As much as purists of their respective sports want a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor to vanish into the ether, it refuses to leave the social media crucible.
Especially once word leaked out that Mayweather visited famed trainer Freddy Roach at his Wild Card Gym, to ask if McGregor had enlisted Roach’s services. Once Roach assured Maweather that McGregor had not, the loquacious retired champion urged him to take McGregor on in case he does.
Because the sports are so violent and their fans think each man is a pillar of his sport’s superiority, just the mention of such a fight draws stark emotions. Many of them are easy to understand, except indignity. And since boxing has been around a lot longer than mixed martial arts, let’s assume the more self-righteous gripes reside with the sweet science.
It’s been some time since “boxing” and “dignity” occupied the same sentence. When the mafia runs your sport for three decades, then Don King runs it the following two decades, you lose all right to the moral high ground. Add in that there’s still no central, governing body, and no apparatus to take care of fighters who can no longer care for themselves.
Besides, boxing has always flashed an exhibitionist side. Joe Louis got into wrestling. The Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali, tussled with a wrestler. George Foreman once fought five guys in one night. And perhaps there was no greater showman than Jack Johnson over 100 years ago.
You may think MMA invented the dysfunctional press conference, with flying bottles and wayward punches. But Ali — back when he was Cassius Clay — captained a bus to Sonny Liston’s residence, with “Bear Hunting” stitched to Clay’s jacket. Indeed, Clay was so amped up during the pre-fight weigh-in, the attending doctor almost canceled the fight, citing Clay’s stratospheric blood pressure.
And it speaks to the essence of any sport — entertainment. But the moment a sport veers from its inherent rules or aesthetics it offends our sensibilities. We’re talking about two kings of their craft, the craft of fighting, in a ring. And what makes Mayweather and McGregor so special — even more than their obvious physical splendor — is their uncanny self-promotion.
You’ll notice most pundits bark from both sides of their mouth. They lament this possible bout as an affront on our old-world standards, a money-grab of the highest order, then say they will be the first ones to buy it.
We’re all interested in this fight. Not because it’s a showcase of equal talent or even fair rules — it’s a boxing match, which is Mayweather’s realm — but because we want to see what a loss will do to the titanic ego of the loser. And part of us wants to see if McGregor can really pull it off. Vegas has Mayweather favored by over 20-to-1.
Another lingering question asks what if… what if McGregor lands one his heavy hands on Mayweather’s chin? While the tattooed Irish lightning rod is in his prime, Mayweather is approaching 40, long past the salad days of the pugilist. History shows that the boxer becomes fatally slow in one night — the night he gets knocked out. Even someone as clever and gifted as Mayweather, who lords over his brand of defensive boxing better than anyone in decades, will soon be too old to fight, even someone as supposedly overmatched as McGregor.
Let them fight. Moreover, enjoy the fight. We can throw ourselves open to our voyeuristic nature, our tabloid interest in the fight between two giants. One man will surely lose. But it won’t be you.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.