Mayweather-McGregor: No Need for Apologies
By Donavan Leonard: In the span of less than a week, there was a total solar eclipse over North America and a boxing match which pitted an aging all-time great boxer versus a famous mixed-martial arts fighter making his professional debut as a boxer. To the dismay of some, neither event brought about the apocalypse.
In fact, both events seemed to pull together large groups of people as never before. Millions of star-gazers could be seen on social media sporting their stylish cardboard “eclipse glasses”, drinking in a once-, maybe twice-in-a-lifetime event. A few days later, millions around the globe viewed what up to this point truly is a one-off spectacle. Again, social media was lit up with pictures and posts, and every sports bar in town seemed to be preparing for the broadcast. Never had a reigning UFC champion dared to step into the boxing ring, and in this instance the champion was not merely facing an “opponent” to begin the process of embarking on a new career, but a fighter considered to be one of the best, even THE best, of his generation. Of course, Conor McGregor (0-1, 0 KOs) and Floyd Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) had much to gain by their joint venture. Estimates of McGregor making $125M and Mayweather $350M may well be affirmed after the total PPV, sponsorships, movie theater, and live gate revenues are totaled and divided. With this much money to be earned comes jealousy and/or indignation. Calls of boycotting the fight, calling it a fraud, etc., were voiced mainly by those in boxing, who felt it an affront to their sport to let an outsider come in and earn in one night what should go to a fighter who has paid his dues. Considering what transpired on the night of August 25th, no apologies are necessary.
The risks for McGregor were heavy. He carried the weight of two nations–Ireland and the MMA–on his shoulders. He was outside of his element-the Octagon. Even more important was how he would look if he did lose. The risk of being embarrassed (as many prognosticators predicted) was enormous, as Mayweather has made a career of making the good and great fighters look average. In his last bout, albeit nearly two years earlier, he had stymied future Hall-of-Famer and force of nature Manny Pacquiao into an inactive, inaccurate fighter. McGregor will rightfully never be compared to Pacquiao, so it stood to reason that if a dynamo like Pacquiao had problems touching Mayweather, then McGregor could very well be striking at air all night. For many it wasn’t “if” McGregor would look foolish, but “how” foolish.
The risks for Mayweather were present, although to a lesser extent. He was a heavy favorite. He was being built up by talk shows and sports shows to be the surest thing in sports since Secretariat. He was also carrying the weight of the entire boxing world on his small frame. In an argument of “which sport is better”, it would be the worst possible scenario for Mayweather, the standout of his professional generation, to lose to a boxer making his professional debut. The fact that McGregor had UFC bouts would be rightfully ignored, as the two sports are vastly different in execution.
Mayweather was making concessions as well. He was fighting a bigger man (McGregor was estimated to weight about 175 lbs. at fight time, with Mayweather around 150.) McGregor was taller (5’9″ to 5′ 8″), and had a longer reach (74″ to 72″).To top this off, Mayweather was 40 years old compared to McGregor’s still-prime 29. The only real advantage that Mayweather had going in was, well, he was the only professional boxer in the ring.
There was much talk about how the “farce” would hurt boxing, with many pointing to the May-Pac impact and subsequent disappointing PPV purchases. A boring fight, or terrible mismatch, would plague boxing with less casual interest, lower ratings, and decreased PPV buys. Although the PPV platform is not what boxing fans prefer, sometimes it is the only way to get elite fighters into a ring. A poor showing in May-Mac could hurt the potential for big fights being made in the future. Fortunately, the show delivered. From the Fox prelims which kicked off with a 3-knockdown bout between Yordenis Ugas decisioning Thomas Dulorme to the co-main which highlighted the skill of Badou Jack delivering a surgical beat down of game Nathan Cleverly, there was much for both boxing fans and “casuals” to enjoy. Yes, the educated fight fans know that the PPV undercard was full of mismatches, but the result was mostly quality entertainment. There were no “robberies” by the judges, and the fights provided clear winners. Those are results that sports fans understand and enjoy. They are also results that increase their chances of tuning in again once the next fight appears on television or the next invite to attend a “big fight” party is given.
As for the main event, which is the most important ingredient (the “beef” in a burger), it was wholly appetizing. Whether Floyd “carried” Conor is of little importance. It could have been strategy to let McGregor tire himself out. It could have been strategy to make sure the fight went a few rounds and that the fans felt they got their money’s worth. It could have been a 40-year old semi-retired prizefighter having to figure out a younger, bigger, stronger opponent. The effect on the crowd and the fans who gathered was apparent. Drama. The MMA fans felt that their man belonged. The boxing fans wondered when the “real” Mayweather would show up and defend their honor. Vegas bookies were probably a little nervous as well, as the payout for a McGregor win would put them deep in the red. Everyone was engaged in the fight, and that is the allure of a great sporting event. They believed something historic was happening right before their eyes-and they didn’t need eclipse glasses to see it.
Mayweather eventually tilted the world back on its axis as he walked down the gassed McGregor to deliver the final kayo barrage. Boxing’s reputation had been saved. MMA fans could hold their heads high. McGregor was not a victim of embarrassment. Mayweather finally delivered on his promise of ending a bout in a knockout. This fight delivered celebrities at ringside, drama during the bout, and a (relatively) clear ending that left fans with the feeling that this was both time and money that was well spent. In the end, the “farce” delivered. Although Mayweather did not pass the torch to the next star in boxing, his participation in this event led to more eyes seeing a boxing match than had been seen in years, if not ever. One current YouTube video has had over 4.4 million views. There were nearly 3 million illegal streams. This is in addition to the estimated 5-6 million legitimate buys. Estimates are that 50 million people in the United States alone watched the bout. With that many people (potential consumers) watching a product that turned out to be much better than anticipated, boxing had to get a positive bump. After September 16th when the next big PPV boxing event takes place, Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez, the immediate impact of May-Mac should be noted. It might be that instead of Floyd and Conor apologizing, perhaps those inside boxing might consider sending thanking them.