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As I write this, there have been three consecutive daily press conferences across North America -- Los Angeles, Toronto and Brooklyn, New York -- to promote the Aug. 26 “Money Fight” between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. If you're reading this, I guarantee you've seen at least one of them. If you haven't, you've certainly seen highlights and heard soundbites from these engagements. More specifically, if you're hardcore enough to be reading my column inches, you've almost certainly been appraised, one way or another, about the antisocial dumpster fire of humanity that took place on Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
How often is the third entry in any given series -- fiction, non-fiction or fightsports -- the best of all things? Essentially never. Even knowing that much, the crippling and resonant lameness of the third round of the Mayweather-McGregor international presser series has more important, poignant ramifications than, say, whether or not Sofia Coppola was trash as Mary Corleone in “The Godfather Part III.”
For purely promotional purposes, if you're a Mayweather, McGregor, Showtime or Zuffa (UFC or “Zuffa Boxing”) mark, maybe you think all publicity is good publicity, but the fact of the matter is that in the mere two days prior, the two principles were brilliant, engrossing and magnetic in their exchanges before the live and globally streaming masses. This all changed on a dime come Thursday.
Virtually nobody -- fan or media, live in person or streaming behind their computer screen -- came away from the press engagement in Brooklyn feeling better about combat sports' most lucrative, whimsical farce. The first two days went largely swimmingly. The L.A. gig got things kicked off in a major way, while giving real visual proof that this damn thing was actually going to happen and was by and large worth watching; the T.O. junket on Wednesday may have been nearly an hour late getting started, but the fact it started on the work week's hump day and got bumped an hour from 6 p.m. ET until an hour later was hardly a death knell. In fact, attending in person, I can say with firsthand confidence that one of the elements that made the Toronto stop a worthwhile destination for this four-date psychodrama was in part scheduling. Not only did organizers need to move the engagement from the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on less than 48 hours on notice due to the outpouring of advance ticket sales, but the central location of the Toronto presser at the Budweiser Stage, plus the slight delay, ended up playing better practically. The location allowed more fight fans to buy tickets and flood in to the venue, but it also seemed to mobilize an entire cadre of fans who might have missed out otherwise. Starting an hour later due to both fighters' tardiness actually fleshed out the crowd and got it appropriately hot for the moment.
The July 12 press conference in “The 6ix” was at the end of the day only a press conference. However, after “The City of Angels” a day earlier, Toronto appeared to give both parties the chance to practice and solidify what were essentially a combination of elaborate pro wrestling promos and standup comedy acts. McGregor was at his finest, and even “Money May” held up his end of the bargain. McGregor punched a beach ball; we got some indispensable, memorable one-liners; Mayweather draped himself in an Irish flag and McGregor stole his Jansport -- please don't email to tell me it wasn't actually a Jansport -- while laughing that it contained only $5,000 or so. Canada's national mascot and ersatz Torontonian ambassador Drake was even on hand. You could do a whole lot worse.
You certainly could. Fast forward a day, and a similar format suddenly became a gruesome disaster. Disregard and ignore Drake's contemporaneous pop culture relevance and connection to the city of Toronto for a second. Is a 50-year-old Doug E. Fresh the best person to get a crowd like this warmed up for a major fight presser? Sure, he may have played at Mayweather's 40th personal birthday party recently, and hey, who doesn't love the Dougie as a dance? The Brooklyn clan, even given the geographically persuaded folks, was nowhere near into the third instance of the May-Mac drama as the first two stops were -- and with good reason.
The first reason is logistics. Invariably, many of the fans who showed up to the Barclays Center had already watched part of the pre-fight festivities from the prior two days, only for Mayweather and McGregor to regurgitate nearly identical, canned lines at one another. Even with McGregor shirtless, wearing a positively insane polar bear fur jacket with Leviathan embroidered onto the back of it and pairing it with a pair of floral, printed pants that didn't even begin to match, the level of effort seemed to have evaporated. More than that, it became even clearer that McGregor's schtick is the straw the stirs the drink. When “The Notorious” one didn't have any new material and didn't seem to be purposefully engaged, Mayweather himself, their respective crews and the crowds, both live and streaming on their computers, didn't care any more. The gimmick became instantly stale. Mayweather even repeated a complimentary speech to UFC President Dana White that he had given earlier in Toronto, nearly verbatim. If this was 20 years ago and you couldn't stream whatever live entertainment you wanted to see from wherever whenever, maybe this would have worked. The benefits of live streaming are innumerable, but one of the inherent disadvantages is that you can't ape yourself and your own product repeatedly without being caught.
Oh, and of course the presser started nearly three hours late. In Toronto, the hour-long delay was unintentionally purposeful, nearly artful, allowing the venue to legitimately fill up while teasing the fans and stoking their internal fires of excitement. However, once an extra 60 minutes passed with no sign of either fighter even being the right NYC borough, fans and media alike turned on the entire presentation.
