LAS VEGAS – Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor will reach into the pockets of two million-plus people this summer, and it likely won’t be until the middle of the third round that they realize they were swindled.
Not since Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki has there been a more high-profile exhibition, and not since the Chicago Bears blanked the Washington Redskins in the ’40 NFL title game has there been a bigger mismatch. This is Golden State against Appalachian State, the Patriots against Pop Warner, Secretariat against Mr. Ed. Around $100 will get you Mayweather-McGregor — and another $100 will be needed to drink the memory of it away.
But … but … but … McGregor is a great fighter! Indeed. A great fighter. A boxer? Come on. The next 12-round fight McGregor is in — and Mayweather-McGregor, a 154-pound non-title fight scheduled for Aug. 26 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, is scheduled for 12 — will be his first. The 10-ounce gloves he will wave at Mayweather are bricks compared to the four-ounce pads he’s used to wearing. Boxing and MMA are in the combat sports family, but in that analogy they are distant cousins.
Mayweather knows this. Of course he does. He doesn’t want to fight — he wants this fight. He’s 40, two years removed from his last go-round in the ring and will be more heavily favored than ever before. He has made elite fighters look foolish. We’re expected to believe he will have trouble with an amateur?
So why make the fight? Because there is a sucker born every minute, and come Aug. 26 there will be millions of them. The press tour will be bananas. McGregor will go crazy, as he did in front of a handful of boxing reporters at a New York City show in March, fueling the belief that a boxing novice can step in the ring and do what no seasoned ring veteran has done before.
Dana White gets it. “This isn’t our world,” the UFC president told reporters on a conference call. “This is Floyd’s world he’s stepping into.” For months, White has been largely ambivalent about making the fight, industry sources with knowledge of the negotiations told Yahoo Sports. As recently as April, Showtime Sports executive vice-president Stephen Espinoza told the Yahoo Sports Boxing Podcast that talks had stalled, and that fears of never seeing McGregor in a cage again could be dampening UFC’s interest in engaging them.
In a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, White admitted as much.
“Listen, does it make a bunch of sense for my business? No,” White said. “But Conor has been a guy who has stepped up in times of need here, in big fights when an opponent fell out, so I want to do this for Conor. I want him to be able to make this kind of money.”
And he will. McGregor will cash the biggest check of his career in a fight with the least risk. If he wins — and a torn ACL, an Achilles’ tear or hell freezing over will be needed for that to happen — he’s a legend, the Mayweather-stopper, in line for an even bigger payday. When he loses, he can make millions more in a rubber match with Nate Diaz.
The shame of it: The appetite for both fighters in real fights is significant. Boxing is experiencing a resurgence. Showtime, spearheaded by Espinoza, has emerged as an industry leader, ponying up the cash for significant fights. The 147-pound division, Mayweather’s division, is among the hottest, with Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman and Errol Spence on top of it. Mayweather against any of them would be competitive — and relevant boxing-wise.
This? This is a circus P.T. Barnum would be proud of.
You can’t fault those involved here; in this fight, everyone gets rich. They are preying on the naiveté of the audience and betting a WWE-style buildup will induce millions to click buy. Get ready for heavily edited clips of McGregor training and sparring partners breathlessly praising the skills of the guy lacing up his first pair of pro gloves. Prepare yourself for the “one-punch-can-change-everything” narrative and whispers that two years away from the ring have eroded Mayweather’s skill.
Look, it’s your money. There are probably dumber things that you could do with it. But save the griping on social media; resist the urge to post the puke emoji after every round. Don’t complain that Mayweather is moving too much when he has spent a career doing it and don’t bemoan McGregor’s inability to land anything meaningful because few actual boxers ever have.
Pay for the spectacle, the pageantry, the sight of the LeBron James of boxing and the Tom Brady of MMA sharing the same surface. For that, you won’t be disappointed. Expect anything more, you will be.