Mayweather-McGregor fight anchored in spectacle
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.