Mayweather-McGregor: Part II – The Dark Underside
As a general rule, Michael Buffer steers clear of controversy. He has strong opinions on a wide range of subjects, including politics. But the greatest ring announcer in boxing history understands that his success is based in part on the fact that fans view him as impartial and evenhanded. So when Buffer has something critical to say, it’s generally confined to a close circle of friends.
On July 12, Buffer pushed the envelope of this self-imposed limitation a bit. Following the media tour event that day in Toronto to promote Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, Buffer sent an email to Bob Bennett, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Mayweather-McGregor will be contested in Las Vegas on August 26.
The email, which is accessible under the Nevada Open Records Act, recounted Buffer having just watched an online stream of the Toronto event. It expressed dismay at the conduct of the participants, which Buffer termed “quite disgusting and disgraceful” and “degrading and insulting to the spirit of sportsmanship.” Buffer then urged the commission to take steps now and in the future to make it clear that conduct like this “does not represent the values of the NSAC and will not be condoned at any time” because it “reflects on the values of the commission, the community of the promotion, and the state.”
On the two days that followed, when the media tour was in New York and London, the conduct got worse.
Mayweather-McGregor is a personality-driven spectacle. For many, McGregor’s most redeeming personal quality is that he’s not Mayweather. And vice versa. On the media tour, there were times when the two men resembled actors in a bad porn film.
Tim Freeman of The Daily Beast described the proceedings as “a spectacularly debasing scramble to the bottom of the barrel” and “a whacked-out circus of two apparently straight men touring the world in ridiculous outfits, screaming at each other demented insults to promote a boxing match.”
Mayweather and McGregor hadn’t met prior their four-city media tour. Their union was not cordial. “It gets worse every city we go to,” UFC president Dana White said. “In each city, they seem to hate each other more.”
Some of the dialogue was standard fare.
“He will be unconscious inside four rounds,” McGregor declared. “The movement, the power, the ferociousness; he has not experienced this. He’s not gonna be able to keep me off him. He’s too small. I’m gonna have my way.”
“We know Mr. Tap Out likes to quit,” Mayweather responded, referencing McGregor’s prior MMA losses. “I’m guaranteeing you this: You’re going out on your face or on your back. So which way do you want to go?”
Then there was the matter of the tax liens that the Internal Revenue Service has filed against Mayweather, claiming that “Money” owes lots of it to the federal government: $22,200,000 for tax year 2015 and $7,200,000 for 2010.
“He’s in a dire situation,” McGregor chortled. “The reason he has accepted this fight to come out of retirement is because he has to.”
Typical promotional banter. But things quickly crossed over the line between decent and indecent.
The tour was designed to attract attention from the mainstream media and also to energize each fighter’s fan base. To accomplish these ends, Mayweather and McGregor engaged in racist, misogynist, homophobic, profanity-ridden tirades throughout the tour. Each day was uglier than the day before.
Tens of thousands of fans (the overwhelming majority of them pro-McGregor) attended the proceedings and became part of the show.
At the Los Angeles tour event, McGregor wore what would otherwise have been a conservative tailored suit. But the pinstripes read “fuck you.” In Toronto, Conor led fans in chanting, “Fuck the Mayweathers!” and referenced an adult club called The Girl Collection that Mayweather recently opened in Las Vegas. He also called Showtime Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza a “little fucking weasel” and a “fucking bitch.”
By the time the promotional tour reached Barclays Center in Brooklyn, any semblance of decorum was gone. The event started 90 minutes late, reportedly because Mayweather was jewelry shopping in New York’s diamond district. There were flashing lights, loud music, and 13,165 screaming fans.
McGregor was shirtless, wearing a white fur coat with a serpent on the back, gaudy pants that looked as though they’d been fashioned from psychedelic draperies, and sunglasses.
Mayweather entered with an Irish flag draped over his shoulders and later threw it to the ground.
McGregor ranted for slightly more than five minutes in his opening statement, calling Mayweather a “fucking little squirt” and saying that Floyd could “suck this dick.”
In Los Angeles and Toronto, McGregor had told Mayweather to, “Dance for me, boy.” That engendered criticism, which McGregor spoke to in New York.
“Let’s address the race [issue],” McGregor told the crowd at Barclays Center. “A lot of the media seem to be saying I’m against black people. That’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. Do they not know I’m half-black? Yeah. I’m half-black, from the belly button down. And just to show that that’s squashed, here’s a little present for my beautiful, black female fans.”
Then McGregor began thrusting his pelvis back and forth with his microphone strategically placed to simulate sexual intercourse.
At each stop, Mayweather sank as low as McGregor. In London, he called McGregor a “faggot.”
Why sanitize and camouflage it? Put it out there in all its glory.
All four press conferences were posted online in their entirety by the promotion.
How offensive were they? Boxing is fond of punch counts. Here’s a different kind of count.
McGregor started relatively tamely at the Los Angeles media conference, limiting himself to saying “fuck” and derivations thereof seven times and “shit” four times. Mayweather equaled him with seven “fucks,” adding four “bitches,” and two “shits.”
In Toronto. McGregor “out-fucked” Mayweather by a 21-to-17 margin, but Floyd had an 8-to-5 edge in “bitches.” Conor also said “shit” four times and “pussy” twice.
In Brooklyn, McGregor uttered “fuck” five times, adding “cunt,” “shit,” and “bitch” for good measure. Floyd utilized “fuck” and “bitch” equally (nine times each), throwing in “shit” and “pussy” for good measure. Each man also called the other a “ho” twice.
In London, McGregor “outfucked” Mayweather 21 to 11 and called Floyd “a stupid baldy twat.” Floyd had a narrow 10-to-9 edge in “bitches” and unfurled the more varied vocabulary, spewing forth three “shits,” two “hoes,” and two “pussies.” There was also Floyd’s “faggot” utterance.
