By Andreas Hale
Once upon a time, in an era not too long ago, a fighter looking to secure a showdown with Floyd Mayweather was known as an individual entering “The Mayweather Sweepstakes.” A bout with Mayweather promised a lucrative payday while getting the opportunity to try their hand at unseating the unbeaten pound for pound boxing king. A match with Mayweather also came with the likelihood that, win or lose, whoever fought Mayweather wasn’t putting their health in danger because, as we know, Mayweather fights are more of a chess match than one where a fighter can smash the board over the head of their opponent.
But with Mayweather seemingly done with the sport after raking it over the coals, turning it upside down and shaking every last dime out of it, it’s time to figure out who the next big star will be in the sport that everyone wants to cash out against. For the sport of boxing, unfortunately, that individual just so happens to not be a professional boxer at all. Despite the rise of Canelo Alvarez, there’s another fighter who has their name in everyone’s mouth these days.
And that man is none other than UFC lightweight champion, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor.
With Manny Pacquiao being the latest to challenge the man with an 0-1 boxing record, it’s become evident that McGregor is viewed as the man everyone wants to fight just so that they can cash out on the biggest stage possible.
After seeing what McGregor brought to the table against Mayweather back in August, boxers from all over are hoping to hit “The McGregor Lottery.” From retired boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Paulie Malignaggi to fighters on their way out like Manny Pacquiao - McGregor is the go to name. Obviously, considering McGregor’s limited experience as a boxer, it’s the path to the most cash with the least resistance. The Irishman can sell the hell out of a fight and bringing along his MMA fanbase to the table certainly provides a boost when it comes to pay per view numbers.
But how bad is it that a non-boxer has become the biggest star in the sport of boxing?
In a previous column, I addressed the fact that all this is doing is empowering McGregor. And that may prove to be a bigger problem for the UFC than the sport of boxing. When Oscar De La Hoya doubled back on his own words of calling Mayweather-McGregor a “farce” when he admitted that he had been “secretly training” for a showdown with McGregor, it really demonstrated the power of McGregor. More importantly, it was a prime example of how powerful social media is when it comes to marketing a fight. Without social media, Mayweather-McGregor would probably have never happened. But now it is used as both a vehicle and a gauge on public interest. What initially sounded foolish turned into one of the biggest combat sports events of all-time.
Also, in some ways, Mayweather rubbed a great deal of magic dust on McGregor. While many boxing pundits thought that McGregor wouldn’t last a round with the unbeaten boxer, Mayweather did everyone a favor — purposefully or not — by going 10 rounds with the debuting boxer. Not only that, by letting McGregor get off some offense, the casual fan truly believed that the UFC fighter made things competitive. Although many of us believe that Mayweather carried the Irishman for 10 rounds in an effort to make things exciting, the reality is that both McGregor and his fans received a huge boost of confidence when they saw him stay in the fight and land more punches than many of Mayweather’s opponents.
When it was all said and done, McGregor raked in a payday that, in one night, easily eclipses just about every boxer’s career earnings. Once again, a boxing match with McGregor is the easiest path to a massive payday with little to no concern about the UFC lightweight champion’s skills.
It’s the exact fight that Manny Pacquiao would want to close his career. With his responsibilities in the Philippines Senate making it more and more difficult for him to train, Pacquiao is looking for an opponent who can yield a huge payday while also being a fight that he wouldn’t need to put himself through a rigorous camp for. It’s obvious that Pacquiao is looking to cash out and sees McGregor as the perfect opponent. But isn’t this the case for just about every boxer these days? Why would you want to make a couple million facing Canelo Alvarez and risk getting your block knocked off when you can take on McGregor and know that you have a distinct technical advantage and rob the bank of even more money?
It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that anybody currently calling out McGregor for a boxing match actually sees it come to fruition considering that the UFC is more interested in getting their fighter back into the Octagon to defend his title rather than having to split the baby with another boxing promoter. It’s no secret that the UFC has had a down year without McGregor and boxing has had one of its best years in a while. There’s no need for the UFC to trot out their biggest star and risk the possibility of his star taking a hit when an opponent not named Mayweather is more interested in knocking him silly than making it a show.
Nevertheless, it’s 2017 and an MMA fighter is now the most called out fighter in boxing.
What a world we live in.