By Andreas Hale
Although the August 26th fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor has drawn its fair share of criticism, the bout is likely to become the biggest combat sports event in history. While it doesn’t appear to be a competitive between one of the greatest boxers of all-time and a mixed martial artist who is making his professional debut, the reasoning for this fight making waves on social media and tracking to break a multitude of records actually has little to do with what happens inside of the ring.
What makes Mayweather-McGregor a goldmine has a whole lot more to do with the two personalities involved. Both possess something that, for the most part, is more valuable than talent: the gift of gab.
Regardless of what you think of either fighter heading into this fight, the intrigue begins with how they sell themselves. Mayweather rose to the top of the box office by verbally terrorizing his opponents and then applying the sweet science in a manner that was a vast departure from the rigid words he used to tear down his opponents. A defensive wizard with superb reflexes and a genius pedigree in boxing IQ, Mayweather would surgically pick apart his opponents after lambasting them with a verbal avalanche. What happened before the bell rang was to get fans excited. But once he had your cash, Mayweather’s only job was -- to quote the great Vince Lombardi -- just win, baby. The strategy caused much frustration for fight fans, who eventually began to plunk down their hard earned cash to see Mayweather lose. But he didn’t. 49 straight fights he turned away all challenges. It may not have been the most exciting 36 minutes of your life, but it was hard to deny his greatness that spanned two decades.
In Conor McGregor’s brief time as the biggest star the UFC has to offer, he pulled a great deal from the Mayweather playbook. Young, brash and more than willing to flaunt his excess in the face of his opponents, McGregor’s quick witted responses became the talk of the town. But what he did differently than Mayweather was back it up with devastating finishes. The pinnacle of his career to this point was a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo to claim the UFC featherweight title back in 2015. Prior to the knockout, Aldo was heralded as one of the top two pound for pound best fighters in the UFC who hadn’t lost in a decade. Although McGregor doesn’t have the unblemished record, he more than made up for it with excitement inside of the Octagon.
There’s a reason why this fight is likely to surpass Floyd Mayweather’s blockbuster 2015 showdown with Manny Pacquiao. And that reason is the two fighters who go above and beyond to sell a fight. For years, Mayweather has had to carry the promotion of his fights on his back. It made him a superstar but at 40 years of age, he’s happy to allow the mouthy McGregor to take the lead.
“He’s not bad,” Mayweather told BoxingScene with a smile during Thursday’s media workouts. “He stole my blueprint and ran with it. I’ve been doing mink coats and the flashiness for years. But I like him.”
While Mayweather-Pacquiao was massive in its own right as two of the most dominant forces in boxing over the past decade finally settled their differences in the ring, the promotion lacked excitement that would entice the casual fan. Pacquiao refused to tear down his opponent and played nice with Mayweather while the older and more mature Mayweather didn’t engage with Pacquiao as he did in the past with Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley. The fight went on to smash box office records but possibly could have done more if it had the extra pre-fight promotion.
Mayweather-McGregor is a promoter’s dream. The world tour was billed by many as the most exciting part of the fight as both fighters tore each other down verbally every step of the way with expletive filled rants, scathing insults and numerous threats to inflict bodily harm. If nothing else, they were selling a fight that many expect to be a one-sided domination by Mayweather. But McGregor’s confidence has led many who aren’t familiar with combat sports to give him a shot to defeat a boxer who has been unbeaten for over twenty years.
“I’m the one that is bringing this all the way home,” McGregor said about the promotion during his media day on Friday. “I’m the one that went viral multiple times during the world tour with the f*** you suit and the mink coat. I’m carrying this one on my back.”
The verbal jousting has been entertaining, albeit a bit crude. But it’s exactly what draws casual fans into these kinds of events. And, to be clear, this isn’t a fight for the hardcore boxing fan, who make up only a mere fraction of the PPV buying audience. This is a mainstream event of the highest order. Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe is happy to see that his fighter doesn’t have to do all the work, for once.
“It’s very satisfying and that’s why this event is so enormous,” Ellerbe said. “In order to have a great PPV that does astonishing numbers you have to have someone on the other side. Floyd has been able to carry the load and do all the work in the past. This is a big relief that there is someone on the other side that is talking the talk and has a legion of fans that believe in him.”
What happens between the ropes on August 26th won’t matter when it comes to the PPV buys and ticket sales because the fight will have already started. What matters is the marketing done by both fighters that generates interest in a fight of this magnitude. Once they have our money, they could deliver the most mundane 36 minutes of our lives and we won’t be able to do anything about it. Sure, we’ll criticize it later. But they will already have our money and be laughing all the way to the bank.
Like it or not, that’s all that matters.