The maxim "Protect yourself at all times" applies to boxing fans, too.
My first thought Saturday night was that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is killing boxing at the very moment his popularity somehow keeps it alive -- like a mother with Munchausen Syndrome by proxy or one of those murder nurses you read about in the tabloids. ("Angel of Mercy Strikes Again!") He briefly counteracts a condition he creates.
Boxing, the eternal invalid, never quite dies but never really gets well. It is too corrupt, too ridiculous, too rotten with money and too sick with ambition. Rather, because of men like Mayweather, it has persisted for many decades with a weak heart and in a state of infirmity. And without a charming or contending American heavyweight to win back casual fans, Mayweather -- a supremely talented fighter of almost no demonstrable character -- is now as necessary to the sport as gloves and liniment.
Thus, and weirdly, even as boxing's target audience swoons into the welcoming arms of mixed martial arts, we get Saturday night's $64.95 burlesque punchout of Kissin' Victor Ortiz. So Mayweather accelerates boxing's comic deathbed scene even as the long-shot prospect of his superfight with Manny Pacquiao keeps it on life support.
Undefeated, unenlightened and unashamed, Mayweather, savior/destroyer, is a champion and a bum for our time.
This is not unprecedented, of course. In sports or out of them.
In fact, we see this duality all around us. For example, a fundamental moral tension in every democracy and every market economy exists between what's right and what's legal. Between what can be done and what should be done. Notice how often this tension hangs in the cloakrooms of the House and the Senate, chokes the halls of the White House and Goldman Sachs, or how it fills the "A" section of your newspaper or stokes the boilers of your cable news programs.
So when Mayweather anesthetized a fighter whose hands were still at his sides, the can I?/should I? one-two might have been strictly legal, but it wasn't nearly right.
Floyd "Money" Mayweather! 42-0! Undefeated American hero in the age of ends and means!
Will he fight Pacquiao before he destroys the sport entirely, thereby saving it? Or will he wind up on a talk show panel somewhere, bad-mouthing Larry Merchant, while the sport finally flatlines? Or will he be in jail?
Hard to say.
Floyd "Money" Mayweather, sportsman. Object lesson. Cautionary tale. Standing in the shadows between what's right and what's legal and what sells. Standing for us all.
Money sees the chance, and Money takes it!
How could things be otherwise in this America of ours?
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.