Monday, March 20, 2023  |


Mayweather-McGregor: Part I – The Sting

Photo by Esther Lin-SHOWTIME Sports

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler was reminiscing recently about a meeting with Al Haymon that took place at Top Rank years ago. Floyd Mayweather was still a Top Rank fighter. Haymon was Mayweather’s advisor.

“Al came in to discuss Floyd’s next fight with Bob [Arum],” Trampler recalled. “They were going to meet in Bob’s office. Al was early. He had a few minutes to kill, so he stopped by my office. And I remember very clearly, Al said to me, ‘I’m going to be talking with Bob about a fight for Floyd. Bob will probably call you in at some point for your opinion. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention Antonio Margarito as a prospective opponent.’”

“That was the formula,” Trampler continued. “Al and Floyd were ducking a guy who, at that time, would have been a very dangerous opponent. They knew how to minimize risk versus reward, which, if you’re a fighter or a fighter’s manager, isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do.”

On August 26 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Mayweather will face Conor McGregor in a boxing match that shapes up as offering the greatest high-reward to low-risk ratio in the history of sports.

We live in an age when spectacle is often valued more highly than substance. Mayweather-McGregor fits that billing.

Mayweather has fashioned a record of 49-0 (26 knockouts) as a professional boxer and is universally regarded as one of the best fighters of his time. McGregor has a 21-3 record as a mixed martial arts combatant and has never boxed in a recognized amateur tournament or as a pro.

The fight will be contested at 154 pounds and is scheduled for 12 rounds or less, with emphasis on the less. To ensure that McGregor doesn’t revert to MMA tactics, the bout contracts contain a substantial penalty for ”extreme fouls.”

Tickets went on sale July 24 with list prices ranging from $500 to $10,000. It’s unclear how many tickets were actually made available to the general public.

The pay-per-view price is $99.95 for HDTV and $89.95 for standard transmission. There will be an aggressive anti-piracy effort by the promotion. A confidentiality clause precludes both camps from disclosing revenue splits and other financial details of the promotion.

Mayweather-McGregor may well be the highest-grossing event in the history of boxing. It’s “trash sports.” But as an event, it will be huge.

“People can downplay it and call it whatever they want,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said on July 13 in New York. “This is big.”

British boxing writer Tris Dixon put the matter in further perspective, writing, “Mayweather-McGregor might not make sense to you. It does not need to. It needs to generate interest across different age groups, across different demographics, tap into a wide audience and build on a storyline that has already generated considerable global interest. Floyd knows how to play this game better than anyone, and you shouldn’t hate the player but the game that enables it. You might not like it, but that’s business. That’s show business. And ultimately, that’s boxing.”

Dixon is right. Don’t blame the fighters. Is there a boxer on the planet who would turn down the opportunity to fight a novice opponent for $100 million or more? I doubt it. If someone offered me tens of millions of dollars to embarrass myself by singing badly at Carnegie Hall, I’d do it.

That said, no amount of pre-fight promotion can void that fact that Mayweather will be boxing a guy who doesn’t know how. If Mayweather-McGregor were to go 12 rounds, Floyd would win 15 of them. The fight has no more credibility as a sports competition than the 2008 WWE spectacle of Mayweather vs. Big Show.

Anyone who pays to watch Mayweather-McGregor because they think it will be a competitive sporting event has a ludicrously wrong idea of what combat sports are about.

McGregor isn’t a boxer. He’s a mixed martial artist with lesser boxing skills than most good club fighters have. He might not even be the most skilled combatant that mixed martial arts has to offer. Let’s not forget; Conor has been beaten three times, including a loss by submission 17 months ago to Nate Diaz (who had an 18-and-10 record). When they met in a rematch five months later, the best McGregor could do was eke out a 48-47, 48-47, 47-47 majority decision.

In an effort to propagate the notion that Mayweather-McGregor will be a competitive fight, the promotion has relied on a series of myths.

Myth No. 1: McGregor has a solid amateur background in boxing.

The Rebuttal: McGregor reportedly (the operative word is “reportedly”) won a novice (the operative word is “novice”) tournament in Ireland when he was a boy. But no hard facts have been presented in support of this contention. And even if it were true, it would be irrelevant. McGregor will be the least-skilled opponent that Mayweather has fought in his 50-bout professional boxing career.

Myth No. 2: McGregor knows how Mayweather boxes, but Floyd will be unable to prepare properly for Conor because Floyd doesn’t know how Conor will box.

The Rebuttal: Mayweather doesn’t know how McGregor will box because Conor doesn’t know how to box.

