriad of top-level competition, Shane has proven himself on many drastically different levels. While that is enough for Roger to pay slight respect you won’t ever catch him going overboard on Mosley’s abilities.

“I think he is one of the guys that is a threat to a certain degree,” Roger musters. “He has decent handspeed but I think what people are going to find out is that it is going to be very shocking what speed can do. I think they are going to find out what they think speed can do and what abilities Floyd has that can control that hand speed.”

Mayweather’s skills are all still in tact and he is unquestionably one of the top two or three fighters in the game today. Despite not taking much punishment during his 13-plus year career young Floyd did turn 33 this past February and that is an age when many athletes have either left the scene or at least started to seriously decline. When asked just how much his nephew has left to give to the sport Roger seems to be on the fence.

“He won’t fight that long,” he predicts. “I wouldn’t fight that long either. Floyd is going to continue boxing as long as his heart is in the sport. He’s been boxing all his life so it’s hard to find that he would walk away at his age now. He might but I’m saying that it is hard for me to say that I would walk away. It’s a hard thing to do.”

It’s very likely that Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be around for at least a few more years. But while there are a bevy of talented and dangerous champions and contenders lurking around there is only one fight after May 1st that Roger deems worthy. In closing the bombastic Uncle lets it be known that an eventual clash with Manny Pacquiao is something that often crosses his mind.

“Everybody knows who his opponent should be. People aren’t fools. Everybody knows what they want to see after he takes care of business against Shane Mosley. The only fight that is possible out there – Pacquiao. Whatever makes money makes sense and that’s the only fight that is going to make that kind of money. You’re talking about finishing a career in boxing and you can’t do anything bigger than that. Him and Pacquiao would probably be one of the biggest fights in the history of the sport.”

Author: Chris Robinson


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