“This isn’t a real fight. This is all for show, right?”
An usher inside Barclays Center stopped me and my brother on Thursday night, more interested in chatting with us about the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. press conference than checking ticket stubs as onlookers pushed past him into the arena's upper deck. He was parroting a sentiment that’s been adopted by most media outlets (this site included): that Mayweather — the undisputed boxing champion of our time — will easily knock out McGregor, UFC superstar but unproven amateur boxer.
It’s a fair and, in all likelihood, accurate prediction. But after following both fighters’ careers — from standing-room-only Mexican restaurants for the Mayweather-Maidana bouts to overflowing Brooklyn Irish bars for the 13-second McGregor-Aldo upset — and standing in the thick of it at Barclays, there’s an alternate conclusion that is equally viable:
McGregor has already won.
The war, that is.
As has been covered ad nauseam, it’s nigh impossible that McGregor will leave the ring victorious on August 26th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. But this correspondent is pulling for him nonetheless and — if last week's four-stop press tour (L.A., Toronto, London and Brooklyn) is any indication — so are about 90% of the fans who plan on watching it.
Why are the numbers so skewed? Because Conor McGregor is every boxing promoter's dream: a sharply dressed, acid-tongued livewire who will run circles around Floyd on every stage they share right up until fight night. He may not be Mayweather's equal in the ring, but he can easily best him outside of it. And in a matchup that's less about the result, and more about the hype, isn't that what really counts?
For those who missed last week's circus, here are a couple of McGregor's best salvos:
- In L.A., he wore a dapper pinstripe suit (Floyd was in a hoodie). Except they weren’t pinstripes, they were the words “F*ck you” embossed letter-by-letter in tiny white columns.
- In Toronto, when Mayweather took an Irish flag from the crowd and taunted Dublin-born McGregor with it, Conor stole his backpack full of money. Mayweather was forced to give the flag back.
- Showtime — which is broadcasting the pay-per-view fight along with Mayweather Promotions — allegedly turned off McGregor’s microphone because he was roasting Floyd too hard in L.A. Conor retaliated onstage in Toronto, calling Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza a weasel. The next day, Espinoza was booed offstage in Brooklyn.
- To try and show him up, Mayweather made it rain money on Conor, but the bills were quickly pointed out to be $1s. Then, he sent his bouncers (aka “juice head turkeys”) to try and rough up McGregor and his team, while he ran away yelling like a wannabe Flavor Flav.
Of course, McGregor's performance last week was not without its flaws. Amid the flurry of barbs, the Irish fighter made a couple of bigoted comments that were quickly picked up by outlets like Yahoo and Salon. The white-versus-black narrative is (predictably) catnip for media outlets unversed in combat sports. Do McGregor, Mayweather and their respective teams know that? Surely. And as professional showmen, are they happily obliging it to create storylines ahead of the fight? Possibly.
For what it's worth, Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe denied the accusations, and some of the comments in question (“Dance for me, boy”) have been used by Conor in press conferences against other, non-black fighters. Also, let’s not forget that during the leadup to their 2015 fight, Mayweather famously called Manny Pacquiao a “little yellow chump” and said he wanted to “make that mother f*cker make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice."*
So when August 26th comes around, after the tour stops and the video promos and the zillion hot takes, what will be left? An undeniably enticing $100 pay-per-view fight that pits the best of boxing versus the best of MMA. The only way McGregor will lose is if he gets completely and utterly embarrassed (i.e., a first- or second-round knockout). Go 12 rounds — or even six — and he's acquitted himself well. Mayweather, on the other hand, has everything to lose: the fight, his legacy, that perfect 49-0 record, his pride, the future of boxing.
That last part is not an exaggeration. In all four cities on the press tour, the crowd overwhelmingly favored the underdog Irishman, a mixed martial artist contracted with the UFC, an organization that favors the brand of brash, bawdy trash talk that was peddled on stage. Floyd's supporters — or, really, boxing's supporters — were nowhere to be found.
During this press tour, Floyd's refrain to Conor has been, “The fans can’t fight for you!”
But even if McGregor doesn't win on the 26th, the fans will still be fighting for him. And that’s the difference.
*In terms of harm that goes beyond braggadocio, it must be noted how media organizations, fans, Showtime and the companies still working with Mayweather dismiss his documented serial battery. Yes, the owner of a new Las Vegas strip club called “Girl Collection,” who was touted in videos during the press conference pre-show as a family man, is a convicted domestic abuser. A must read for anyone interested in this bout is the CNN piece: “Why do we ignore Mayweather’s domestic abuse?”
Photos by Mike Stobe/Getty Images