McGREGOR vs MAYWEATHER – The silliest question I ever heard about supposedly was posed to the female entertainment director of a cruise line on whose ships the wife and I have enjoyed several wonderful vacations. One clueless passenger, the young lady told me, wondered if the television sets in guests’ staterooms got their reception via satellite or cable.
Maybe the second silliest question I ever heard came just a few days ago from my nephew, an otherwise astute young man not normally given to foolish queries. Then again, it’s the same what-if I have been asked twice before in recent weeks by similarly naive types who apparently aren’t fully familiar with an age-old conundrum to which the answer should be obvious to everyone, but apparently isn’t.
“Who would win,” the nephew inquired, “if Conor McGregor actually did fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.?”
The most acceptable response was furnished by The Japan Times in its report of the abomination of a rules-restricted fight between heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki, which ended in a dissatisfying 15-round standoff on June 26, 1976, in Tokyo. The Times story read thusly:
The 15-round contest was pretty much a bore from start to finish. Ending in a draw, it proved once again that when an apple fights an orange, the results can only be a fruit salad.
Playing along with the idea of a pairing that almost certainly won’t advance beyond the theoretical, a Las Vegas sports book listed Mayweather as a 1-25 favorite, should it be held under boxing rules, to which UFC superstar McGregor has said he would gladly consent. I’m no oddsmaker, but if boxing rules were to apply, even a 40-year-old “Money” (he celebrates that birthday on Feb. 24) would have to be at least a 1-50 lock against the 28-year-old Irishman. However, if UFC rules were to be followed, figure on McGregor being nearly as much of a sure thing.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that even supremely gifted athletes in one sport expose themselves to embarrassment when their egos become so inflated that they believe they can cross over onto unfamiliar turf and be successful playing another guy’s game. There have been rare exceptions to the rule, of course, but they are as rare as spotting an almost-extinct whooping crane splashing around in your neighborhood drainage ditch.
Remember when Michael Jordan, widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time, thought he could cross over to baseball? His Airness, then 31, batted .202 with three home runs and 114 strikeouts in 436 at-bats for the Class AA Birmingham Barons in 1994, whereupon he wisely went back to throwing down thunder dunks and fadeaway jumpers for the Chicago Bulls. But despite that cold reality slap, Jordan, an avid golfer, continued to have his pocket picked on the links by country-club hustlers with deft putting strokes.
Another stark miscalculation was made by former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier when he elected to participate in ABC’s The Superstars in 1973. Just a month removed from losing his WBC and WBA titles to George Foreman, Smokin’ Joe chose swimming as one of the several events he had to enter to meet the minimum requirement. Belly-flopping into the pool for his 50-meter heat, Frazier – who couldn’t swim – nearly drowned in the live, nationally televised race. He managed to mostly avoid the impersonation of a submarine, although finishing last by a wide margin, and later said that he believed he could get by “beating at the water” as if he had backed Muhammad Ali against the ropes. Olympic pole vaulter Bob Seagren easily won the eight-athlete overall championship, but it’s a fairly safe bet he would not have made it out of the first round if he somehow found himself standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out with the aquatically challenged Frazier, who wound up tied for last with retired quarterbacking legend Johnny Unitas.
Give credit to McGregor, who reaffirmed his status as king of the octagon when he knocked down Eddie Alvarez three times en route to a second-round stoppage in UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12, for selling the hype as if a faceoff with Mayweather were possible. The pundits went bat-crazy when McGregor took out a boxing license in California, a process that involved him plucking down a $60 fee, filling out a four-page questionnaire and passing a perfunctory physical.
“Much respect to Floyd,” McGregor said in a video that was posted by TMZ Sports. “What he’s been able to do … he’s a f—— animal at what he’s been able to do. (But) as far as fighting – true, unarmed combat – Floyd don’t want none of this. Give Floyd a shout; tell him I’m coming. I want $100 million to fight him under boxing rules because he’s afraid of a real fight.”
McGregor’s unrealistic demand of $100 million for a go at Mayweather (McGregor claims to have made $25 million for the Alvarez bout, which seems wildly inflated) probably makes such a clash financially unfeasible in any case, particularly when Mayweather’s asking price to come out of retirement figures to be $200 million or more. But still the buzz for such an apples vs. oranges scrap drones on, perhaps because in this instance it’s more like Granny Smith apples vs. golden delicious apples, or mandarin oranges vs. clementine oranges. Of McGregor’s 21 mixed martial arts victories, 18 have been by knockouts, with two by decision and just one by submission. His style is much more that of a boxer, one with a formidable power punch, than of a ground-and-pounder.
So might it be possible for McGregor to coldcock Mayweather with a lucky shot that puts him down and out? It’s at least slightly conceivable. Former WBO heavyweight champion Ray “Merciless” Mercer, whose ventures into MMA and kickboxing for the most part tanked, did starch onetime UFC heavyweight titlist Tim Sylvia just 10 seconds into their MMA bout on June 13, 2009, when he landed a huge overhand right almost immediately. But since none of the undefeated Mayweather’s previous 49 victims were able to unload the big one on his difficult-to-find chin, the likelihood of boxing newbie McGregor doing so would appear to be Powerball Lottery-winning-long.
If knowledgeable sports fans were to compile their personal lists of the five most successful crossover athletes of all time, many such lists would include the names of Jim Thorpe, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Brown, Dave DeBusschere and Bob Hayes. Thorpe, voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century in an ABC poll, won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon (later stripped) at the 1912 Olympics, starred in college and pro football and also played pro baseball and basketball; Chamberlain is the most statistically dominant NBA player ever, and also was a standout high jumper and quarter-miler at the University of Kansas; Brown is widely considered the greatest running back ever in the NFL, and also was an All-America lacrosse player at Syracuse University; DeBusschere was a member of the 1970 and ’73 NBA champion New York Knicks who in 1996 was voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, and also posted a 2.90 ERA in parts of two seasons as a pitcher with the Chicago White Sox; Hayes was the 1960 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist before going on to become a deep-threat wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys.
None of the aforementioned, however, tried their hand at boxing, the cruelest sport, although Chamberlain and Brown briefly flirted with the notion of mixing it up with Ali until they came to their senses. It would have been no less foolhardy for “The Greatest” to believe he could hang up his gloves and suddenly morph into a world-class shooting guard or free safety.
The loquacious Conor McGregor has the right to talk up a dream fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. all he wants. But it ain’t happening, and we all would do well to simply tune out the noise and focus on what is real and doable.
Let apples be apples and oranges be oranges. It was, is and probably always shall be the natural order of things.
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