I feel like I have to preface this column with a bold statement: one way or another, I will watch Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather box in late-August.
I know, what a hot take. Call me Stephen A. Nason or Josh Bayless.
I could try to tell you that this affair is a complete atrocity, that it’s terrible for MMA, and that I can’t support it, but that would be completely disingenious. Like many of you, I will find a way to watch and will be entrenched in the build leading up to this “fight”.
But after taking in everything after the announcement and listening to that first conference call discussing how the deal was made, there’s a lot of reality checks that all of us that are heavily invested in MMA need to come to grips with before this thing happens in late-August.
So far, the ‘MMA’ and ‘UFC’ might as well be curse words
According to all parties, the day itself will feature no MMA whatsover and will be, as Dana White said, “a boxing day”. In the intro for the call, McGregor was referred to as an “Irish superstar” and there was no mention of his being a UFC lightweight champion, two division champion, etc. In a promotional tweet Mayweather sent, the UFC logo was absent. Even, the Showtime tweet about the promo poster even used #UFC and not @UFC while properly tagging the fighers’ handles.
It’s only been a few days, but considering McGregor came to prominence in the UFC and in MMA, it’s surprising and, likely negotiated, how little that seems to matter now.
The UFC isn’t promotionally riding shotgun, but is sitting in the back middle seat
The most disheartening aspect of the Wednesday night call was hearing White cite Showtime as “kind” for allowing them to do promotional content like UFC Embedded leading up to the show. It’s as if White and the UFC are bowing down and paying a penance instead of standing side-by-side in promoting this whole thing.
While I understand that Mayweather is a PPV superstar, the UFC built a $4 billion brand that has a foothold in the sporting conscious, even if just in name value alone. The day shouldn’t just be “a boxing day”. What about the MMA fans that don’t care about boxing and need to be sold on why they should spend $100 for a one-fight show in which that one fight will be probably pretty bad?
To see a fight brand and promoter that has openly swatted aside notions of co-promotion (M1 and Fedor Emelianenko, anyone?) now have to play second-class citizen to a network they used to despise and a retired boxer they’ve never done business with before is jarring.
Boxing isn’t dead
Like many MMA writers, I did once pen the obligatory ‘boxing is dead’ column years ago after another frustrating night watching two heavyweights slog it out while two UFC heavyweights were doing their thing. While it may never return to its previous heights, I was definitely wrong with your latest example being the crowd and overall buzz for the recent Joshua/Klitschko fight in England’s Wembley Stadium.
It definitely isn’t dead when you consider that a retired 40-year-old boxer is going to face a boxing newbie and give that newbie the biggest payday of his life even though he’s the UFC’s biggest star and arguably their biggest financial draw of all time. It also definitely isn’t dead when you consider this fight will do bigger business and will get more mainstream media attention than any MMA fight ever.
It proves that no matter how far we think MMA has come, there’s still so, so far to go.
This will cost us a quality McGregor UFC title fight
White seemed confident that McGregor will fight in the UFC once this year, using that as a bully pulpit to bash his own fighters for not taking fights against anyone at anytime. (Who could he be talking about, I wonder?) I hope that’s the case as there’s no shortage of quality fights waiting for the lighweight champ…if he decides he even wants to return, a talking point given the Brinks truck that’s about to back up at 1 McGregor Way.
Even with the birth of his first child, you’d expect him to be fighting this summer if this Mayweather business wasn’t going on, probably against the likes of Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov. Yeah, they’re not the marquee names like Mayweather but for those who follow the sport, those are the guys we want McGregor to test himself against. That’s our idea of a $100 PPV, so to speak.
And let’s not forget this fun fact: McGregor has yet to defend any UFC title he’s won.
The promotion will be the best part
Impending hyperbole and talking heads blathering aside, McGregor’s chance of beating Mayweather are slim even if Mayweather hasn’t fought in two years. What’s going to sell this fight for the mainstream is both guys talking and they have a concentrated time to do it in: two and a half months. Going into this, we all knew the real draw was going to be everything before the fight anyway.
With all that said, it’s going to be a dizzying sprint focused on an event featuring the UFC’s top draw in a fight that isn’t in the UFC nor in the sport that brought him fame. Plus, there’s that other bit of business for White and company: the eight scheduled UFC shows between now and then starting with this weekend’s overlooked event in Singapore.
Whether you’re going into this kicking and screaming or are primed at the pump for it, your seat aboard the McGregor-Mayweather train is reserved. Let’s all just hope there’s no delays on the track ahead.