Floyd Mayweather a risk too far for Conor McGregor and MMA
Defeat would damage the brand image of near-invincibility the Dubliner has cultivated
Floyd Mayweather Jr: boasts of earning some $800 million during his extraordinary career. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AFP
“He’s blowin’ smoke up everybody’s ass” exclaimed Floyd Mayweather on ESPN, raising the hands that have earned him “somewhere upwards of 800 million” to assure viewers that he intended no offence. Then he issued his latest invitation to Conor McGregor to glove- up and come box him. This was on Thursday.
“Bring him over to the boxing world and I’ll show him what it’s like . . . Easy”
By Friday, “Money” had changed his mind again, stressing his retired status when he appeared in New York. But the proposition of Mayweather v McGregor will stay alive for at least another year and all it would take is a single response from McGregor to stoke the idea back into life.
And can McGregor and UFC resist the hype and the pay-day? This is the dilemma that Floyd Mayweather has been presenting for McGregor ever since he delighted in the Irish man’s rare defeat in 2015 to Nate Diaz by referring to him as the admittedly amusing “Conor McTap-out”.
This week, as Mayweather did the rounds of the American TV circuit, he proved once again that he when he is not boxing, his preferred role is as a staggeringly self-regarding and tedious ex-athlete with a an outré taste in clothing.
He reiterated his offer to McGregor to come and put his mouth where the real money is, laying out a one-shot deal which would guarantee the Irish man $15 million and a share of the PPV to step into comparably quaint arena of Queensberry rules.
Mayweather himself would walk away with $85 million and ideally retire having improved his career tally from 49-0 to 50 and zero, a figure which is infinitely more pliable for those who wish to immortalise Pretty Boy in rhyme and song.
McGregor’s only response has been at once pithy and dark, firing off a tweet which obliquely refers to Mayweather’s two-month imprisonment for domestic violence seven years ago.
For the first and possibly last time, the proposition of McGregor, the uncontainable star of UFC, tapping gloves with Mayweather, who may go down as the last boxer to make insane money from the game, would represent a meeting point between the long, bloody past of fighting-as-entertainment and its new, ultra-brash future.
No matter what question you ask Mayweather, he ultimately returns to his favourite subject: his own talent and toughness for thriving in a sport that has routinely and mercilessly chewed up the equivalent of a small city populated by brilliant, foolish boxers, body and soul.
Mayweather is 40 years old now. He picked his 49 professional fights judiciously and smartly, rarely meeting anyone who could bludgeon his head and therefore got out with his faculties intact.
Pretty Boy won on all fronts: inside the ring and outside – $ 800 million is an incredible treasure chest for a boxer to amass for a boxer who ranks in very few all-time greatest lists. Mayweather has endured and has had the discipline and unscrupulous meanness to stay hungry for a full 20 years.
But his rise to that untouchable plateau has been ruined by a bleak and despicable history of domestic violence. The subject was raised when he appeared on Sports Center and he deflected and generalised unconvincingly.
One of the most fascinating pieces of film in boxing’s rich archive is of Sonny Liston skipping rope to the sound of James Brown singing Night Train. Pro boxing – and the journalists who covered it – made such an irresistible meal of the build-up to the marquee fights from the 1970s through the 1990s that the main event was often a disappointment.
Mayweather working a skipping rope is a truly phenomenal sight: some of his fights less so. UFC has thrived on the opposite, shrugging off its fringe history to explode onto the popular consciousness by promising fights in which the action was instant, unpredictable and coloured by a raw violence that was confrontational in how it was presented. It has moved from its underground origins to this point, where it has the youth and potential to eclipse the tired world of boxing.
Whether it will do that is less certain. But the Mayweather-McGregor idea does pose a fascinating challenge for casual observesr of MMA or many of us who just don’t know what to make of it.
Boxing is one of the disciplines within MMA. So just how would McGregor do if he got into the ring with an out-and-out boxing specialist like Pretty Boy – even at 40? How close are the best of MMA practitioners to elite boxing? Everyone knows the answer, including McGregor.
It is difficult to imagine anything other than a chastening defeat for the Irish man at pure boxing and in a manner that may dilute the brand image of near-invincibility which McGregor has so cleverly cultivated in recent years.
And whether the “fight” ever happens or not, Mayweather’s brisk insults and his challenge stands as a kind of lasting taunt from the old world of boxing to the brazen new arrival of MMA. Nobody in UFC has ever looked lost for words but they seem strangely unnerved by this challenge by a voice from the traditional fight game.
MMA fans and practitioners are notoriously sensitive to criticism. Just this week John Kavanagh, McGregor’s trainer and someone who always has presented a considered, interesting take on things, felt obliged to retort to Meryl Streep’s inadvertent swipe at his sport at the Golden Globes awards.
As it happened, she was dismissive of American football in the same sentence. Nobody from the world of gridiron seemed too worried by where their game fits into the world view of a Hollywood grandee. But MMA still cares because it is new and brash and still uncertain of whether it is staking a real claim among its worldwide audience or whether it is a passing craze.
A fight in which McGregor, its brightest star and a man who has crafted his legend with a brazen genius which Pretty Boy must privately applaud, would send the fight world – old and new – into overdrive. It would, of course, be preposterous and stupid. But isn’t fighting for entertainment preposterous and stupid anyhow? And man, would it sell.
The tragedy for boxing is that it needs this kind of burlesque to generate the old electricity. The truth for MMA is that it can’t right now risk the sight of its most bankable commodity being taken apart by an old man. Even if McGregor wants to go in the ring against Mayweather, he would be crazy to do so. And he is not that; McGregor is a rationalist and a businessman.
So we won’t see it for that reason. The McGregor-Mayweather billing would be a huge risk for both sports but more so, for both men.
And for all their differences, they are both safe as houses, rich as Croesus.