Secondly, for fans who wasted their afternoons and evenings in return for the saddest microwaved leftovers Mayweather and McGregor had to offer, there were real technical issues. Almost no one inside the Barclays Center could hear a damn thing. Whether it's an over-the-top press conference or just a show at your local dive bar, no one suffers poor audio gladly. Combine that with the interminable waiting and comparatively lame, lifeless product that they had paid for, and it doesn't matter if you owned “La Di Da Di” on vinyl or not, you'd be ready to boo Doug E. Fresh into an early grave, too.
For the coup de grace, we got sexualized racism.
Yes, after the crowd had already made up its collective mind and roundly rejected the half-assery it was being subjected to, after people had already felt cheated and scammed, McGregor attempted to save the day by addressing recent criticisms that he's at worst a full-blown racist and at best race-baiting folks to hype up a fight that is, whether you like to admit it or not, implicitly hinged on a racial dynamic. How did he achieve this?
“A lot of media seem to be saying I’m against black people,” the shirtless one bellowed. “That’s absolutely [expletive] ridiculous. Do they not know I’m half black? I’m half black from the belly button down. Here’s a present for my beautiful black female fans.”
McGregor then began gyrating into the air, hitting back shots on an invisible sex partner. Absolutely no one was amused. McGregor deserves legitimate consternation for both his remarks and the incredibly tone-deaf way he addressed them, but it's hard to think the very design of this whole press tour didn't help exacerbate the stupidity.
When this whole freakshow started, McGregor was already playing with fire, making comments like “Dance for me, boy.” Mayweather may be an odious misogynist and unrepentant woman hitter, but as cynical as it might be, he and his team are smart enough to realize that his failing to be a decent human being is part of why they need McGregor. In Toronto, this dynamic was obvious, as McGregor was treated like a local hero from the minute he sauntered on stage. In Brooklyn, there were no good guys, no bad guys. There was just bad. Bad, worse and worst, with even more bad to spare. No exaggeration, the Brooklyn presser for Mayweather-McGregor established a new standard for multi-level promotional failure. It won't ultimately hurt this fight's bottom line -- sportsbooks still have the over-under on total pay-per-view buys set at 4.99 million -- but this will forever be the reference point in all combat sports for a theoretically good idea gone sour. It seems hard to create an atmosphere that is both languid and offensive, but that's what we got.
McGregor can talk; he has won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter's “Best on Interviews” award two years in a row after coming in runner-up to legendary wrasslin' talker Paul Heyman in 2015. Even when he is compared to professional carnies who have teams of writers penning their best lines, McGregor outshines them. However, take any human being, fly them all over the planet with little sleep and little prep while essentially trying to recreate the exact same event four days in a row for crowds that have already seen the same act? This's what happens. Thursday was such a botched job that even some MMA fans came away with the idea Mayweather is now “in McGregor's head.” This is an overstatement but not entirely false. Watch Mayweather diddle away on his phone while McGregor attempts to rile him up on Thursday and you'll see the biggest draw in MMA history visibly rattled and frustrated, not with Mayweather but with the entire process.
All sports fans complain about press events where local media asks inane or thoughtless questions, typically resulting in inane or thoughtless answers. However, McGregor's best mic work has typically come in these environments, where a single question from a journalist can ignite his senses and send him down a thrilling spiral of spontaneous trash talk. With nothing to fuel his engine, McGregor sputtered, and the only thing he could think of to do, the single piece of fresh material he could muster, was a gross apologia for his gross comments. Maybe he would've claimed to be half black and humped the air anyway, even with a different set-up for the event, but it probably wouldn't have become the defining and lasting memory of the day; maybe “Mayweather and McGregor at the Barclays Center” wouldn't be new shorthand for “disaster.”
Every person, no matter how skilled, has their limits. In fact, for all his fighting skill and expectation-defying ability, McGregor will probably have some of those limits brutally exposed in the boxing ring come Aug. 26. Even with a mic in his hand, Mayweather is bound by some simple human constraints. We all need time to eat, sleep, gather our thoughts, think of the best witticisms to antagonize our opponents and perhaps come up the wisest words to apologize for and smooth over our recent verbal gaffes. Imagine the horror show that would ensue if standup comedians had their open mics and unannounced local sets streamed live every time they wanted to test out new material, then someone forced them to do it every single night of the week. Comedy in the West would be reduced to duplicitous hacks like Dan Nainan within a month.
Mayweather and McGregor's public and professional identities are built on the notion of exuberant excess. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, until they're asked to play their roles and act out their gimmicks constantly in front of audiences demanding something new, something thrilling and something to justify their financial investment. Even for the likes of “Money Mayweather” and “Mystic Mac,” sometimes less is more.
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