Floyd Mayweather still pulling strings in talks about potential Conor McGregor fight

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

Floyd Mayweather has been down this road before. He’s gleefully sat by and watched as the boxing community worked itself into a frenzy regarding the possibility that he might fight rival Manny Pacquiao.

The fight was pretty much a fantasy from the time it was first discussed in late 2009. Despite the voluminous number of words written about the possibility, it didn’t become serious until late 2014.

That’s when Leslie Moonves, the chairman, president and CEO of CBS, got Showtime, HBO, Mayweather manager Al Haymon and Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum together and began the slow process of working toward a deal.

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The process accelerated when Pacquiao and Mayweather attended a Miami Heat game on Jan. 28, 2015, and then spoke later that night in Pacquiao’s hotel suite. Ultimately, they agreed to terms on Feb. 20, 2015, for what turned out to be a highly disappointing May 2, 2015 fight.

That comes to mind not only because the two-year anniversary of their agreement is next week, but also because of the most recent discussion of a potential fight between Mayweather and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.

It’s been an on-again, off-again story for about the past nine months, but it took the spotlight Tuesday after a pair of reports suggested it could occur.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been using the same negotiating tactics for years. (Getty)
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been using the same negotiating tactics for years. (Getty)

The first, a report in the Irish Sun that quoted a source from McGregor’s gym saying the deal was complete, was always dubious and easily dismissed.

But not so dubious was an ESPN report from Stephen A. Smith, who said he had spoken to Mayweather on Saturday at the Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder game. According to Smith, Mayweather told him he was “very, very close,” to a deal to fight McGregor. Smith knows Mayweather and has a relationship with him. If he said he spoke to Mayweather and Mayweather said they were close, then he likely spoke to Mayweather and Mayweather said they were close.

Smith’s recounting set the internet ablaze, and talk radio had a field day with it. Yahoo Sports spoke with UFC president Dana White, who denied a deal was imminent, as well as with several sources in the boxing community who agreed with White and were adamant no talks were ongoing at the time.

Then, later Tuesday, Mayweather posted a statement on social media in which he denied talks were going on for a fight with McGregor (or anyone else) and that he was happily retired.

Mayweather wrote, “Although there has been several rumors circulating thru media suggesting that I will have an upcoming fight, I’d like to set that record straight and state that there has been no deals made on my behalf in regards to a bout with any fighter at this time. I am happily retired and enjoying my life! Rest assured that if any changes come about, I will be the first to let the world know!”

Around that same time, McGregor posted several photos of himself in Las Vegas. In one, he wrote, “I am in Las Vegas. Floyd has retired on my arrival.”

What’s obvious is that these two are master promoters and showmen, which is the primary reason a match between them that otherwise makes little sense – Mayweather is an Olympic medalist, 49-0 as a pro and won world titles in five weight classes, while McGregor has zero amateur or pro boxing matches – has gotten some traction.

But Mayweather’s next Instagram post at about 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday shows what’s really going on, and it’s hardly a surprise.

Mayweather is playing the part of the puppeteer, manipulating the media and the public, building interest in the fight and guaranteeing himself a massive payday for what he believes will be easy work.

“Listen, Conor McGregor, if you really want to get this fight done … take care of your business with the UFC and then have your people get in touch with my people,” Mayweather posted on Instagram early Wednesday.

It was a significant change from his position of about nine hours earlier, when he said he was happily retired.

McGregor wants the fight because he knows that it is unlikely that he makes as much money in the remainder of his UFC career as he could in this one bout with Mayweather.

None of this is dissimilar to what occurred during the torturous talks with Pacquiao. One of Mayweather’s most unrecognized gifts is incredible patience, and he strung everyone along no matter the criticism he took until he got exactly the deal he wanted to face Pacquiao.

When that deal arose, he signed a contract and the fight was made. He made roughly $250 million after the bout sold a record 4.6 million on pay-per-view. The post-fight news conference was held in the ring, and when Mayweather walked out, he motioned Yahoo Sports to come over to him.

He was carrying a white envelope and beaming, he said “check this out.” He opened the envelope enough to reveal a check made out to him for $100 million. It was his guarantee for the night.

He has proof that his process works, and he’ll zealously follow the same script again. When talks die down, he’ll do something to pique interest in the bout. He’ll live his life, sit courtside at NBA games, post photos of himself relaxing in exotic locales and act as if he has not a care in the world.

When, or if, a deal comes along that he likes, he’ll take it and the circus will begin in earnest.

If not, he’ll go forth happily, the highest-paid athlete in sports history, and never think of getting punched in the face ever again.

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