It’s about the money. Of course it’s about the money. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, the money men of boxing and mixed martial arts, respectively, signed a contract Wednesday to box each other on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Each man will make in excess of $100 million. The bout could gross a half-billion, maybe more. The 2015 fight between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao sold 4.6 million on pay-per-view and grossed in excess of $600 million.
It’s going to be difficult to reach that once-in-a-lifetime number, but no one affiliated with making the fight thought it impossible.
“If you look at this, we’re not only drawing from the universe of boxing fans and the universe of MMA fans, we’ve really tapped into the audience that really doesn’t follow either sport,” said Stephen Espinoza, the general manager of Showtime Sports, whose network will produce the pay-per-view.
“This is such an unprecedented event, such a spectacle, that all of a sudden, people who have never been interested in either MMA or boxing are interested in this event due to the nature of the these two personalities. That’s an untapped part of the market that not even Mayweather-Pacquiao touched.”
UFC president Dana White added, “I think this fight globally is bigger than Mayweather-Pacquiao was.”
That’s up for debate perhaps, and Pacquiao fans dispute it vigorously, but what is not debatable is that, for the second time in three years, Mayweather has essentially found a way to print money.
There is a vocal portion of the fan base unhappy about that. Mistakes were made – many mistakes – in putting together Mayweather-Pacquiao that can’t be repeated.
The average fan was priced out of that event, and promoters, who say things like the ticket prices and pay-per-view price haven’t been determined yet, they need to find a way to make certain that Joe Q. Public can afford to see this fight.
But let’s not begrudge the athletes their money. Many of the fans moaning about how much the UFC pays its fighters are the same ones who are complaining when one of them is about to make $100 million for a single fight.
Don’t be the guy who whines about the fighters doing it for the money. Yes, it’s their job and someone wants to pay them extraordinarily well to do their job. You’d do it in a heartbeat, if you could.
So, too, would a .213-hitting backup infielder if a Major League team would pay him that much (and it seems to me that the Red Sox may have done that before). It’s the nature of the sports business.
It’s understandable why some would have no interest in the fight. McGregor hasn’t boxed, and in Mayweather, he’ll be facing the best boxer of this generation and one of the greatest defensive wizards in history.
Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, had the difficult task of determining whether he should even approve McGregor as an opponent for Mayweather given his lack of boxing experience.
And while McGregor’s punching power is his best weapon, he’ll be wearing 10-ounce gloves, two-and-a-half times larger than what he wears while in the UFC.
Bennett said he watched sparring video with McGregor’s manager Audie Attar on Tuesday, which was taken recently. He said he noticed significant improvements from the first videos of McGregor boxing he’d seen six months ago.
“He’s an approvable opponent because he’s younger, stronger, he’s longer, and as an MMA fighter, he’s 21-3, with 17 of those wins by TKO or KO from his striking,” Bennett said. “He’s a world-class striker and they’re similar skills to boxing. He started kickboxing at the age of 12. I watched video of him sparring six or seven months ago and I was able to compare that to video taken very recently to see his progress and it’s no doubt significant.
“He’s fought at 145, 155 and 170 and he’s shown an iron-clad chin and he hits like a ton of bricks. He’s a world-class warrior and he’s arguably the best UFC fighter.”
But it wasn’t only McGregor’s improvement that swayed Bennett. Mayweather’s inactivity also played a role.
“Floyd hasn’t fought in two years, he’s got a significantly shorter reach and he hasn’t knocked anyone out legitimately in a long time,” Bennett said. “He had that Victor [Ortiz] fight in 2011, but that was a case of not protecting yourself at all times. Victor turned away and Floyd hit him, which I had no problem with because it was within the rules. His last competitive KO came 10 years ago against Ricky Hatton, so this is like the bull and the matador fight.”
Bennett said that when it appeared Mayweather didn’t want to fight McGregor, Top Rank’s Bob Arum offered to have Manny Pacquiao fight McGregor. And in December, Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya suggested McGregor fight Canelo Alvarez instead.
“That’s two very experienced boxing guys who had no problem with McGregor boxing,” Bennett said.
His explanation isn’t going to convince many, if any, of the many skeptics who have panned the fight as non-competitive.
It was funny that during a conference call, Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions and one of his most vocal supporters, was suddenly talking up McGregor’s boxing skills.
Last year, he said the kind of punches McGregor was throwing in the UFC “would get him killed against Floyd.” On Wednesday, though, Ellerbe insisted Mayweather would take the fight very seriously because they’re both impressed with what he called McGregor’s “hand game.”
“I’ve seen Floyd buzzed in fights from guys you don’t think of as punchers,” Ellerbe said. “[Stuff] happened in the [Marcos] Maidana fight. The thing that happens in these kinds of fights is that I’m a realist. Floyd is 40 years old. He’s been off for a minute. He’s got to put in the work and be prepared for Conor McGregor.”
He’ll be prepared like no one else, because that’s what he does. He’s always superbly prepared. And more likely than not, he’ll leave without ever being seriously threatened.
They’re selling a product, but the thing is, you don’t have to buy it. If a restaurant sells food you don’t like, do you go there anyway? If you aren’t interested in the fight, don’t buy it.
Don’t, though, begrudge these men the money they’ll make for those who are interested. Both are among the greatest self-promoters ever, so good that they’ve managed to get people to agree to pay them a nine-figure purse for one night of fighting.
They’ll sweat and ache and bleed in the gym getting ready.
Whatever they wind up making when the receipts are finally counted and the books are closed, they’ll deserve every cent they get.