Time flies in the fight game, the impact of a single loss or victory can be as short lived as the collective attention spans of the paying fan base. A year on from from The Money Fight many of us are pausing to reflect on whatever lasting impact may be felt on boxing, MMA or sport and culture in general.
Mayweather vs McGregor – as spectacle as high calorie – nutrient barren entertainment served its purpose precisely. Namely, it made the participants – those being Floyd Mayweather himself, Leonard Ellerbe the CEO of Mayweather promotions and TV execs like Stephen Espinoza a shit load of money!
And yet Floyd Mayweather – considered by most the best boxer of his generation boxing viral MMA superstar Conor McGregor seemed an aberration – like some fever dream that from binging on social media and fantasies of fast cars and bad 90’s Bling Rap.
To be sure there were many serious fight fans and sports fans who were genuinely curious who would win in a fight under any rule set between “a UFC fighter” (UFC being the byword for all of MMA) and a boxer. The permutations only increased when the possibility that the fight would be between “the best boxer” and the “best UFC fighter.”
A fight like this was guaranteed, it would seem, to pull in hundreds of thousands – no, millions of casual sports fans as well, that coveted target audience that can make the cash truly flow in. Crucially the fighters themselves seemed well up for it.
You may remember it was the brazen Irishman Conor McGregor that planted the seed.
Already a 20 fight veteran of MMA Conor went on an impressive run that truly began the previous summer on July 11, 2015 with a thrilling 2nd round TKO of Chad Mendes Conor claimed the interim UFC Featherweight title. He became full champion that December with a stunning one punch KO of Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. Next, on March 5 2016 Conor suffered his first loss in the UFC when he was stopped by bad boy Nate Diaz via choke.
The class displayed in defeat by McGregor, free of ego, even of excuses endeared him to his fans that much more. A wild and acrimonious build up to the rematch five months later set the record for UFC pay per view buys. Conor emerged victorious in the rematch via unanimous decision and an unqualified sports superstar.
In the aftermath Conor McGregor The Brand emerged! Soon NFL players were doing the “Conor Strut” in the endzone after scoring a touchdown. Conor was everywhere, endorsement deals, appearing in popular video games. Conor McGregor had arrived, he had broken the fourth wall.
Finally, it appeared there was a draw in fight sports that could rival any in boxing, the sister sport of MMA.
Now mind you, we were less than a year away from Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko putting 100,000 asses in seats at Wembley Stadium, the biggest live gate in the UK in the post World War II era. That didn’t matter to the US fan base however which is built on PPV buys and Mayweather-McGregor was an even tailor made for PPV.
Following McGregor’s cathartic win over Nate Diaz and a historic win over Eddie Alvarez making him simultaneously the Featherweight and Lightweight champion – or as Conor called himself The Champ, Champ, Conor was already looking past any challenge in a UFC Octagon and began agitating for a fight with Floyd Mayweather. The man in truth, Conor McGregor most emulated – most wanted to be.
UFC president Dana White appeared to pour cold water on the idea of a Mayweather-McGregor superfight when White stated on the Dan Patrick Show in January of 2017 “Here’s what I think the chances are [of the fight happening]: About the same of me being the backup quarterback for Brady on Sunday,” (referring to Super Bowl 51) yet cynically talks began behind the scenes. Mayweather fanned the flames a few months later during his own media rounds stating the only fight that could draw him out of retirement would be a super fight with McGregor. On at least one radio show Mayweather intimated there was indeed a contract and demanded that McGregor “sign the paper.”
Finally, on May 18th 2017 the fight that was never going to happen was officially announced and the response was hysterical.
The fight that was made for and by the Social Media Generation was taking place. MMA fans exploded as their prodigal son was about to step in to the boxing ring and beat “the greatest boxer alive” at his own game, casual sports fans were almost immediately engaged as well and anticipation was further stoked with a three city international press tour to hype the fight where money and profanities were slung around with reckless abandon.
At one of the sold out press conferences, the arena filled to capacity, Conor strode to the podium in a full length Polar Bear coat. It was a fitting metaphor for the ecology of the fight game that was being further degraded by antics of the two participants and perhaps the fight itself. This speaks to the attitude of most boxing fans who thought the fight was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. The enemies and critics of Floyd Mayweather – of which there are many were given further ammunition proving he was just a money grubbing dickhead and still others were mortified that the hallowed ground of the squared circle was being sullied by an 0-0 novice jumping the queue to take on a boxer as skilled as Mayweather.
