Primer: Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor and the Suspension of Reality

By Sean Sheehan Aug 23, 2017

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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It’s almost time. Conor McGregor will take on Floyd Mayweather in a 12-round boxing match this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It still feels weird to say it, and it should because this is a really odd fight.

On one hand, it pairs two of the most entertaining talkers in professional sports. It’s a fight between two world champions and a fight that will make both men so much money that they’ll have the means to build ivory mansions and live there without moving another limb for the rest of their days. On the other hand, we have two men from different sports trying to convince us that a complete mismatch is something we need. It’s a Ponzi scheme masked as a sporting event, as the protagonists line their pockets and the significantly less well-off pay-per-view customers toil with buyer’s remorse in the aftermath.

There seems to be a divide between people on the subject. One side chooses to label it an abomination, while the other goes head-first into the build-up, entertainment and fight itself. Whenever you pick sides, it’s usually not a good thing. In this case, neither side is right or wrong. Yes, this fight pits a 0-0 boxer against the greatest boxer of his generation, but that 0-0 boxer holds the distinction of being the only competitor in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to possess UFC titles in two weight classes simultaneously. Yes, they are charging ridiculous PPV fees for what amounts to a foregone conclusion, but it has provided months of entertainment -- if that’s your thing. One side will love it; the other will be infuriated by it.

It has been particularly difficult to separate the weeds from the flowers here. Fans, pundits and even the fighters themselves have spewed a whole load of nonsense on the subject. Seeing as though Sherdog.com is an MMA-centered website, let me concentrate on what has been said about McGregor; and the first person to talk nonsense about the reigning UFC lightweight champion was McGregor himself. During this training camp, he has pushed the narrative that everyone doubted him throughout his career. While McGregor has his detractors, that isn’t necessarily true.

Looking back at his fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 194, many pundits picked McGregor to win, and it wasn’t just favoring one man to beat another. It was taking someone to beat the greatest featherweight of all-time, a man who hadn’t lost in nine years. That doesn’t sound like doubt. Of course, observers had questions along the way. Could he wrestle? Could he step up in competition? Could he win fights on short notice? Could he rebound from a loss? Those questions have been answered. We know he can beat wrestlers. We know he’s a championship-caliber performer. We know he’s a fantastic mixed martial artist. Those who deny those truths do so at the risk of being ignored.

What has changed now is that people are actually doubting him, and with good reason. While we know he’s brilliant inside the Octagon, we don’t know anything about him as a boxer. Logically, nobody should think he can beat Mayweather -- it’s 49-0 vs. 0-0 -- but many still do. That’s where more nonsense comes into play. The karate stance can be awkward; McGregor will throw shots from different angles; Mayweather is old and out of shape. Everyone has a miracle scenario in which McGregor knocks out a man that can’t be hit. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I told you so.” They don’t care about reality.

If only fans were crossing these lines, it would be OK, but the fact that others are giving McGregor anything more than the slightest of puncher’s chances is pretty ludicrous. In reality, “Mystic Mac” should be a 100-to-1 underdog with the bookmakers, not 3-to-1. People need to come to terms with the fact that it’s going to be almost impossible to hit Mayweather, no matter what happens; and even if McGregor does find early success, Mayweather has proven himself to be one of the best boxers of all-time at making mid-fight adjustments. To look at this fight honestly is to look at it as David vs. Goliath, not champion vs. champion. This is fight between a man who has beaten multiple world champions against a man lacing up the gloves for the first time. This is no pick ’em fight; this is the potential plot for the greatest upset in combat sports history.

No matter the outcome, this will likely go down as one of the most financially successful bouts on record. Despite reports of lukewarm initial ticket sales, the gate will be massive; the pay-per-view buys will be astronomical; and all other meaningful revenue streams associated with it will be off the charts. That has also become a divisive subject in an odd way. There’s a feeling that fans are being robbed in broad daylight because this simply isn’t a worthwhile sporting contest. That argument can be made, but it’s flawed. At the end of the day, combat sports are not like other sports. For Neymar to get his money from Paris St-Germain, all he had to do was train, work and play in games. Combat sports are not the same. They are about the prize in prizefighting. If this was just about the fight itself, then Demetrious Johnson or Vasyl Lomachenko might be the subject of this piece. Yes, it has always been about the prize. Fighters don’t merely have to work for their dinner; they have to sing for their supper, too.

To achieve superstardom like Mayweather and McGregor, you have to fight well, speak well, stay interesting and relevant, force people to care about you and possess an “it” factor that leads the public to buy into what you’re selling. This fight has highlighted those realities more than any other. Both Mayweather and McGregor have that figured out. Even so, the juxtaposition between sports and entertainment still makes their matchup weird.

Fighting isn’t as simple as likes and dislikes. It’s more complicated, like mathematics. If you can’t differentiate between boxing and MMA, Mayweather-McGregor is a match made in heaven. They figured out the same equation while working with different variables: Mayweather plus McGregor equals money.

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