May­weather-McGre­gor fight an­chored in spec­ta­cle

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Fight­ing has al­ways been a spec­ta­cle, from the Ro­man Coli­seum to grimy back rooms to Las Ve­gas. Two com­bat­ants framed in, wa­gered on and sur­rounded by thou­sands who want noth­ing more than for one to cleanly clob­ber the other.

Floyd May­weather Jr. and Conor McGre­gor are push­ing the big-top feel of box­ing to a new level this Au­gust. The brash, un­de­feated May­weather will fight McGre­gor, a brash, thrice-de­feated (all by submission) mixed mar­tial arts cham­pion, on Aug. 26 in Las Ve­gas. The fight prompts mem­o­ries of two P.T. Bar­num quotes:

“Ev­ery crowd has a sil­ver lin­ing.” “There’s a sucker born ev­ery minute.” Is this chi­canery? Plain buf­foon­ery? Clean criss­crossed com­pe­ti­tion? Some­thing downright ne­far­i­ous? Or a gift to fans who want to see this kind of real-life su­per-hero mashup?

Records will be set. That much is clear. May­weather is ex­pected to pocket at least $100 mil­lion. McGre­gor’s share of what is pro­jected to be an all-time high of pay-per-view buys is less straight for­ward, but the pro­mot­ers in­volved as­sured that ev­ery­one is pleased with pend­ing bank ac­count changes.

“We’ve re­ally tapped into the au­di­ence that re­ally doesn’t fol­low ei­ther sport,” said Stephen Espinoza, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of Show­time Sports, on a con­fer­ence call. “This is such an un­prece­dented event, such a spec­ta­cle, that all of a sud­den peo­ple who have never re­ally been in­ter­ested in MMA or box­ing are in­ter­ested in this event due to the na­ture of the com­pe­ti­tion and the na­ture of the per­son­al­i­ties.”

What kind of fight will be pre­sented is the muz­zle on the hype. Odds­mak­ers in­stantly made the 40-year-old May­weather an 11-1 fa­vorite. The pri­mary rea­son is that he is so dif­fi­cult to strike

and this sit­u­a­tion dif­fuses McGre­gor’s prime weapons of power and vari­a­tion.

It’s hard to imag­ine McGre­gor’s lethal hands pro­vid­ing the same dam­age when en­cased in 10-ounce gloves, which they will be in the box­ing ring. He’s ac­cus­tomed to land­ing punches with just a sliver of pad­ding be­tween his knuck­les and tar­get. He also does so with the threat of kicks or take­downs folded into the tac­tics. There are no such ul­te­rior is­sues here against May­weather, who will have his shoul­der up, chin tucked and eyes wide.

May­weather’s camp is al­ready in­sist­ing on McGre­gor as a daunt­ing threat, ex­plain­ing that May­weather was run­ning Wed­nes­day when the fight de­tails first slipped out. The ex­er­cise caused him to be late with dis­patch­ing a tweet to an­nounce the fight (this sug­gests he is the rare premier ath­lete who runs his per­sonal Twit­ter ac­count). Prior, it was McGre­gor’s “hand game” that had caught the at­ten­tion of Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of May­weather Pro­mo­tions, and made the group con­sider the fight. Ellerbe con­tends that McGre­gor’s strength is real, dan­ger­ous and vi­able in this fight. He also knows that May­weather has not fought since Sept. 12, 2015.

“We’d be a bunch of damn fools to sit around and sleep on this and lis­ten to all the [ex­ple­tive] that ev­ery­body else sits around and talks,” Ellerbe said. “No. Uh, uh.”

Ellerbe is try­ing to undo the no­tion this is a mis­match. Hype is his job, after all, and McGre­gor and May­weather will pro­vide it in ex­ces­sive lay­ers. The main chal­lenge for all in­volved be­tween now and Au­gust is to make the pub­lic pro­gres­sively em­brace the hoopla. There is so much show here, so much the­ater, that it threat­ens to flow over the in­di­vid­ual skill each fighter has in his sport. This is a whirling event, at its core. Ev­ery box­ing match and UFC fight can even­tu­ally be re­duced to the ac­tual mer­its of the forth­com­ing com­bat. The show be­fore is just that. That process is threat­ened here.

“This is not a ref­er­en­dum on the sport of box­ing or the sport of MMA,” Espinoza said. “What this is, is a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Floyd and Conor. If Conor is vic­to­ri­ous, what that means is that Conor beat Floyd and we have a re­ally in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial re­match down the line, but that’s all it means.”

UFC pres­i­dent Dana White gave a sim­i­lar an­swer when asked if his or­ga­ni­za­tion would be stained by a lop­sided McGre­gor loss.

“The re­al­ity is, MMA is MMA and box­ing is box­ing,” White said. “He’s step­ping into the box­ing ring. It doesn’t mat­ter what would hap­pen if they fought out in the street. He has agreed to come in and box Floyd May­weather.”

White con­tends McGre­gor should be lauded for such a de­ci­sion, a rare ath­lete fol­low­ing up on his “any­time, any­where,” prom­ise.

“He’s go­ing to step in and fight Floyd May­weather un­der box­ing rules,” White said. “These are the rea­sons peo­ple love this kid. I got all these guys cry­ing about Conor McGre­gor this, Conor McGre­gor that. Shut up! Step up and fight like Conor McGre­gor fights.”

Box­ing an­a­lysts have rolled their eyes and chuck­led since the fight was an­nounced. A plain tale of the tape shows the 5-foot-9 McGre­gor of sim­i­lar frame and size to 5-foot-8 May­weather. May­weather has a 72-inch reach; McGre­gor 74 inches. They will fight at the catch weight of 154 pounds. How­ever, those num­bers don’t ex­press the sheer dif­fi­culty other world cham­pion box­ers have had try­ing to hit May­weather, let alone a less re­fined MMA com­bat­ant.

But, that won’t stop the tent from be­ing popped, the pay-per-view from be­ing pur­chased or the dis­cus­sion from roil­ing on. The pro­mot­ers know they have the best and worst of mar­ket­ing at their be­hest: an event that could con­jure racial un­der­tones or even overt ones; a fight that crosses two sports that of­ten ex­press dis­dain for their half-brother; par­tic­i­pants who know hype and have al­ready be­gun to nee­dle each other so­cial me­dia; a cul­ture an­chored in sur­face in­stead of depth.

The sil­ver lin­ing ex­ists in the what-if el­e­ment of the fight and that this could well be the les­son that pre­vents such an ex­trav­a­ganza from hap­pen­ing again. To Bar­num’s other point, well, he’s never been wrong there, and the fight is more than 100,000 min­utes away.

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