It’s official: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor is the Kim Kardashian of combat sports. In the same way the latter’s not a singer, an actress or a model, role or otherwise, the former is not a boxing match or a mixed martial arts contest, not even a fight. It’s a thing. Just a thing. One giant arse and a pair of tits.
The Mayweather vs. McGregor ‘fight’, announced yesterday (June 14), has somehow happened and will now, whether we like it or not, whether we invited it or not, become part of our lexicon, our culture, our lives. It’s a selfie hell-bent on breaking the internet. It will, like those Kardashians, soon be everywhere: on television, on your social media feeds, in magazines, in newspapers. Even when it’s not, such is the widespread interest, such is the overexposure, you’ll still be reminded of it. Brainwashed like the rest of them, you’ll find yourself caught up in it, too, and perhaps even watch it (though will ensure nobody else is in the room at the time and pounce for the remote whenever a former Olympic gold medallist now calling himself Caitlyn appears).
Who knows, you might, in time, extend a grudging respect the way of this thing that stalks and looms over you for the next ten weeks. You might appreciate the hustle and how it came to be. How slick, how well put together, how perfect it is. How it makes sense. You might also, once you begrudgingly accept it exists, realise it’s all pretty harmless. It won’t kill boxing or MMA, just as Kim Kardashian won’t undo the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. It will change a few things, sure. It will force you to engage in fight conversation with people you’d rather not. But that’s okay. The day after the fight, life continues. We’ll be back to boxing and back to mixed martial arts. A swift divorce, boxing will keep the property, the kids and the bulk of the money, while MMA will get the La-Z–Boy sofa, the pool table and the Sopranos box set.
It’s true. You didn’t dream it. Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, the hybrid match they said would never happen, is actually going to happen. It will happen in Las Vegas, city of sin, on Saturday, August 26.
Unless, however, you are Kim Kardashian or an associate of hers, no one reading this will be able to afford a ticket to the fight, let alone source one. But it’s not a fight for us anyway. It’s bigger and better than that. It’s beyond us. This is a fight for that other lot. It’s for the rich people, the A-listers, those who see Mayweather and McGregor not as professional fighters but merely a pair of famous guys who talk shit and punch people in the face. For them, that audience, there is, frankly, no better fight in the history of fights. It’s Ali-Frazier but with bling and mink coats and a 24/7. It’s Hagler-Hearns without the confusion of titles and common opponents and the need for a style breakdown. Rejoice: you don’t have to know a thing about Mayweather or McGregor, or even boxing or MMA, to invest in the spectacle and have an opinion on it. And that’s precisely why it works and why it’s taking place.
Can Conor McGregor win? Sure. He can win just as a rogue parachutist could have interrupted the world heavyweight title fight between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield in 1993. I mean, it could happen.
Will he win? Of course not. The fight, in fact, is more likely to resemble the moment poor James Miller landed inside Caesars Palace and then found himself set upon by half a dozen flunkies wearing gold medallions and knuckledusters. It will probably be that one-sided.
Forget the half-hearted arguments; the talk of an old and inactive Mayweather not being a puncher – having failed to register a knockout win since 2011 – and how McGregor’s off-kilter MMA rhythm and timing could upset and befuddle a sweet scientist trained to defuse boxers for over 30 years. Forget all that because it will, in the end, amount to not much more than throwaway discussion used to keep up the pretence that we give a damn and know more than the next person. Mayweather, rest assured, doesn’t need to punch McGregor hard to hurt him or knock him out. He just needs to punch him. And he will. With every shot, thrown from every angle. With a can’t-believe-they-bought-this-shit look on his face.
The McGregor-is-Neo angle is a myth, too. He has been a revelation in MMA, no doubt. His striking, in that domain, is some of the best; unconventional, economical, devastating. But he was also, before getting tapped out, out-struck by Nate Diaz, a tough but floppy-armed fighter who is to boxing technique what Bob Dylan is to dance, and led an Irish jig by Chris van Heerden, a serviceable South African boxer some way short of world championship material, as per a sparring video that circulated last year.
Conor McGregor won’t defeat Floyd Mayweather. We know this much. But it hardly matters because he’s a winner in just about every other conceivable way.
Financially? That goes without saying. He will be paid more for this fight than any other mixed martial artist has and will ever be paid for a single night’s work. Also, in manufacturing the fight comes a kind of validation, both for McGregor and the sport of MMA. Mayweather, after all, in a roundabout way, said it himself. He said he wouldn’t come out of retirement – his latest, at 40 – for anyone but Conor McGregor, a man who will do nothing to further his already considerable boxing legacy, a man who, lest we forget, has never even had a professional boxing match. That’s not because Mayweather feels the Irishman’s UFC lightweight title is the one belt missing from his vast collection, nor because he is envious of McGregor’s 21-3 pro MMA record. Instead, the reason Mayweather, 49-0, has selected McGregor, like some kind of arranged marriage, is because he’s the sexiest bride in the room. And, whether they care to admit it or not, Conor McGregor is the guy every fighter – mixed martial artist or boxer – wants to be in 2017. Some try to mimic him, in much the same way boxers started to emulate ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed in the nineties and noughties, while the rest simply try to capitalise on the we’re-bigger-than-the-sport mini revolution he has kickstarted. It’s all a tribute.
Thanks to social media and the age of the narcissist, McGregor, 28, has done in four years what it took Mayweather half a lifetime to do. Done it with style and panache, too; in a way Mayweather never seemed able to do.
A genius boxer, admittedly, Mayweather’s success and popularity owed a lot to his unbeaten record, which will always demand attention, wins over fan favourites like Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti, and an ability to arouse aspirational millennials; cash on the bed, winning betting slips, strip club interiors, that sort of thing.
McGregor, on the other hand, has entertained, both in and out of the UFC’s Octagon, and managed to make trash talk seem an art form and press conferences worth watching. With charisma like no other, Conor has played the fight game better than any fighter in living memory, Mayweather included. People, as a result, not only want to watch him at press conferences and follow him on social media, they also want to see him fight. For Floyd Mayweather, the same cannot always be said.
They needed each other. They’ve now got each other. As for boxing and MMA, this union should come as no surprise. Once keen to keep a distance, the two sports have now opened their legs to pay-per-view so wide and so often that this is the outcome. In working from a flimsy structure that requires pay-per-view to sustain its business, they were always going to join hands sooner or later, while Mayweather and McGregor, the two personalities who best embody this era of gold-digging, are the perfect avatars to undertake such an experiment.
Accept it for what it is and we’ll get through this. Try not to get too wound up. We know McGregor wouldn’t be able to beat a regional champion in a boxing ring. We know boxing and MMA are as disparate as soccer and football. We also know you’ll still watch this thing on August 26 regardless. So make friends with it. Enjoy the press conference. Wince at the trash talk. Marvel at the way Conor McGregor will verbally tie Floyd Mayweather in knots, exposing him as an ignoramus, and then, on fight night, be treated like a small child kept at arm’s length by a playful father.
Ten weeks out, this is all just smoke and mirrors and hype. But, on August 26, the world will come to a standstill, the internet will break all over again, and we’ll see it in all its glory. We’ll see the arse. The arse that lied to us and shattered our hopes and dreams. The arse that no longer looks the same as it did in photos. The arse that has got bigger and bigger and then finally imploded.