After all of the pomp and bluster, the expletives and excess, the celebration of depravity and commercialism that is Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor is nearing and not a second too soon.
Saturday’s bout in Las Vegas is a prize fight in the most literal distillation of the term, a cash grab so audacious, so over-the-top that it should qualify as one of the greatest heists in history. In time, its story should be told not in a 30 for 30 documentary but in a Dateline episode.
From the outside looking in, Mayweather and McGregor are rivals: one defending his throne and the honor of his sport while chasing a historic 50-0 record, the other an aggressive interloper brazenly overstepping the bounds of athletic practicality. In the realest interpretation of things, though, they are teammates in a score.
For them, the goal has never been a great fight—it’s all about the numbers. As an observer, the reality that they care less about the product than the production may be difficult to accept after coming to terms with parting with your hard-earned cash, but therein lies the rub.
There is a thought out there that the people ponying up their money for this fight are suckers. Some of them surely are. Others? We’re just in it for the good time, the empty, end-of-summer fun that is no deeper than a roller-coaster ride yet leaves you wearing the same goofy smile.
Maybe we shouldn’t look for something more profound than that. To boot, many people are not sure who they should be rooting for.
Mayweather made his way to the forefront of sports with an obnoxious promotional style predicated on the worship of money above all, which would have been palatable as a gimmick if it wasn’t for his continual failure to be a decent human. Three times, he’s been convicted of charges related to domestic abuse against women, and he’s been arrested or cited for violence against women seven times overall, according to the Boston Globe.
With such a record of misogyny, you would think someone in his inner circle would have advised him that his latest business venture was not a good idea. In May, he opened a Las Vegas strip club. The name? Girl Collection. Yuck.
His unsettling objectification and abusive treatment of women is hardly his only transgression. Floyd has long and happily played the villain for many a fight promotion using his wealth as both justification and shield. During the often entertaining yet equally often over-the-line four-day, four-city press tour, Mayweather, a 40-year-old man, venomously whipped the F-word gay slur at McGregor (warning: NSFW language).
Given all this, it should have been easy for McGregor to walk into the arena with the crowd firmly on his side. While that may still prove true, he has tried his damnedest to channel his inner Floyd.
“People are so touchy on words,” McGregor told MMA Junkie when asked about Mayweather’s slur. “It’s absolutely crazy. If he said that, I couldn’t give a s–t.”
Even served a softball, McGregor whiffed with bumbling oafishness. Perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, coming so shortly after McGregor addressed claims that he’d made a racist statement by offering as his defense that he couldn’t be racist because he was “half-black from the belly button down.”
Combat sports is not opera, but it’s not always so boorish either.
Let’s be frank for a minute. The most compelling fight promotions often toe the line between sports and entertainment, offering a certain kind of exaggerated propaganda that we all implicitly agree to accept as part of the show. The athletes become characters as much as humans. That semi-reality, quasi-fiction existence is the sweet spot for fans. We want to buy into a good rivalry; all we need is a reasonable entry point.
With Mayweather-McGregor, that doesn’t exist. It’s more of a virtual reality, hyperspace ride that causes euphoria and nausea in equal doses. After all, what exactly are they feuding over? Mostly, it’s about net worth, financial acumen and numbers beyond the scale of comprehension for most of us who are just debating whether to fork out 100 bucks.
It’s certainly not about who’s the better boxer. The athletic competition between them was scarcely mentioned during their tour.
At best, we have to hope this is some kind of psychological jockeying for position, a mind game intent on disrupting one another’s concentration on fight night. We’ve seen McGregor successfully employ such a tactic before against longtime UFC featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo.
Throughout the lead-up to their fight, McGregor needled Aldo, a proud Brazilian, with inflammatory claims that went up to and sometimes over the line.
The most famous came in Rio de Janeiro when McGregor claimed the town was his.
“My name, the McGregor name, my family’s motto … means royal is in my blood,” McGregor said. “That goes way back. So for [Aldo] to say he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work.”
Aldo was so incensed by McGregor’s continually venomous comments that when they finally squared off in December 2015, he abandoned his usual early patience and rushed McGregor with a lowered guard, eating a straight left in a stunning 13-second knockout.
So there is more at play here than two sophomoric multimillionaires who are saying ridiculous and offensive things…and wearing profane (yet admittedly funny) suits (warning: NSFW language)…and showing up late to press conferences with no shirt and an ostentatiously garish fur coat.
Still, there have to be limits. After all, upon clicking the “buy” button on that pay-per-view, no one wants to feel like they need a hot shower.
The sad part is both men are more than capable of being charismatic and humorous while offering fascinating insights on the fight game. The sad part is both of them are masters of their crafts. That should be enough to sell this unique matchup. Instead, they’ve offered many of us at least pause to reconsider.
For those of us destined to pull the trigger on Mayweather-McGregor, which man is worth rooting for? That’s a personal decision based on your values or your preferences for sport. We may all be best served viewing it as the fleeting moment in time it’s designed to be. It might prove thrilling or unsatisfying or confusing—or, most likely, some combination of all three. As with a summer fling, mixed emotions are a fundamental part of the deal.
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