BROOKLYN — Dog-and-pony show. Exhibition match. Cash grab. Circus. Spectacle.
Waiting outside of the Barclays Center, the boxing purists of the media used phrases like this to describe the upcoming bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor that has the sports world enraptured.
So far beyond scoffing at the idea of the UFC superstar McGregor defeating one of boxing's all-time greats in Mayweather in the ring, they hardly even consider the possibility at all.
Rolling their eyes, chuckling to one another as if even covering the fight at all was merely an inconvenient formality, the forebearers of a sport that's popularity is founded on the idea of what might happen seem to have completely written off McGregor's chance in the fight all together.
As if, in all of their exhaustive years covering sports, they'd never seen the better man lose.
Inside the arena, roaming spotlights that one might expect to see glazing the outside of a Hollywood premiere illuminated a tidal wave of vociferous fans clad from head to toe in orange, white and green, jocking with one another and waiting for their Dublin-born hero as rapper DMX growled over the sound system. The excitement was palpable, the stage was set for a performance of Shakespearean proportion.
Triumphant bagpipes droned over the speakers and Celtic chants echoed across the crowd. War drums boomed through all the noise as McGregor finally entered, swaggering in like William Wallace before his legion of loyal fans. Shirtless, his heavily tattooed chest played as body armor. Draped in a white fur coat emblazoned with the image of a three-headed serpent, the notorious grappler sauntered into the arena and was showered with a chorus of relentless praise.
Mayweather followed, stalking calmly onto the stage while shrouded in an Irish flag, wearing the colors of his enemy. The crowd was less impressed.
The fighters entrances were flamboyant, but the highly anticipated trash-talking turned out to be a diluted regurgitation of the past two days of their pre-fight media tour, and aside from some questionable groin thrusting and predictable money throwing, the two put on a fairly forgettable show.
It was, by all accounts, the overblown, trash-talking, peacocking spectacle that boxing purists expected.
But how could they ignore the droves of fans that McGregor towed behind him? How could they not help but wonder if they knew something that we didn't know? Still, they turned up their noses.
As if a man with the world behind him could never pull one out.
"I stopped doubting Conor McGregor a long time ago," UFC president Dana White said in the press conference leading up to the the third leg of the Mayweather McGregor world tour in Brooklyn. "Here's the reality: Floyd Mayweather will be 41 years old this year. Conor McGregor is a southpaw....When he hits people, he hurts them, and when he hurts them, he finishes them."
The dull conference room was unimpressed by an expected vote of confidence from the man that's there to promote him.
It's no surprise White believes in McGregor, a powerful puncher, who's made a living putting out the opponents that were careless enough to make a mistake against him, but none of McGregor's success in the octagon would be enough to impress the gatekeepers of the boxing world. To them, boxing is an art form mastered only by those deemed worthy enough to receive their praise and to hear White warn them of McGregor's power and ability would never put him on the same plain as a true fighter.
It's no secret that Mayweather is the superior boxer. He's one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. The talking heads of the boxing world won't let anyone forget that, and they're right not to. But to write off McGregor entirely?
When White finished, he was followed by Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Productions, who sauntered up to the microphone holding a plate of fruit and wearing a pair of shades. He munched leisurely on a cantaloupe as he answered another barrage of questions about McGregor's slim chances before stopping to propose a query of his own:
"How many of y'all media members picked Jeff Horn [to beat Pacquiao]?" The room fell silent, turned-up noses were lowered, and all of a sudden, the talking heads stopped talking. A few stray hands were raised, but bashfully so, realizing Ellerbe's point. "And you're supposed to be the experts."
"It don't matter what you say," he explained. When two men get in a ring and only one can come out a champ, anything can happen.
Yes, McGregor may be outmatched, but Mayweather is well past his prime. For that reason alone, the playing field is closer than purists are willing to admit. Not to mention that McGregor is one of the greatest fighters the UFC has ever seen.
Purists still try to frame the fight as a David-and-Goliath matchup.
But David wasn't the biggest mixed martial artist of all time and Goliath wasn't a 40-year-old boxer with a bad hand.
"Call it whatever you want to...this sh-t is big. It's bigger than everyone in this room," Ellerbe announced. No matter how anyone tries to paint it, this fight will be enormous.
Ellerbe is right. This fight is bigger than all of boxing's old hats, and it doesn't matter what they say. Mayweather is one of the best technical fighters of all time and McGregor isn't a pure boxer. He may very well lose, but how many of y'all picked Jeff Horn?