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As “The Money Fight” inexorably becomes reality and the odds inexplicably become closer, the cynicism of it all has grown tiresome. You, dear readers, may recall that I haven’t been particularly enthused by the match, but that isn’t because I don’t understand its appeal. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about it. The optics alone of seeing Conor McGregor in the ring against Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be interesting. Plus, for all the criticism McGregor gets for his goofy-looking training methods, there is an undeniable itch of curiosity to see if maybe he’s on to something. That’s to say nothing of the ultimate appeal of Mayweather’s career in the last decade: the desire to see him lose. To lose to a boxing debutante would be the most hilariously embarrassing schadenfreude imaginable, unlikely as it may be.
Both actors are fascinating in their own ways. Mayweather is unquestionably The Best Ever, though not in the way he sells himself. No, Mayweather is not anywhere near the top of the all-time pound for pound list, and he is hardly in contention as the greatest welterweight or lightweight, either. Imagine Mayweather against a prime Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns or Roberto Duran, and it is hard to picture him winning any of those fights. He is a gifted, beautiful fighter, no doubt, but the zero in his loss column has masked his flaws and granted him undue credit.
Where Mayweather is head and shoulders above everyone else is as a promoter and career strategist. Look at how intentionally crafted his promotion of this fight has been. The All Access series hardly shows him training; he told ESPN that McGregor has all the advantages on paper; and he’s been Tweeting about how he will be spending this week leading up to the match partying at his strip club. Meanwhile, the odds have gone from Mayweather being a -2250 favorite to -400, and in some places, they are much closer than that. The move to eight-ounce gloves also narrowed the odds, since fans tend to think that smaller gloves unilaterally fall in McGregor’s favor. However, as Sherdog columnist Andreas Hale has pointed out, smaller gloves do, in fact, benefit Mayweather, as well, possibly more so than McGregor. He has made sure that the money he will inevitably bet on himself will yield maximum results while doing his best to increase the pay-per-view buy rate at the same time. You can’t knock the hustle.
Mayweather has cultivated a heel persona better than anyone. That persona has stemmed entirely from being undefeated. Sure enough, going through a full career while winning and defending titles in multiple weight classes without so much as a single draw is an impressive feat. Should he be victorious against McGregor this weekend and move to 50-0, it will be an unprecedented accomplishment on paper. That being said, the biggest knock on Mayweather’s career has been his risk-averse fight selection. He outright avoided big names like Antonio Margarito and Ronald “Winky” Wright and waited several years to face guys like Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya and, perhaps most notably, Manny Pacquiao. Those three were so far past their prime by the time Mayweather fought them that they barely add to his legacy, especially considering the fact that he eked out a decision against a faded De La Hoya and took a lackluster decision against Pacquiao. The tactics are easy to understand. He made a ridiculous amount of money with a style that is basically visual melatonin, and he did so by leveraging the zero on his record. Still, you can’t exactly applaud him, either. That’s to say nothing of his domestic abuse, which is without saying absolutely abhorrent and gross.
Then there’s McGregor. In a lot of ways, the boxing world could learn a lot from “The Notorious” one. Although he’s fairly criticized for not defending either of the Ultimate Fighting Championship belts he has won even once, you have to respect the fact that he hasn’t avoided those obligations in order to seek easier challenges. I personally would have liked to see a rematch with Jose Aldo and/or a fight with Frankie Edgar. Especially now, a rematch with current featherweight champ Max Holloway is a must. Plus, there are a number of exciting matchups at lightweight, from Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson to perhaps even Kevin Lee and Justin Gaethje. Of course, there’s still a necessary rubber match with Nate Diaz waiting in the wings, as well.
In spite of these lingering fights, nobody can say McGregor has ducked anyone. Taking a short-notice fight against the stylistically dangerous Chad Mendes was huge, even if it looks less so in hindsight. After demolishing Aldo, he didn’t take an easier fight by challenging then-lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos. When that fight got scrapped, instead of waiting for it to materialize, he instead took another short-notice fight against Diaz. The size difference is greatly exaggerated -- I’m looking at you, Skip Bayless -- but Diaz was, in fact, a larger man in meaningful ways, with a completely differently style than dos Anjos. It took legitimate don’t-give-a-[expletive] courage to accept that fight. Going after a boxing match with Mayweather instead of defending his UFC lightweight belt is a testament to this mindset.
McGregor’s pursuit of a rematch with Diaz, too, was commendable. Again, I understand and sympathize with the frustration of him not defending his featherweight belt, but there is something special about a rivalry. This is also something that the boxing world can learn from. Consider this: De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson -- three of the biggest names in the last three decades of boxing -- have a combined 21 losses. Only one of those losses was ever avenged, as Jones defeated Montell Griffin, a man to whom Jones shouldn’t have lost in the first place but decided to disqualify himself in a fight he was on track to win. Rivalries are the most exciting aspects of sports, especially in combat sports. Assuming McGregor makes his way back into the Octagon, his legacy will be defined by his rivalry with Diaz and maybe a potential rivalry with Holloway.
In a lot of ways, Mayweather and McGregor are similar. They talk a big game, flaunt their money unapologetically and have made the fight game work for them in ways that most fighters never will. McGregor has taken a page from Mayweather’s promotional manual. Their contrasts, however, are more fascinating. McGregor is an offensive wunderkind, an innovator, an experimenter and a big-game hunter. Mayweather is a defensive genius, a throwback and an effective cherry-picker. McGregor takes a loss on the chin and pulls every string he can to avenge it; Mayweather has never lost and has made calculated efforts to make sure he will never need to avenge one.
There’s not much else to say about “The Money Fight.” Those who are interested will watch, and those who aren’t will not. For all the analysis it has received -- in boxing circles that are repulsed by its spectacle and in MMA circles who have had little else to discuss these past few weeks -- the Mayweather-McGregor match is pretty simple. It is a circus, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Who doesn’t have fun at the circus?
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.
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