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Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder and mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor will meet undefeated five-division champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing match this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This spectacle of a super fight has highlighted almost every nuance combat sports has to offer. In a relatively short promotional cycle, we have touched upon issues of incompetence and possible collusion on a regulatory level, racial undertones, sparring etiquette and the never-ending debate about which sport is superior: MMA or boxing? It has all occurred while the cocksure Mayweather has gone to great lengths to point out his advancing age and two-year layoff while producing a Showtime All Access series that has yet to show any of his training footage.
Despite the drama, related sideshows and more sensationalized hot takes, the general narrative among pundits has been simple: Mayweather will dominate a pure boxing match against an opponent with no professional boxing experience. While the fight community has been caught up in technical debates and conjecture, little thought has been given to what the impossible outcome would mean. What if McGregor does what 47 other men have failed to do and defeats Mayweather? The effects would reverberate in all of combat sports in a number of interconnected ways.
On the promotional side, it would usher in the WME-IMG era for the UFC. It’s hard to imagine the Fertitta brothers and Dana White signing off on sending their biggest star to compete in another combat sport. Previously, Anderson Silva was denied the chance to square off with Roy Jones Jr. in a fight for which both men ferociously campaigned. The UFC kept Silva in the Octagon to defend his middleweight championship instead of opting to cash out on a guaranteed big-money bout.
Co-promotion, something to which the previous regime was staunchly opposed, is now on the table. Fedor Emelianenko and his management team were rejected in their attempts to fly the M-1 Global banner inside the Octagon. Meanwhile, Strikeforce, Dream and other major organizations used co-promotion as a means to expand their brands and give the buying public marquee matchups. After getting the Nevada Athletic Commission’s OK, the UFC logo will now be featured alongside Mayweather Promotions, Showtime Sports and McGregor Sports and Entertainment.
Another aspect of a potential McGregor upset: the validation of non-traditional matchmaking. Minus the occasional exception, the UFC has adhered to a highly respected method of making matches. “The best fight the best” was a frequently quoted phrase that separated MMA from boxing. Typically, a qualified contender fought several other qualified contenders for the chance to challenge a champion who had endured a similar gauntlet to earn his or her title. Recent matches -- Phil Brooks-Mickey Gall and Georges St. Pierre-Michael Bisping -- disrupt that norm. A McGregor victory, when paired with the financial windfall all parties stand to enjoy, would put a stamp of approval on this type of spectacle. Promoters might change their tune: “The impossible can and has happened, so why not sell it?”
This is especially striking when looking at the weeks before and after Mayweather-McGregor. The UFC on July 29 promoted perhaps its most compelling matchup to date with the rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Three weeks after Mayweather-McGregor, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin will face one another in a battle between arguably the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Their pairing has largely been forgotten by the general public.
Since Mayweather-McGregor was made official in June, several great fighters have been pushed to the back burner. Andre Ward and Sergei Kovalev engaged in a controversial but exciting rematch that barely made waves; Vasyl Lomachenko on Aug. 5 drew such a sparse crowd for his WBO junior welterweight title defense against Miguel Marriaga that fans were brought down from the nosebleed sections to fill in the lower levels of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles; and Miguel Cotto on Aug. 26 will compete on what was a coveted HBO Boxing slot that figures to be drowned out by the happenings in Las Vegas. While casual fans have always been drawn to the chaos only combat sports can offer, McGregor pulling off a victory against Mayweather would forever be cited as an example for approving any fight that sells, regardless of merit.
Using the same self-promotional genius that aided his rise in MMA, McGregor has already sown the seeds for more illogical matchups by throwing barbs at Golovkin and Alvarez while courting a potential fight with former sparring partner Paulie Malignaggi. Perhaps the most intriguing byproduct of an unlikely McGregor win would be loss of order as we know it. Despite the long-storied appeal of freak show fights and circus-like spectacles in combat sports, things have always organically found their way back to normal. James Toney was predictably outgrappled in his cross-sport endeavor with Randy Couture; “CM Punk” was humiliated by Gall; Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki fought to an uninspired draw; Joe Rogan never fought Wesley Snipes; and the late Kimbo Slice struggled against competent opposition. The fight game found a way to make sense.
It would be ridiculous not to mention the $4 billion WME-IMG paid for the UFC and the new ownership’s knee-deep involvement in the entertainment industry, as it seems to have shaped its overall approach to MMA. This comes in stark contrast to the Zuffa-era Ultimate Fighting Championship. If McGregor wins on Aug. 26, MMA and boxing will delve deeper into a rabbit hole the likes of which we have never seen before.