Floyd Mayweather Jr. was at his most Mayweather on Saturday, announcing to a crowd in England that he planned to come out of retirement to fight the UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor in June. In what should be called Mayweathering, the boxer called out, lectured and challenged his potential opponent, making the fight seem likely, if only McGregor would come to his senses.
We’ve seen this movie before, of course. It’s straight from the Mayweather playbook for hyping up a fight. That his announcement ignored some important details—McGregor’s contract with the UFC, for instance—mattered to the boxer not even a little bit. What mattered is what has always mattered to Mayweather: eyeballs, publicity, relevance—and how all that can be translated into cash.
This column, just the fact that I’m writing it at all, is proof of Mayweather’s marketing genius. The bout itself, should it happen, would be less of an actual fight and more of a publicity stunt, an event that would drive record traffic and vacuum-suck attention and end up like most Mayweather fights, in a unanimous decision that’s criticized as boring by those who don’t appreciate Mayweather’s defensive acumen.
Would I still cover it? I hope so.
That’s the rub with Mayweather, always has been, forever will be. Fans can hate the match-up. Hate the domestic violence record. Hate the cockiness, hate the hype cycle, hate the jewelry stashed and the money flashed. But they still watch, read and listen to Mayweather on repeat. This is exactly what he wants: maximum exposure and profit while minimizing risk as much as possible. That’s not to say Mayweather hasn’t taken risks, fought champions, or earned his Hall of Fame career. He’s just strategized through all of it.
We might want this story to go away but it will not. At the Super Bowl in Houston, a Mayweather insider insisted the champion would fight McGregor—and in June. No one would confirm that. Boxing executives cited wide gulfs in negotiations, thousands of details yet to be worked out. McGregor flew to Las Vegas, ostensibly to negotiate with Mayweather at his home in person, but left without a contract. The Telenovela continued on.
I spoke with Stephen Espinoza, the general manager of Showtime Sports, on Saturday evening. He had been flying to Austin for The South by Southwest festival and landed to 38 or so Mayweather-related text messages. The boxer’s comments were “a little bit of a surprise,” Espinoza said, adding, “But he’s been pretty aggressive in making clear he wants the fight. That’s the first time I’ve really heard him say it publicly, explicitly, like that.”
Does that mean the bout is likely? “Maybe (what Mayweather said) is the final psychological barrier to people taking this seriously,” Espinoza said. “He removed the last shadow of doubt about his intentions. It’s up to everyone now to come together.”
As for the likelihood of that, Espinoza said, “At this point, the one loose end is really the UFC and whether they are interested in letting the fight happen. We’ve let that part be handled by Conor and the UFC. They have relationships contractual and otherwise. Once they get that done we can move pretty quickly and make this happen.”
Even if it happens—and that seems way more likely today than yesterday—let’s be clear here: Mayweather-McGregor is a bad idea. It’s taking two things that seem similar on the surface—mixed martial arts and boxing—and pretending they’re sort of the same thing when they’re not. Both sports involve combatants who want to punch each other in the face. But that’s where the similarities end. MMA is more like wrestling than boxing, or more like boxing mixed with wrestling and ju-jitsu, and that’s why wrestlers or kickboxers or martial artists transition into UFC stardom, not boxers.
I’d rather see Mayweather fight fellow welterweight champion Keith Thurman, who just beat Danny Garcia, or the division’s best young prospect in Errol Spence. I think Spence could be the next Mayweather, a true welterweight star. Also, forget about Mayweather versus middleweight thunder-puncher Gennady Golovkin—there’s too great a size difference. For any other bout, there’s already a built-in story line of Mayweather extending his record to a round 50-0.
All of those fights, even Mayweather-Garcia, would be more interesting and less farcical than the McGregor bout. Yet it looks like that’s where Mayweather is headed. Meanwhile, the same folks who lament this fight as a joke also continue to write and talk and obsess about it. (**Raises hand sheepishly**)
The McGregor fight only makes business sense, which is why Mayweather should drop the rants he made on Saturday, about him being the A Side and McGregor being the B Side. Who cares when both “sides” can split $200 million? Mayweather also said he’d never heard of McGregor until recently. Again, that’s the only guy he’s railing against now. (For his part, McGregor then tweeted out the picture of the van Mayweather used in England, which had “The Money Team” decal plastered on its side and was set on fire last week.)
Here’s a best guess at what’s going to happen. We’re going to hear about Mayweather-McGregor for another month. They’re eventually going to sign a deal, meeting in the ring under boxing rules at an agreed upon weight limit (150?). We’re going to hear so much about that fight that we’re going to say we’re sick of hearing about it and wish that Mayweather would retire and spend his life posting pictures of stacks of hundred dollar bills. We’re going to say we’d trade anything in life never to hear the words Mayweather and McGregor again in the same sentence.
Then we’re going to watch.
Mayweather is going to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
A large segment of fight fans will call him boring.
He’ll collect $150 million; McGregor will make $50 million.
Boxing’s reputation will take another hit.
The hype will fall away.
The fans will move on.
At least until Mayweather-Pacquiao II.
Who wins? Mayweather, naturally, again.