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Since Floyd Mayweather declared his intention to begin training for an MMA bout, he has been greeted largely with skepticism. Mayweather and Conor McGregor did end up competing in a boxing match that was once considered unthinkable, so a Mayweather MMA fight isn’t being rejected offhand. However, the announcement is being met by and large as just talk coming from an athlete who loves attention.
Mayweather is 41 after all. He has made so much money he has to get creative to find ways to spend it all. Undefeated in boxing at 50-0, he can ride off into the sunset without trying his hand at a dangerous new venture. It’s not hard to work out an argument for ignoring what Mayweather is saying. With that said, when you think deeper about Mayweather’s motivations and what an MMA debut would mean for him, the idea doesn’t seem so fanciful. In fact, it starts to make a ton of sense.
The reasons Mayweather might be tempted to try out MMA start with the most obvious one. His “Money” nickname is as fitting as any athlete nickname ever created. The man loves to make money and he loves to spend money. It goes beyond simply having expensive tastes; it’s his very identity. There aren’t a lot of athletes who would turn down the amount of money Mayweather could make for his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, but Mayweather in particular seems exceedingly predisposed to take the paycheck.
This was a moot point at one time. There wasn’t as much money for Mayweather to make in MMA as there was in boxing. Even if there was, preparation time would divert him from his lucrative boxing career. Now, it’s a different story. He doesn’t have a long boxing future to protect. Moreover, a UFC fight with McGregor is likely the single enterprise Mayweather could enter into that would make him the most money.
A rematch with Manny Pacquiao at one point would have been a box office bonanza. However, that fight has faded as Pacquiao’s star has faded. Gennady Golovkin still isn’t a big enough name to the mainstream audience. A rematch with Canelo Alvarez is the only other fight that could challenge Mayweather-McGregor in the UFC. However, Mayweather-Canelo 1 was significantly bigger than Mayweather-McGregor 1, and Mayweather competing in the Octagon for the first time would offer a novelty factor the Alvarez fight couldn’t match. Mayweather would be leaving well into nine figures on the table if he doesn’t fight in the UFC.
Of course, money isn’t everything, even to “Money” Mayweather. If there were strong considerations cutting in the other direction, he might still turn it down. However, the reasons not to do it aren’t terribly strong. In fact, non-monetary considerations on balance also point towards diving in.
There is only one factor that Mayweather at times has appeared to prioritize over money when it comes to his boxing career: his boxing legacy. Mayweather has been criticized for his opponent selection in boxing but by and large he sought out opponents with whom he could draw. That changed at the very end when he sought to tie Rocky Marciano’s undefeated 49-0 record. That event could have been massive at the box office with the right opponent. Instead, Mayweather selected Andre Berto, who had little hope and even less mass appeal. The fight tanked on pay-per-view. Mayweather prioritized the undefeated record that meant so much to him over the money.
The delightful hook of a UFC fight against McGregor for Mayweather is that he can take the biggest money fight without even putting his boxing legacy on the line. He already beat McGregor under the rules that matter to him. The biggest reasons that athletes hang on too long are because of the money that is offered and because they love to compete. The factor cutting in the other direction is usually that they don’t want to damage their legacy. Here, all three factors line up Mayweather’s way. He can fuel his drive to compete and make as much money as he has ever made without risking the boxing records that he prizes so greatly coming from a famed boxing family.
Other boxers would be more hesitant to enter into MMA for a variety of reasons. For Mayweather, it’s less daunting. Mayweather has a positive relationship going back years with UFC President Dana White. There’s a level of trust there for Mayweather with the promoters that doesn’t exist with other boxers and, frankly, many UFC fighters. Mayweather also likes MMA more than a lot of boxers. He has spoken in complimentary terms about the sport over the years and has a good relationship with a number of MMA fighters who would help him out. In McGregor, he’d have an opponent for whom he seems to have a genuine affinity, even if they sometimes pretend otherwise in public. The whole enterprise is not as much of a plunge into the unknown for Mayweather as it would be for others.
There is still the matter of the fight itself. Nobody likes to take a beating and a loss. That’s certainly a risk entering the Octagon for the first time at 41 years old. Even in that regard, Mayweather isn’t at as much risk as might be assumed. The biggest threat to pure strikers like Mayweather is ground fighters. McGregor is pretty much the opposite. He likes to stand and goes for takedowns pretty much only when tired, as he did against Nate Diaz, or injured, as he did against Max Holloway. In a fight as high profile as a Mayweather rematch, McGregor would be more tempted than ever to show guts and go for the knockout. An MMA fight with McGregor would on paper more closely resemble Tim Sylvia-Ray Mercer than Randy Couture-James Toney.
That isn’t to say it would be smooth sailing for Mayweather. McGregor would be the favorite -- and for good reason. McGregor trains in a cage rather than a ring. He trains with kicks and knees rather than just punches. A referee won’t automatically break up clinches. McGregor is used to fighting with smaller gloves, which favor the offensive specialist (McGregor) over the defensive specialist (Mayweather). Still, Mayweather would be in a better position than many boxers in boxing-versus-MMA bouts.
Of course, Mayweather winning or losing wouldn’t make a big difference for the boxing legend in the big picture. Either way, he’d still have his 50-0 boxing record. He’d still have hundreds of millions of dollars more to invest in cars and jewelry. He’d have a challenge to devote his prodigious training work ethic towards. There may be doubt in the air right now, but I for one think we’ll witness the improbable sight of Mayweather entering the Octagon in the not too distant future.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.
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