LOS ANGELES – Shortly after 2 p.m.on Tuesday, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his 50-ish-person entourage pour into the LA Sparks’ locker room at the Staples Center. They fill the couches first, then the folding chairs, then every inch of space near the walls. There are bodyguards, television executives, a makeup artist, children, publicists, women in tight dresses and high heels, a hip hop artist and six boxers.
Mayweather is calm, for now, as the spectacle approaches. Soon he will wade through a booing crowd and onto a stage, where he will taunt, challenge, dismiss and laugh at Conor McGregor, the MMA superstar who will fight Mayweather on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.
Say what you want about the merits of this exhibition or whether McGregor can do what 47 boxers have failed to and hand Mayweather his first loss. Tuesday is less about strategy and tactics and all about the circus and its two headliners who will dominate the news cycle for the next six weeks. Tuesday is about moments.
1. Mayweather spies his manager, Al Haymon, and asks for his Louis Vuitton backpack. The men then head to a room in back. When Mayweather emerges, he is smiling. There’s a check in that backpack, one he will hold out onstage.
It’s for $100 million.
2. Stephen Espinoza, the general manager of Showtime Sports, saw the 11,000 fans who filled the lower bowl of the Staples Center. He witnessed the hundreds of reporters tripping over each other for interviews. He knows that when Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in May 2015, they sold a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys. He believes this fight will break that record, whether it’s competitive or not. (He also answers a question about whether he’s charging wagyu beef prices for meat scraps by saying anything can happen.)
3. Mayweather exits the room and stalks down a corridor, entourage in tow. The group moves in one giant mass, everyone pushing forward, trying to remain as close to the champion as possible. Inside, it feels like a mosh pit, or the start of a stampede. “Make way for the real champ,” someone shouts, over and over.
As Mayweather enters the arena, fans dangle over the railing, holding out boxing gloves or programs, begging for autographs. The big screen shows McGregor already on stage, flexing and pacing back and forth. Mayweather just smiles. Showtime. Hundreds will post this exact scene on Instagram. Moments.
4. Espinoza introduces Mayweather as the top draw in sports and entertainment. One sound drowns out all others. There seems to be more MMA fans in the building. All Mayweather hears is boos.
5. McGregor appears to have studied Mayweather in his early years. He’s just as entertaining, and he’s spouting off now, as if performing a stand-up routine. He’s saying Mayweather is “f-----“ and has “little legs” and a “little torso” and “little hands” and a “little head.” Dimensions established, he continues, needling Mayweather about reports that he owes back-taxes to the IRS, promising he will knock Mayweather out. He’s saying that since this boxing it’s not even a real fight. Real fights, he says, are when he can hit someone’s face with his shin bone.
Mayweather stairs straight ahead, his face expressionless.
6. The crowd continues to boo as Mayweather nears the podium. He stretches as he approaches, readying for his performance. “I still got it,’ he say. Then he launches into his own monologue, pausing between diatribes to walk left or right to the front of the stage.
He says people wonder why 21 is a number of a significance, then answers that that’s “how long I’ve been kicking a--.” He also guarantees a knockout. He holds up the check. He says McGregor “looks good for a seven-figure fighter” and made “only” $3 million in his last fight, like that’s a small amount of money (and it is, to him). He counters McGregor’s contention that he insisted they wear 10-ounce gloves, saying he’ll fight with 8-ounce or 4-ounce ones. “You have two options,” he says. “You’re going out on your face. Or you’re going out on your back.” Then he calls McGregor a “little b----“ and not once but at least a dozen times. Later, while Mayweather gets a haircut, and picks out his shorts for a promo shoot, he will still be talking about the press conference, impressed by his own performance, saying “I killed him” and “I had to get him” and “he’s not used to this.”
Also later, Espinoza will say that the last time he saw Mayweather this animated was before he fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, will say he’s never seen anything like what happened Tuesday in his two decades of working with Mayweather.
7. Those shorts he picked out, by the way … they were black and glittery, emblazoned with a picture his face and hundred dollar bills. The bills appeared to be bedazzled and so did the gold TBT on the torso. (They could have been real diamonds for all we know.)
8. At the end of his diatribe, Mayweather calls for McGregor to line up with him. Their faces are inches apart and they’re screaming at each about gloves and manhood and who will knock the other out. “I ain’t gotta tell you how good I am,” Mayweather yells at McGregor. “You already know.”
UFC president Dana White stands between them, and he is also smiling. Every outburst, every insult, every little thing that adds to the intrigue of a bout that many believe will not live up to the hype of the promotion, all of that sells the fight better than any argument over the boxing vs. MMA. The smartest approach for anyone involved is to highlight the spectacle itself – and there is much to highlight.
9. Mayweather meets with the print media. He says he chose this fight, rather than to face off against another boxer, because this is what the fans want to see. Espinoza later makes a solid argument that for years critics have criticized Mayweather for exactly the opposite, for fighting who he wants when he wants and not listening to clamor from the public. Now, he says he listened, and he’s getting killed for that, too.
Back onstage, Mayweather makes a startling admission that’s way more newsworthy than anything else that happens Tuesday. “Training camp is grueling,” he says. “I can’t do this anymore. This has to be my last (fight).” Deep down, he says he knows it is.
As for the taxes, he brushes that question off with a “I ain’t worried about that.”
10. McGregor comes in after Mayweather and what happens next is less of a press conference and more of an, ahem, dialogue between McGregor and Mayweather’s father, Floyd Sr. McGregor keeps calling the elder Mayweather “junior,” a poke at the boxer’s age. Senior keeps challenging McGregor to a fight. “You’s got greedy,” McGregor says. “You made a big mistake. He could have been 49-0 and road off into the sunset. You should have kept him retired.
“It’s your fault!”
Espinoza stands off to the side, laughing.
11. “It is what is,” McGregor says. “All noise.”
Amen to that.