Boxing is the one odd unifier in sports. The normal path for getting people to watch a boxing match is simple. You have two people with either no actual animosity towards each other, or plenty of animosity towards each other, talking and barking and attempt to sell you on the fight. It’s a pro-wrestling tactic that is wildly successful because the main point of watching two people fight is convincing spectators they need to watch these two people fight. Racial disparities, insults about manhood, sexuality, class warfare — all of these are selling points to even give you a glimmer of hope in watching two people you may not even like throw hands.
Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor is, plain and simple, a clown show. It is less sporting event and more spectacle. A casual viewer cares not for whether there will be a victor but rather who can host the least contentious fight party. And none of us will be the victor, as it is the literal sporting equivalent of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of a Thin Man.”
The concept of Mayweather-McGregor is not new. The blending of combat sports, boxing and MMA, both performance-based, isn’t new. Men have fought various animals for spectacle. They regularly contend on social media that a bear wouldn’t be a fair contest for a man despite the legit evidence in The Revenant that a bear would not only run a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash but would also rip a man from limb to limb. But Mayweather-McGregor taps into two rather distinct and touchy areas. The first is boxing’s long and tiresome maneuvering around the concept of selling race fights. The second is the long-spoken and oft-repeated idea that a “when worlds collide”-style fight would be embarrassing for both sports, regardless of how good either man may be in his respective sport. Let’s go ahead and tackle the first issue, since a large chunk of “selling” the fight was built around race.
McGregor and Mayweather tend to traffic in race in similar ways. Mayweather consistently fought on Cinco de Mayo weekends and feigned ignorance towards Hispanic fight fans by routinely taunting fighters of Hispanic descent. It ratcheted up seriously when he was set to take on Manny Pacquiao in what was a letdown of a fight even after being billed as the “Fight of the Decade.” There’s enough evidence here to immediately sour you on Mayweather, and that’s without even mentioning his sordid history with domestic violence for which he served jail time). There’s very little to like about Floyd Mayweather, the person. Floyd, “the boxer” is an entirely different matter.
By comparison, McGregor dances around the subject of race quite frequently, even if most of it is done in an ugly, ridiculous form of wrestling theatrics. Some of it arrived during the buildup to his two fights with Nate Diaz, whom he called a “cholo gangster from the hood.” There’s also the “dance for me, boy,” lines he dropped during the lead-up to this fight. All of this is a descendent of the first big Heavyweight title fight, the one between Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion and Jim Jeffries. The original “Great White Hope” fight. Nearly a century ago, writer Jack London asked of a then-retired Jeffries, "Jim Jeffries must now emerge from his Alfalfa farm and remove that golden smile from Jack Johnson's face. Jeff, it's up to you. The White Man must be rescued." Needless to say, Jeffries was soundly beaten when the fight took place on July 4, 1910, and chose to quit rather than fall to a knockout by Johnson. There were riots across the country, resulting in the deaths of many persons of color.
Before the Mayweather and Pacquiao tilt in May 2015, there was Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney. That fight somehow involved racial overtones and intense interest from then-President Ronald Reagan, who asked for a phone to be installed in Cooney’s dressing room should he defeat Holmes. He didn’t, but the fight generated enough interests to remain one of the more talked-about matches in Heavyweight history, some 35 years after it took place.
The second aspect of the fight that has brought many an eye and ear to this fight? The carnival show of it all. Mayweather, by and large considered the best boxer of his generation has built an aura as being the one defensive fighter who cannot be solved. McGregor is a loud talking, brash, talented UFC fighter who is known for his knockout power. Styles make fights and two brash individuals, one who essentially built his public persona off of the other, makes this on the peripheral, interesting.
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It speaks to the 1976 “fight” between mixed martial artist and occasional wrestler Antonio Inoki and then-World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali, probably the highest profile cross-sport fight to ever take place. Similar to Mayweather-McGregor, Ali saw it as a large money grab; $6 million just to take on someone who was never as fast or as good as the Louisville Lip. Ali only threw six punches in the 15-round fight as Inoki kicked at his legs mercilessly, only while on his back as he couldn’t grapple, throw or tackle Ali. It was a train wreck in ways only Hollywood could produce.
The fight was declared a draw and scores of men and women, some of whom paid as much as $1,000 for front-row tickets, demanded refunds. We’ve seen fictitious matches play out in similar fashions. Recall Rocky III, where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) managed to “wrestle” Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) for acclaim and “sport." Recall Mayweather himself, just as he was cultivating the “Money” persona, jumping into the ring with WWE’s The Big Show for a cross-sport match at WrestleMania in 2008. That was wrestling, pre-determined results with real-life action. On that night, Mayweather routinely got thrown around by the 7’2” giant until the finish called for a definitive end — Mayweather knocking out a giant with brass knuckles. If only we were lucky enough to endure that as a legit finish to Mayweather/McGregor.
In regards to victors on Saturday night, there will be very few. Not Mayweather, who is out to defend the sanctity of his ego and career. Not you or I, the people who will openly bemoan this fight’s existence and would gladly watch it on a bootlegged stream rather than contribute to someone’s fight-party pot. The only victor here is Conor McGregor’s accountant, as this probably amounts to the biggest payday the Irishman may ever see for his first ever professional boxing match. But there will be awkwardness across America and the globe on Saturday. Mainly because you won’t be asking yourself who brought the chips and dip, but because you’ll be on edge saying anything odd in front of mixed company, no matter whomever you’re rooting for wins or loses.
Mayweather/McGregor is good for no fight party, or either mixed martial arts or boxing. You’re watching purely because you're the kind of individual who roots for the surreal. And in 2017 — it’s a surreal moment we probably deserve.