However unlikely, however illogical, despite the many barriers and the skepticism from those on both sides of the aisle, a boxing match between UFC star Conor McGregor and retired boxing star Floyd Mayweather Jr. is becoming more and more inevitable with each passing day.
The lure of those three million, perhaps more, pay-per-view buys is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, even for the well-heeled Mayweather.
A few hours after McGregor conducted a pay-per-view interview — yes, a pay-per-view interview that pushed the possibility of the fight happening a little further down the tracks — Mayweather showed up Saturday at the MGM Grand to do his part.
Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz were fighting for the WBA featherweight title in front of a raucous, passionate crowd of 10,085 at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday. Frampton is Irish, like McGregor, and so the fight was broadcast to Ireland and the United Kingdom on Sky Sports 1. Showtime broadcast the card in the U.S.
Mayweather showed up precisely as the co-feature between Mikey Garcia and Dejan Zlaticanin ended, which gave him the opportunity to play ringmaster yet again. The estimable Jim Gray of Showtime got Mayweather first, and asked him if he wanted the fight.
Mayweather smiled that mega-watt smile of his and flung his head back as if he hadn’t been expecting the question.
Does he want the fight? Duh.
Of course he wants the fight. The entire reason he showed up at a fight card he wasn’t promoting was precisely to go on television, particularly in the U.K., where McGregor fans and possibly McGregor himself were watching, and make his points.
And he didn’t exactly pour ice water on the idea, either.
“I believe the fight can happen,” Mayweather told Gray. “Like I said before, he is a tough competitor. He has proved throughout the years in the UFC that he can fight standing up. We’ll have to see what the future holds.”
He wants the fight because he can make a boatload of money and because he believes it will be an easy bout. McGregor has no boxing experience — neither amateur nor pro — and Mayweather is already a massive favorite in sports books.
Earlier in the day, McGregor did his part to move the needle, starting with an Instagram post in which he exclaimed, “[Expletive] the UFC.”
That was no random post, however. It was a very strategic move by McGregor and it was meant for Mayweather’s ears. He was letting Mayweather know that he, too, is his own boss.
Mayweather has used this, “I’m my own boss,” concept to great effect in the nearly 10 years since he defeated Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand Garden to leapfrog the Golden Boy and become the sport’s biggest draw.
He’s used it repeatedly to give himself an edge in negotiations with every fighter he’s fought subsequently, including Manny Pacquiao. In the long, slow slog toward a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on May 2, 2015, Mayewather repeatedly pointed out he was free to choose what to do on his own, but that Pacquiao had to answer to promoter Bob Arum. He said it often enough and loudly enough that eventually it became accepted as true, whether or not Arum held that sway over Pacquiao.
The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, which came long after it should have happened, sold 4.6 million pay-per-views, and shows the kind of market that may exist for a Mayweather-McGregor fight.
McGregor did his part, though, to show he’s his own boss, too, and thus tried to level the playing field somewhat in the negotiations. Mayweather has three massive pay-per-view successes that McGregor can’t approach: 4.6 million sales vs. Pacquiao; 2.5 million vs. De La Hoya and 2.2 million vs. Canelo Alvarez.
McGregor has been over a million in each of his last three fights, and Mayweather’s last fight, against Andre Berto in 2015, was a relative flop, selling just 400,000.
So McGregor went out and sold the idea during his PPV Q&A that he, not UFC president Dana White, will have the final say in whether a fight with Mayweather occurs. That was no sign of a rift with White or the UFC, but rather a point to Mayweather that he calls his own shots, too.
“Nobody is my boss,” McGregor said on his PPV. “I know Floyd likes to say Dana [White] is my boss and this and he decides. Hell no. Nobody decides this. If they let people go fight jiu-jitsu tournaments, they can’t stop me going to fight a boxing fight. So obviously it’s smoother to do it all together, but look, everyone’s just got to know their place, and everyone does know their place.”
The UFC has a valid contract with McGregor, though, and there is little doubt that management would go to court faster than Usain Bolt could run the 100 if McGregor were to try to circumvent it. And McGregor surely knows this.
But these kinds of negotiations are like giant sumo wrestlers coming together and battling for every inch of territory.
There are huge obstacles standing in the way of the fight happening, but exactly zero are insurmountable. One promoter who is not affiliated with the potential fight scoffed at the idea that an athletic commission would prevent it from happening because of McGregor’s lack of boxing experience.
“Believe me,” the promoter said, “the last thing that is a concern is getting the athletic commission to approve it.”
Las Vegas would seem like the most logical landing spot for it, because it can generate the largest gate there, but this fight is special enough that it could even wind up somewhere like Wembley Stadium in London, where 90,000 fans could fill it.
There are other major issues, such as:
• What is the pay-per-view split?
• Would the fight be in a ring or an Octagon?
• How many rounds would it be?
• Would it be a UFC-promoted show, with MMA fights on the undercard, or would it be a Mayweather-promoted show with boxing matches underneath?
• Would the fight be known as Mayweather-McGregor or McGregor-Mayweather? With the sizes of the egos involved, that’s no small matter.
There are many obstacles to the fight, but they’re becoming increasingly small and infinitely much easier to hurdle.
That was proven unquestionably when Mayweather was asked by Gray whether he thought the fight would happen. He gave a positive-sounding answer, which he wouldn’t do if he didn’t feel it would be able to be made.
“I truly believe the fans want this fight,” Mayweather said on Showtime. “The fans have been asking for this fight. It’s all about entertainment. He’s very entertaining. He’s very outspoken like myself, so let’s give the fans what they want to see.”
As crazy as it sounded a few months ago when McGregor first broached the subject, it’s almost assuming an air of inevitability.
And someday soon, the public is going to be asked to pay a big fee, probably around $100, for the right to see two guys who compete in similar, but different, sports square off against each other.
Had Mayweather not shown at the MGM on Saturday and passed on the opportunity to talk to Sky and Showtime, that would have spoken volumes.
That he did says that you can start looking into making travel plans, because this crazy idea is now more viable than it has ever been.