All of this was regarded as effective marketing by the promotion. On August 26, McGregor is likely to be reduced to the role of a trash-talking punching bag. But he’ll make tens of millions of dollars.
As for Mayweather, this fight fits perfectly with his legacy and finances. Floyd has generated extraordinary pay-per-view numbers for fights against Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez and Oscar De La Hoya. But his most recent outing against Andre Berto in 2015 fell flat, generating roughly 500,000 buys. That would be a strong showing for most fighters. But it was Mayweather’s lowest pay-per-view total since he fought Carlos Baldomir 11 years ago. In other words, the public seemed to be tiring of Floyd. He needs a dance partner.
McGregor is the perfect dance partner.
Meanwhile, Mayweather-McGregor represents a difficult balancing act for UFC and Dana White.
UFC is used to calling the shots. It’s not calling them here. Mayweather-McGregor isn’t a UFC event. Conor is fighting Floyd pursuant to what is essentially a provision of services agreement. Mayweather Promotions is promoting the fight and Showtime (not UFC) will produce the telecast.
People can like or dislike MMA. But White is almost universally admired for being a credible advocate for fans. Unlike many promoters, he keeps it real.
Mayweather-McGregor has forced White to straddle the line between reality and salesmanship. At times, he has been candid:
- “It’s the fight that everybody wanted. We’re delivering it. Now when I go out and start talking to people, they want me to defend the fight. I didn’t make this fight. The fans made this fight. It is what it is.”
- “Conor wanted to do this fight, so we’re doing it for him. Whatever happens happens.”
- “I hope it’s a good fight. If the fight sucks, it’s bad.”
- “Listen, he’s a fighter, not a boxer.”
But other times, White has been more salesman than honest analyst:
- “Floyd Mayweather’s going to fight at 154 pounds against a monster. Conor McGregor is huge. Wait till they meet face to face for the first time and square off and people see the difference in the size between them.”
- “When Conor McGregor touches people, they go to sleep.”
- “The great thing about fights is, you never know who’s going to win.”
- “I stopped doubting Conor McGregor a long time ago.”
UFC has avoided branding Mayweather-McGregor as a UFC venture. But the fight risks taking the UFC brand into the gutter. There have been times during the promotion when White has looked uncomfortable and embarrassed to be there.
For Floyd, Mayweather-McGregor is a one-time money grab. The same holds true for Conor, who may well retire after the bout (costing UFC its flagship fighter).
UFC has to view the bout in a long-term context. One assumes that it has a plan in place to deal with the fallout that’s likely to follow.
The State of Nevada loves the fight.
After approving Mayweather-McGregor, the Nevada State Athletic Commission will be hard-pressed to turn down any fight ever again on grounds that it’s not competitive. Unless, of course, the commission’s explanation for approving Mayweather-McGregor is, “A fight doesn’t have to be competitive if it generates enough money.”
But that has always been the standard in Nevada.
Last year, the Nevada State Athletic Commission ordered McGregor to perform 25 hours of community service after Conor acted out inappropriately at a press conference in advance of his August 2016 rematch against Nate Diaz. To fulfill the requirement, McGregor spoke with children in Dublin about physical and verbal bullying. How does that square with his performance on the recent Mayweather-McGregor media tour?
Showtime, at least in the short-term, also comes out a winner.
Things might have been a bit unpleasant for Stephen Espinoza, who has been cast in the role of corporate villain by McGregor and his fans. Millions of viewers watched the media tour events on Facebook and other platforms. For some McGregor partisans, Espinoza immediately became an object of derision, scorn and even hate.
One day after the promotional tour ended, a Google search for “weasel” with the accompanying word “Espinoza” yielded 147,000 results. Espinoza had previously laughed off the “weasel” appellation, saying, “At the range of insults, it’s certainly at the low end.” But one person with knowledge of the situation says that Showtime took the step of providing Espinoza with extra personal security when the media tour reached London.
Over the years, Showtime and HBO have both enabled Mayweather’s anti-social conduct, particularly with regard to his treatment of women. But after Manny Pacquiao uttered homophopbic remarks last year, HBO repudiated them in a statement that read, “We felt it important to leave no uncertainty about our position on Mr. Pacquiao’s recent comments toward the LGBTQ community. We consider them insensitive, offensive and deplorable.”
Showtime has been institutionally silent so far with regard to the misogyny, racism and homophobia that marked the Mayweather-McGregor promotion. The network has increased its visibility and stands to make money, both directly from its share of pay-per-view revenue and indirectly by increasing its subscriber base as a consequence of the fight. But its silence is a sad commentary on the relationship between entertainment and responsible television.
Whether or not fans who buy the Mayweather-McGregor pay-per-view are satisfied will depend, obviously, on their expectations and the flow of the fight.
Some people will watch Mayweather-McGregor because they think McGregor has a good chance to win. They don’t know they’re being hustled. Others will buy it because they look forward to seeing McGregor get his comeuppance. A third group will buy in because the fight is a happening and they’re enjoying the ride.
“Times have changed,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerebe said in Brooklyn in defense of the fight. “You’ve got to get away from the way things were done before. Don’t get mad at us because we found a way to take this to a whole new level. We’re giving the fans exactly what they want.”
When Mayweather-McGregor is over, will the people who paid $99.95 to buy it feel satisfied or ripped off? And will anyone involved in the promotion care?
A warning to would-be buyers who think that the pre-fight spectacle has been great fun. You’re likely to find that the actual fight is less entertaining than the hoopla you’ve enjoyed so far.
This is Part II of 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.