By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The Mount Rushmore of upsets.
Regardless of your generation or sport of choice, the top candidates for chiseled-granite immortality can probably be plucked from a similar crop of wannabes.
The New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
North Carolina State in the NCAA Final Four.
The U.S. men’s hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
And Buster Douglas in Tokyo against Mike Tyson.
Their images – Joe Namath’s finger wag, Jim Valvano’s hug pursuit, Jim Craig’s flag-draped search for his father and Iron Mike’s loopy reach for his mouthpiece – have for good reason lingered for decades past their final buzzers and bells.
But they all might be pushed aside come Sunday morning.
Should Conor McGregor fulfill his bratty Irish prophecy and actually land a knockout blow to the chin of unbeaten Hall of Fame-bound Floyd Mayweather, the next-day resonance from Las Vegas could reshape perceptions of upsets – and boxing itself – for several years to come.
Forget the odds, which have tangibly narrowed since the idea of the bout was initially floated, and just imagine the reaction you’d have if the superstar known as Money was laid out for a 10-count.
Mayweather, for all his faults, is a five-division world champion who’s won each and every one of his 49 bouts since turning pro as a precocious 19-year-old in 1996.
Not only has his run equaled the signature numerical dominance established by ex-heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano from 1947 to 1955, but only one judge in his 23 distance fights has ever turned in a scorecard favoring his opponent.
That was Tom Kaczmarek, whose slight 115-113 lean toward Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 made that fight the only split decision on Mayweather’s otherwise unchallenged resume.
McGregor, meanwhile, has never boxed as a pro or amateur, rendering the very idea he can compete with a functioning Mayweather – let alone actually beat him, even at age 40 – almost comical.
If it happens, though, the laughter from the “boxing is dead” crowd will be deafening.
And the scars incurred by the “boxing is king” crowd might be permanent.
“Boxing isn't new to me,” McGregor said at a recent media workout.
“I am no stranger to being the underdog on paper. I am a seasoned veteran and I am confident that I am the better man. After Saturday, August 26, I will be a god of boxing.”
Though some would dismiss a contrary result as a fluke, or try to rationalize it with claims that a too-old Mayweather didn’t take the challenge seriously, it’d be hard to come up with a substantive argument that’d override the casual fan’s image of the era’s greatest boxer losing to a guy in his first fight.
To that end, too, no promotional hyperbole or manufactured menace would prevent UFC boss Dana White and Co. from claiming – with powerful evidence – that his octagonal empire is the gold standard of combat sports and boxing is little more than a less entertaining, four-sided diversion.
If Mayweather wins, McGregor can go back to the cage and dare his conqueror to take a similar risk and step outside of his comfort zone. But if McGregor wins, the debate is over before it begins and it’d be a long time – and it’d take a generational talent – to get the playing field anywhere close to level again.
Not exactly the best news for the likes of De La Hoya, a longtime Mayweather enemy whose operation is putting on a long-awaited middleweight fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin three Saturdays after Mayweather-McGregor leaves town.
It’s been hard enough for those championship-caliber 160-pounders to get noticed since the Aug. 26 spectacle was officially announced and the subsequent press tour commenced, but if McGregor is 1-0 come Aug. 27, the Golden Boy might want to consider a gig with a little more security.
Something in the communications department at the White House, perhaps.
“If you look at this thing and you look at how big this fight is and you look at how big these athletes are that are involved in this fight, if Conor does knock Floyd Mayweather out, he is the biggest athlete on earth,” White said. “He’s the biggest athlete (on this planet), on other planets—he’s the biggest athlete. It’s pretty crazy.”
Crazy, it seems, would just be the start.
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior lightweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Gervonta Davis (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Francisco Fonseca (No. 7 IBF/No. 68 IWBR)
Davis (18-0, 17 KO): Second title defense; Two KO wins in two Las Vegas fights (10 total rounds)
Fonseca (19-0-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Never fought beyond the eighth round
Fitzbitz says: Davis was given the undercard spot for a reason, and it wasn’t so he could lose to an anonymous Costa Rican with nary an important victory. He’ll win and look good. Davis in 4
WBC super bantamweight title – Carson, California
Rey Vargas (champion/No. 13 IWBR) vs. Ronny Rios (No. 3 WBC/No. 7 IWBR)
Vargas (29-0, 22 KO): First title defense; Two KO wins in two California fights (7 total rounds)
Rios (28-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Five-fight winning streak since lone career loss
Fitzbitz says: Vargas has got the belt, but it’s Rios who’s slotted better in independent rankings and he’s also the guy with what seems like higher-grade opposition. New champion. Rios by decision
Vacant WBO junior middleweight title – Carson, California
Miguel Cotto (No. 1 WBO/Unranked IWBR) vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai (No. 6 WBO/No. 19 IWBR)
Cotto (40-5, 33 KO): Twenty-fifth title fight (19-5); Won three of fifth title fights at 154 pounds
Kamegai (27-3-2, 24 KO): First title fight; Ninth fight in the United States (3-3-2, 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: It may literally be the most ignored title fight in boxing history, but it’ll probably be titillating. Kamegai never has a bad fight, but Cotto ought to handle him on memory. Cotto by decision
WBO mini-flyweight title – Kumamoto, Japan
Tatsuya Fukuhara (champion/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Ryuya Yamanaka (No. 1 WBO/No. 20 IWBR)
Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7 KO): First title defense; Ten-fight unbeaten streak since 2013 (7-0-3, 4 KO)
Yamanaka (14-2, 4 KO): First title fight; Third fight scheduled beyond eight rounds (2-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Neither guy is likely to inspire Hall of Fame voters anytime soon, but Fukuhara has the resume and the skill set to maintain his position on the 105-pound title ladder. Fukuhara by decision
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Crawford; LOSS: Yamanaka)
2017 picks record: 57-19 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 879-293 (75.0 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.