By Cliff Rold
What started for many as a joke ended up in a windfall.
While lingering hostility in some fan quarters remains, there is no denying the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match last year was a hit. A long build through social media, a will they or won’t they exchange of trash talk, culminated in an unexpected showdown between the biggest personalities in boxing and mixed martial arts. They delivered the second largest pay-per-view gross of all time and managed to put on a fan friendly show.
There was never any real chance Mayweather would lose but there was always the chance it could leave a bad taste in the mouths of paying fans. It didn’t.
It worked out.
A big part of the build was skepticism that they would seriously pursue the fight itself. The sentiment seemed to be ‘surely is was just two big names using each other to keep their names in the news, right?’
It turned out they were serious. It turned out Mayweather was serious.
And here we go again.
Mayweather is making headlines. He always does. Since seizing the platform of his 2007 fight with Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather has shown a keen aptitude for keeping the shine on his star. Dancing with the Stars and a match at Wrestlemania helped back then to make him more than just a big time boxer.
Let’s assume his serious boxing career really is over. Since fighting Andre Berto following the long awaited showdown with Manny Pacquiao, the only boxing match Mayweather has been in was against McGregor. At 41, it’s unlikely we will see him back in the squared circle testing an Errol Spence or Terence Crawford.
The cultivation of his undefeated boxing mark was a big part of the Mayweather mystique. Young tigers like that are high-risk propositions, even for someone as good as Mayweather. Most older superstars eventually end up in a torch passing moment. Mayweather seemed to learn a lot about how to avoid the downsides of the boxing game from those who came before him.
It’s harder to believe he would risk a Leonard-Norris or Louis-Marciano moment than it is to believe he’d step into a cage.
Of course, that’s where the headlines are lately. Dana White of the UFC made news months ago when he mentioned Mayweather doing MMA. It was shot down and then suddenly there was Mayweather posting videos of himself in a cage.
The last week or so, the chances we see Mayweather try MMA seem to have gone up. Mayweather told TMZ he is applying for an MMA license, has spoken about the elements of his game that might work there, and both he and UFC welterweight Tyrone Woodley have said they will be working together on a transition.
It’s great copy.
Oh, and sure, the money will be there too. UFC has to be foaming at the mouth to have him, even if for a night. Mayweather against anyone would do ridiculous numbers for them. A rematch with McGregor would be an easy sell but if Mayweather wanted to get his feet wet first there are avenues available. He could fight a lesser light or take on someone with name value who could help to sell an event even if they weren’t perceived as the most established of foes.
CM Punk, the one time professional wrestler and 0-1 MMA fighter, comes to mind. He and Mayweather could talk asses into seats.
Part of the Floyd Mayweather market machinery was the question of whether anyone could beat him and there were a lot of people who wanted to see him lose. They never got that chance in boxing even if one can find lots of folks who thought Jose Luis Castillo did it in their first fight and even a few who thought Marcos Maidana might have done enough in their first as well.
The record still reads “and 0.”
In MMA, it’s a clean slate on paper but all those years in boxing come with him. So will a mix of fans who want to see some comeuppance and those who would love to see Mayweather rub everyone’s nose in it one more time.
Will it be a competitive reality?
That’s the thing that can be underrated here.
No matter what anyone thinks about how he controlled risk at times in his career, Mayweather was always a competitor. His work ethic stood out. He never suffered the sort of shock loss or off day that most of his peers couldn’t avoid. The competitor in him always ruled once the numbers were where he wanted them.
This creates a chance to continue to compete without endangering his mark in the boxing ring.
There used to be weekend shows where retired athletes would come up and engage in friendly competitions, sprint races or strength tests. It was all good fun, the sort of thing that fills an hour or two on ESPN Classic today. Watch a little bit of them though and one thing stands out.
Even there, competitors tried hard to win. They were still proud. Maybe they got a check for being there, but once on the field of whatever play they signed up for, they wanted to win. This is some of that with higher stakes. To borrow from a popular phrase, people don’t play combat sports. It’s serious, dangerous competition and for Mayweather to risk it one has to assume it’s about more than money.
Is it so hard to fathom that the competitor in Mayweather might just have to know?
If Mayweather steps into the cage, he will do it having worked his heart out in the gym with an eye on winning. He will come to compete.
For now, there is nothing official. The cynics and skeptics may prove correct. Just don’t look for skepticism here. Mayweather to MMA feels like it’s coming.
And it sounds interesting.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]