By Tris Dixon
IT was author Arthur Koestler who once said that nothing is sadder than the death of an illusion.
The illusions we have been presented with in the last 24 hours are a couple of brief clips of a recent sparring session between retired former boxer and two-weight world champion Paulie Malignaggi and UFC superstar Conor McGregor.
Well, the American claims the ‘evidence’ released by UFC bigwigs does not tell the whole story of their spars, only the fleeting highlights McGregor enjoyed.
New Yorker Malignaggi, who will be covering the Floyd Mayweather-McGregor event as an expert analyst for Showtime, has taken to Twitter to vehemently deny the ‘illusion’ that McGregor was in control.
He argues that the segments, in total around 20 seconds, provided a warped account of what actually happened.
If that is the case, and Paulie is a proud man, you could see why he might have an issue with it. But for everybody else, those who will be in the crowd on August 26, those who will be watching on pay per view and those who will be watching on box office but will not admit it, they really do not care.
It is sparring.
It is where you try things. It is where you learn. If Malignaggi was doing his job, he would have been trying to be like Mayweather, not like Malignaggi. And even if he was trying to be the Paulie of a few years ago, he is not. He admitted as much when he retired earlier in the year, following defeat to Englishman Sam Eggington.
Malignaggi had been a solid addition to the McGregor camp because he knows the sport so well, but just because he was a veteran mover who, like Mayweather, had been inactive, it does not make him a Mayweather clone.
Malignaggi had lost four of his last eight, was arguably at his hottest when coming off a gruelling defeat to Miguel Cotto more than a decade ago and he had been living the life of an ex-boxer since March.
So even if it was a legitimate knockdown, big deal. Malignaggi has been stopped five times in his eight losses, and he has been down before.
Mayweather has been down once, when he hurt his hands shelling poor Carlos Hernandez. You can count on one hand the guys who have rocked him over the last 20 years in 49 fights, going back to Sam Girard through to Manny Pacquiao, but no one has put him down. Not even Shane Mosley, who came close to toppling him before being severely outclassed the rest of the way.
The Malignaggi-McGregor footage is inconclusive in many respects, apart from the fact you can see Malignaggi looks softer around the middle than he used to in his fighting days. When he hits the canvas, and maybe feet did tangle (as he contends), he was in a position to get straight back up. It was a flash knockdown, if a knockdown at all. They happen.
Plus, referee Joe Cortez did not go to pick up a count. He was drafted in to run the sparring the way he would handle a fight.
It's obviously a hefty-sized bone of contention for Malignaggi, who feels his professional pride and integrity may have been compromised and he called for the entirety of the footage to be released, but no one else should care less.
Even if McGregor did have the upper hand in the last two rounds, as Paulie conceded, that is surprising but no more relevant than the contention Malignaggi was in control early on.
Sparring sessions and big-time boxing at elite level are related but two different things.
Yet the belief McGregor might win continues to grow, even if not from this quarter.
Mayweather has this week all but backed his opposite number to succeed. That is how he can best sell the fight.
He reckoned he has slipped in the last two years, that McGregor is younger, bigger and fresher, although in one of his more bullish moments – during last week’s media day – Mayweather said, “He’s looking forward to ending the fight early, I’m looking forward to ending the fight early – it won’t go the distance.”
He added that a win for McGregor would be the Irishman hearing the final bell. That is a common consensus and a logical one, too.
Of course, whether you buy into the sparring story or not, it does – for many – add another layer on intrigue for those undecided as to how the event will go. It kicks it all up into the blender of ‘news’ and brings it to the forefront of sports sections. It reinvigorates the headlines. It sells. And that, of course, is what it is all about.
That is, most likely, why we will never see any of the footage in which Malignaggi is supposedly on top. That will not sell.
On the contrary. After all, “Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion.”
The public needs to be told McGregor has a chance. The illusion has to be in place. It will be down to Mayweather to destroy it.