Myth No. 3: Mayweather has trouble fighting southpaws, and McGregor is a southpaw.

The Rebuttal: Mayweather has trouble with southpaws? Really? Maybe Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner can fight Floyd next. And by the way, Manny Pacquiao was a southpaw.

Myth No. 4: Mayweather, at age 40, is getting old. McGregor, at 29, is in his prime.

The Rebuttal: Is Mayweather aging as a fighter? Yes. But he’s still a professional boxer. And McGregor isn’t. Any professional golfer on the PGA Seniors Tour would trounce Oscar De La Hoya (a relatively young man and pretty good golfer) over 18 holes. Why? Because they’re professional golfers and Oscar isn’t.

Myth No. 5: Mayweather-McGregor is similar in principle to the 1976 boxer-wrestler match-up between Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki, which was a competitive fight.

The Rebuttal: Parallels to Ali-Inoki are fallacious. Ali-Inoki wasn’t a boxing match. If it had been, Ali would have knocked Inoki out whenever he wanted to. Inoki was allowed to wrestle and spent the entire 15 rounds crab-walking around the ring on his rear end, trying to kick Ali in the legs.

Myth No. 6: Mayweather-McGregor is a classic match-up between a “boxer” and a “puncher.” McGregor has a “puncher’s chance.”

The Rebuttal: Actually, Mayweather punches harder than McGregor. By and large, mixed martial artists don’t hit as hard as boxers do because their weight is distributed differently. If a mixed martial artist sets himself to punch like a boxer, he’s vulnerable to kicks. And learning to punch like a boxer can’t be achieved in a few months of training. Also, the “knockout power” in McGregor’s fists has been sheathed in 4-ounce gloves. Against Mayweather, his blows will be cushioned by 10 ounces on each hand.

In today’s world, if something is said again and again and pushed out over social media, people who want to believe it will believe it no matter how absurd it is. Show Mayweather and McGregor standing face to face often enough, talk enough about how it will be a competitive fight, and people who don’t understand boxing (which includes much of the mainstream media) will think there’s a chance that it will be competitive.

Anyone who thinks that Conor McGregor has a realistic chance to beat Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match is living in a universe of “alternative facts.”

People can con their way through a lot of things in today’s world, but not through a professional fight.

It’s not hard to imagine how Mayweather-McGregor will play out. Mayweather will stuff a few stiff jabs in McGregor’s face, jabs that a world-class boxer would be used to but will be the sharpest punches that McGregor has been hit with in his life. Then Floyd will dance around. At some point, McGegor will start posturing and shouting things along the lines of, “Stand and fight like a man, you [expletive deleted].” And Floyd will knock him out when he wants to.

McGregor has never fought more than five rounds (yeah, I know UFC rounds are longer). If Mayweather chooses to not knock McGregor out, McGregor is likely to collapse from exhaustion.

After the fight, McGregor will say that Mayweather is truly the greatest boxer of all time and challenge him to a rematch in The Octagon. In response, Mayweather will say that McGregor hits harder than Manny Pacquiao did.

If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my words. But I don’t think there will be a need for that.

Hey, McGregor isn’t even used to wearing shoes in combat.

Mayweather-McGregor is the sporting equivalent of an eating contest between a python and a bunny rabbit or entering one of Budweiser’s Clydesdale horses in the Kentucky Derby. It’s Roy Jones going one-on-one in basketball against Stephen Curry.

The people who say that Mayweather-McGregor will be competitive make the point that boxing and MMA both involve punching people. I’m unimpressed. The marathon and 100-meter dash both involve running. But the most accomplished marathon runner in the world wouldn’t stand a chance against an elite sprinter in a 100-meter dash. And vice versa in a marathon. The shot put and javelin both involve throwing things as far as possible. But the best javelin thrower in the world wouldn’t be competitive in a field of elite shot putters. Could the best ping-pong player in the world beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon? Of course, not. Why not? Because they’re different sports.

As Laila Ali said on ESPN last month, “You’ve got a UFC fighter, who has no boxing experience, fighting one of the best fighters in the world. So if you buy the fight, don’t be pissed if it ends too fast or it wasn’t competitive. I’m going to be asking, ‘What did you expect?’ If you think it’s going to be a good fight, then you’re stupid and you get what you deserve.”

So much for Mayweather-McGregor as a sporting event. But as the promotion has evolved, it has come to represent much more than a prizefight. There has been a dark underside to it all. More on that tomorrow.


This is the first in a three-part series.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book – “There Will Always Be Boxing” – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He is a consultant for HBO Sports.