Boxing fans conveniently forgot that boxing has always been only about making money. Whoever the best boxers are throughout history, whoever the best pound for pound fighters are discussions separate and apart from the reality that the business of boxing is about making money. Period. The hallowed ground of the ring boxing fans clamored to protect has been awash with blood, dirty money and death for more than a century. It was poaching ground for the mob and unscrupulous promoters and let’s not forget the institutionalized racism that attended the careers of fighters from Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali.
Boxing is The Noble Art. However if we are going to tell it’s history an honest examination demands telling all of it.
The fight itself was predictable if you know boxing.
The awkward approach of McGregor bothered Mayweather slightly at times, but striking in MMA, where you are barefoot in a cage with four ounce gloves and boxing in a ring with shoes and 10 ounce gloves are two very different things after all.
McGregor, who had KO’d nearly all of his opponents in MMA with relative ease with one or two straight left hands could not land cleanly on Mayweather and when he did, lacking the ability to generate proper leverage and not crowd his own punches the blows barely registered.
I said from the beginning that Floyd would carry McGregor for 6-8 rounds allowing the bigger, stronger, younger man to punch himself out before Floyd would drag the Irishman into the deep water and drown him.
There was a telling moment between rounds, could have been the 7th or 8th. Owen Roddy, Conor’s coach was animated shouting instructions, Conor’s chest was heaving, he was fighting for his life in that ring.
Meanwhile, Floyd sat on his stool, looking impassive. Calm. Almost bored. His father, Floyd senior with whom he’s had a tumultuous relationship with over the years was similarly unphased. Senior gave no advice that I can recall. Junior took a few sips of water. The two men looked like they could be in line at the DMV.
It was at that precise moment more than any other I knew just how out of his depth Conor was, how hopeless his task. He was going to lose this fight badly yes, from a technical standpoint Floyd had been boxing at the highest levels, from the shark tanks of the Michigan boxing scene, through the amateurs and in the pros almost as long as Conor had been alive. Moreover, Floyd Senior & Junior, Ellerbe et al had mastered the profit motive underpinning prize fighting.
As it happened Floyd picked up the pace in rounds 8 and 9 before forcing a stoppage in the 10th round after a barrage of punches that sent Conor reeling.
So back to the original point. Money.
Mayweather’s disclosed purse was $100 Million, however it’s estimated he made closer to $300 Million on the back end thanks to PPV buys, advertising, and other dark money revenue streams. Conor’s paycheck was in excess of $100 Million though his disclosed purse was officially $30 Million. The live gate for the Las Vegas venue was over $55 Million and Showtime stated the official PPV buy rate was the second highest all time at 4.3 million. Incidentally, illegal streams of the fight are estimated at around 3 million.
Since the fight Mayweather remains retired – for now – despite the ludicrous attempts at headline grabbing earlier this year hinting at a rematch, this time in the Octagon under MMA rules. Mayweather has largely stuck to promotion.
McGregor has seen his star fade somewhat. He has not fought at all since losing to Floyd. He has not stepped into the Octagon in almost two years and is scheduled in early October to make his long awaited return. He has also had a couple of high profile brushes with the law both at home in Ireland where rumours of underground ties loom large and here in the states where Conor pled out on assault charges stemming from an attack on fellow UFC fighters during UFC 223 in Brooklyn.
Everyone has moved on, fight fans have woken from that fever dream and boxing fans in particular have been treated to another fantastic year of boxing. Fighters like Vasyl Lomachenko have made history, Anthony Joshua has consolidated his hold on the heavyweight crown and the Big Drama Show returns next month when GGG once again faces nemesis Canelo Alvarez almost a year to the day since their controversial bout.
Boxing never needed Mayweather vs. McGregor, no one did. Yet boxing won on a number of levels, not least because the accepted means for proving superiority to your foe is still mano e mano with only your two fists.
It’s a wrong to say that one year later we’re in a different, better or worse place than before in combat sports for this fight having happened and it’s a fool’s errand to try to extract a deeper meaning from it. Meaningless spectacles in boxing are a part of its history and rather routine actually, so is the senseless and craven money grubbing that attends them. Boxing is the perfect venue for charging the general public for the amusement of two people beating the shit out of each other.
In fact only yesterday as I write this on August 25th two YouTube personalities, KSI and Logan Paul fought to a draw in an amateur bout as part of the trend of so called white collar boxing. I must confess I have no idea who these two people are and I have no interest in finding out, I can’t be bothered to pay them my mere attention let alone my money.
A fight like this only proves my overarching point though.
Depending on where you sit this would be an entertaining use of your time, and value for your entertainment dollar and depending on the sincerity of the training put in by these two lads maybe even an interesting exercise.
For me it just proves in boxing, in fight sports, there is truly nothing new under the sun.
~words by Jason Goldstein
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