OK, so I was wrong. I have been wrong before. But on those occasions when I did offer a prediction that turned out to be incorrect, it was usually made for the right reason, or what I believed to be the right reason.
In this instance, I should have used an adding machine instead of logic before making like Nostradamus. Upon further reflection, it is now obvious to me that the matchup of boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC superstar Conor McGregor was as inevitable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Sure, the Aug. 26 event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (to be televised via Showtime Pay Per View) probably will turn out to be another dog-and-pony show, with much promised and little delivered, but so what? Your cable bill will take a substantial hit should you feel an irresistible urge to satisfy your curiosity, and, if you choose to attend in person, you’ll have to empty your kids’ college fund unless you’re part of the yacht-and-mansion set. But Mayweather and McGregor will come away with sultan’s ransoms regardless of the outcome (which is pretty much guaranteed to be a Mayweather victory), and UFC and Showtime no doubt will turn tidy profits as well.
“We’ve never seen a combat sports event, or really any sporting event, of this magnitude. What does that mean? We’re going to have calculators ready and all the batteries charged,” Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, said Wednesday night during a teleconference with the media in which UFC president Dana White and Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe also participated with hyperventilating hyperbole.
“The sky’s the limit,” Espinoza continued. “There really is no precedent. There’s nothing to compare it against.”
Can Mayweather-McGregor approach or maybe even surpass the record $600-plus million gross revenues generated for the May 2, 2015, pairing of Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which the aptly nicknamed “Money” won on a tactically proficient but unscintillating unanimous decision?
“I think this fight is bigger globally than Mayweather-Pacquiao was,” offered White.
The matter of cash – a tractor-trailer load of it – came up almost immediately, and it was a recurring theme throughout the 35 minute, 54-second teleconference, all but superseding competitive considerations inside the ropes. Makes sense; Mayweather, despite his age (40) and inactivity (he has not fought since scoring a one-sided points nod over Andre Berto on Sept. 2, 2015), figures to be a prohibitive favorite over the 28-year-old McGregor, who is most effective fighting upright but has never appeared in a contest staged under boxing rules.
Maybe that’s why all three principals on the call, when they weren’t referring to an expected financial bonanza to rival a Third World country’s gross national product, did everything they could to depict McGregor, an Irishman who may be his upcoming opponent’s equal when it comes to braggadocio, as a semi-legitimate threat to smudge Mayweather’s 49-0 record.
“This is a fight that Floyd is taking very, very seriously,” Ellerbe said. “We all know that all it takes in boxing is one shot. It don’t even have to be a clean shot. A guy with (McGregor’s) power, he can nick you and you can be buzzed.”
So how often has defensive genius Mayweather been buzzed by, you know, experienced, world-class boxers?
“There’s been a few times in Floyd’s career that he might have been buzzed, but nobody ever knew,” Ellerbe said, not offering any specific examples.
White drew on history – really, really ancient history – to buttress his contention that McGregor can do more than buzz Mayweather, whom he, somewhat exaggeratedly, described as “arguably the greatest boxer of all time.”
“Conor told me this morning that the McGregor clan has been taking over villages for the last 300 years,” White said. “Floyd’s village is next.”
In what has been to date a splendid year for big-time boxing, and especially for Showtime, Mayweather-McGregor is a curiosity item that likely will eclipse – in terms of public interest — anything the premium-cable outlet has offered fight fans, or will for the remainder of 2017. And therein lies a potential problem; the huge audience that paid through the nose for Mayweather-Pacquiao didn’t get much bang for their bucks (ESPN reported that the average ticket price that night at the MGM Grand was $4,451, and PPV subscriptions went for $100 a pop) and fans for the most part came away disappointed. You’d think that, for the $220 million he made, Mayweather would have taken a risk or two and hiked his action quotient, maybe even gone for the knockout, but this is one leopard that never changes its spots. He looks good by making the other guy look bad, and if you want rock ’em, sock ’em robots, it’s best to look elsewhere.
So why is Mayweather the undisputed money-making king of the ring if his style, elegant though it may be, is not particularly fan-friendly? It’s because he is already an inductee into the highly unofficial trash-talking hall of fame, continually drawing attention to himself with outrageous pronouncements and photo-ops in which he sits on the hood of one of his multimillion-dollar cars while holding up stacks of $100 bills. “Money” is fabulously wealthy in part because he makes sure everyone knows he is fabulously wealthy. Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
In McGregor, who also talks a good game, and backs it up in the octagon (18 of his 21 victories have come on knockouts or TKOs), Mayweather finally has found a partner who can talk the talk as loudly and profanely as the master. Press conferences hyping the Aug. 26 event will be a hodgepodge of The Jerry Springer Show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and WWE Raw. There’ll be as much prefight hype on Entertainment Tonight as on SportsCenter, which will help this matchup of an apple and an orange tap into the coveted market of non-boxing and non-MMA fans that hasn’t been adequately mined yet.
“We’re not only drawing fans from the universe of boxing fans and the universe of MMA fans,” Espinoza acknowledged. “We’re actually tapped into the audience that doesn’t follow either sport. This is an unprecedented event, such a spectacle, that all of a sudden people who have never really been interested in either MMA or boxing are interested in this event, due to the nature of the competition and the nature of these two personalities. That’s an untapped market that not even Mayweather-Pacquiao touched.”
But what if the untapped market gets tapioca pudding instead of a hearty steak newcomers to the combat sports world can really sink their teeth into? What if, as many expect, Mayweather leads McGregor on a wild goose chase, throwing bombs that never find the target?
Asked if there are problems areas to fighters accustomed to very different disciplines finding common ground, Espinoza said he is unconcerned. It isn’t as if Mayweather were taking on a golfer or a gymnast.
“I think the best analogy to use here is it’s NASCAR and Formula 1,” he reasoned. “NASCAR’s not going to replace Formula 1 and Formula 1’s not going to replace NASCAR. You see some crossover, a driver from Formula 1 will try NASCAR. No one makes a big deal about it. They say, `Oh, that’ll be interesting to see how the skills transfer.’ I think that’s what we’re talking about here.”
One can only hope that optimistic take is accurate. Until it is proven to be or not, the only thing that’s absolutely certain is that I was way off base in a piece I authored for TSS on Dec. 11 of last year, in which I opined that Mayweather-McGregor would never advance beyond preening bluster on each side. I wrote: 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.
Seriously, though, TSS readers, all of you presumably members of the shrinking group of boxing purists, wouldn’t you have rather seen Mayweather come out of retirement to get it on with Errol Spence Jr. than with Conor McGregor?
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.