Battle of spectacles too close to call
It promises to be a spectacle of unprecedented proportions. Two champions facing each other, but only one in his natural environment. A match that appears lopsided and an outcome that seems obvious. Widespread buzz and interest among the masses for a competition we never thought possible.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor? No, silly.
I’m talking Michael Phelps vs. Great White Shark.
Maybe you missed that bit of news last week, lost in the clamor about boxing’s Mayweather and MMA’s McGregor sealing a deal to meet Aug. 26. Considering how the fight was first mentioned in March 2016 – when McGregor revealed he was willing to box the undefeated, five-division champion – it’s understandable that their announcement scored a knockout over Phelps vs. Jaws.
But as dueling anomalies go, the events are closer to a draw.
Phelps’ return to racing catches us off guard, so soon on the heels of his retirement after last year’s Rio Olympics. But can you imagine being retired at 31? Even with a 1-year-old son to keep him busy, Phelps must be bored out of his mind.
We don’t know who approached whom, but Discovery’s “Shark Week” programming will now include the world’s most-decorated Olympian vs. the world’s most-fearsome fish. Details are few and hard to imagine, but they weren’t necessary for the network’s “Great Gold vs. Great White” press release:
“They are one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet: Sharks. He is our greatest champion to
ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark – the race is on!”
Phelps will appear on another Shark Week program, too, “Shark School with Michael Phelps,” in which he gets a crash course on the animals. He discussed his interest in a YouTube video released last week.
“We just got off a plane from South Africa yesterday,” he said. “We were down there for about a week. That one was fun, doing some stuff with Shark Week. For me, sharks are like my No. 1 favorite animal in the world. Being able to see them face to face was pretty cool.”
The race airs Sunday, July 23 at 8 p.m. Set your VCRs!
At least you don’t have to weigh cost vs. curiosity. Discovery is included in basic-cable packages and won’t add a penny to your monthly bill. That’s not the case with sports’ other oddity this summer.
Mayweather-McGregor is expected to approach the pay-per-view record of $99.99, set when Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015. That bout also broke the marks for buys and revenue, with 4.6 million viewers generating more than $400 million. Mayweather is the PPV king, the main attraction in boxing’s all-time, threemost lucrative bouts. McGregor is the MMA’s biggest star and its most magnetic draw, an intoxicating mix of skill in the Octagon and promoter in the media.
At first glance, this isn’t a fair fight. McGregor is confined to boxing rules, which eliminates the kicks, takedowns and submissions that take MMA to a different level. McGregor has defeated opponents via “Elbows” as well as “Rear Naked Choke,” moves that presumably will result in disqualification (but spice up the show) if he tries them against Mayweather.
Endurance might be another issue for McGregor. His average MMA contest lasts 5:34 and he clearly was exhausted in a loss to Nate Diaz that went nine minutes. Conversely, Mayweather has gone the distance – 36 minutes — in 12 of his last 14 fights. He doesn’t start breathing hard until the later rounds, when McGregor is likely to be pooped.
Of course, none of this will matter at the moment of truth on fight night. That’s when folks must decide between paying to witness the car wreck in live time, or waiting until the carnage is rebroadcast the following week. If history is an accurate guide, many will yield to temptation and watch the event as it unfolds.
However, despite the hue and cry from boxing purists, MMA enthusiasts and sports fans in general, Mayweather-McGregor isn’t a sign of the apocalypse.
For that matter, neither is Phelps-Great White. NFL speedsters Devin Hester and Chris Johnson raced a cheetah in separate contests during Nat Geo’s “Big Cat Week” in 2013 (Hester won and Johnson lost). The earth kept spinning.
In the human vs. human category, Muhammad Ali fought Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki to a draw in 1976. Aging boxer “Merciless” Ray Mercer needed only nine seconds to knock out UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia in 2009. Last year, former WWE superstar CM Punk was choked out by the UFC’s Mickey Gall, just 2:14 into the opening round. Each sport survived.
In the upcoming exhibitions, my money is on the shark and Mayweather. They seem like sure things.
But in a head-to-head competition, the battle of spectacles is too close to call.