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Riders of the Trumpocalypse – Mayweather vs McGregor and the Rise of the Angry Elites

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One of them is a debutant. The other one is the most accomplished practitioners of his craft. One has taken upon this challenge on a dare, in an ill-advised attempt to raise his profile to heights that were not available to him in his previous line of work. The other one prepared for the task in question during his entire life, driven by the unfulfilled dreams of his forbearers, succeeding at every level in his march towards greatness.

The similarities are so many that there is almost no need to force the analogy any further. Yes, we are talking about boxing newcomer Connor McGregor’s challenge of former Olympic medalist, multiple professional champion and perennial pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. this coming Saturday, August 26th, but we might as well be talking about the underlying confrontation that preceded it and, to a large extent, made it possible: the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States immediately following the presidency of Barack Obama.

Yep While it is clear that Trump and Obama never had the chance to officially square off in any type of vis-à-vis confrontation (political, pugilistic or otherwise), it is also abundantly clear that Trump’s first leg of his unofficial campaign for the presidency was his stubborn refusal to show then-president Obama any kind of respect, starting with his denial of his most basic proof of American citizenship and continuing with attacks ranging from criticism to Obama’s “excessive” golfing and recreational activities to other equally hypocritical affronts.

In hindsight, those remarks could be now seen as the proverbial “round zero” of the Mayweather-McGregor once-improbable matchup, an MMA vs. boxing neighborhood brawl for all the marbles, a winner-takes-all fight to the finish with both sports vowing to repeal and replace each other in the hearts and minds of people who enjoy watching humans pummel each other for money. If we needed to reduce this theory to one line, then, we could argue that the underlying argument behind this boxing match is the suddenly acceptable idea that a person’s elite status is transferable to any other activity.

Trump is an elite businessman, some argued, just as McGregor is an elite mixed martial arts athlete, and that their transition to any other elite placement should not be a big deal. But elite statuses are not easily transferable. And the idea that one of the most accomplished black men of his generation could be seriously challenged by a completely inexperienced and untested white counterpart could not have been possible a few years ago. And yet here we are, minutes away from fight time.

If you’re feeling tempted to dismiss this entire comparison as a snowflake-liberal conspiracy theory, I cordially invite you to think again. Unlike any other sporting event, boxing has a way of channeling political, racial, economic and even philosophical confrontations through its stage like no other sport can. And thought it may not become obvious at the beginning, those confrontations seep through the fabric of boxing and imbibe public opinion with their own colors before soaking the collective conscience of their era.

This might sound as hyperbole to some, but this is a fight born out of hyperbole. And you can expect Trump-esque levels of it before, during and after the bout. The word “billions” has been thrown around with gusto. McGregor’s tone-deaf, racially insensitive pre-fight psyche-out game could have been scripted by Steve Bannon himself. And all the rest of the elements are here as well: the manipulation of the rules, the blatant disregard for truth, the massively undeserved transfer of wealth from boxing to MMA only comparable to Trump’s proposed tax reform, and more.

Whether people realize it or not, this fight has the potential of becoming the most politically charged boxing match since Joe Louis faced Max Schmeling in a memorable high-stakes 1938 heavyweight title bout rematch between the American champ and Hitler’s favorite fighter right at the height of pre-WWII tensions, or the infamous “Great White Hope” fight that pitted former champ Jim Jeffries trying to regain his heavyweight belt against the division’s first black champion in Jack Johnson on the not-so-casually-chosen date of July 4th, 1910.

The lines, however, are far more blurred in this occasion. McGregor is definitely not the boxing envoy of a cruel dictator nor the reluctant representative of an entire race attempting to regain its lost foothold at the top of the sport’s most emblematic weight class. But he definitely has played into that role by inserting the racial card into the entire promotion almost singlehandedly. He dressed as a pimp, complete with extravagant glasses and furry coat, for one of the pre-fight press conferences, as if ‘dressing down’ to a black stereotype was expected of him. He announced the fight on Twitter by posting a picture of himself next to Floyd’s homonymous father, a contender in his own right back in his day, in a wink to the openly racist idea that all black people look alike anyway. He half-jokingly called Mayweather “boy” and asked him to “dance a little bit.” And his entire attitude was, at several junctures, pure “ghetto-ese” (in the parlance of the ineffable Don King), in stark opposition to Mayweather’s unusually collected demeanor.
So far, all of his antics have gone almost uncontested by both the media and the public, mainly because they are still thinking (just as they thought with Trump) that his clownish act is nothing but the childish shenanigans of an imminent loser. But that hasn’t stopped McGregor from not-so-secretly becoming the Great Alt-Right Hope of the misinformed, uber-excited combat sports enthusiasts of the world.

The MMA crowd, for one, has happily played along their man’s craziness. As a sport who thrives on a prospect of unbridled violence that often goes unfulfilled (mostly in the form of fights ending in chokeholds, submissions or other anti-climatic results that are quite distant from the all-out, no-holds-barred war expected by their fans), the UFC faithful are accustomed to big promises, and McGregor’s pledge to defeat the best boxer of his generation in what would be his professional debut rings familiar bells of other similarly implausible pledges, such as border walls forcibly paid for by foreign governments; sweeping, budget-crushing tax cuts based on impossible growth forecasts; arrogant and grandstanding exits from worldwide climate agreements, and other outlandish proposals that were once laughed at as the feverish musings of a lunatic with virtually no chance of ever coming to fruition.

It may have been a subtle undertone earlier on in the promotion, but as the fight approaches and the red carpet is rolled at the feet of the UFC and its flagship fighter to accommodate every one of their requests (smaller gloves, permission to debut in a 12-round bout, etc.) by the suddenly quasi-subservient Nevada State Athletic Commission, it becomes painfully clear that the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight could only be a product of the current political environment in the US, in which a white guy who refuses to behave in the most basically dignified manner is allowed to step on every toe, use every tool at his disposal to mock his opponent in all sorts of racially tasteless ways (down to the pimp outfit, the “Notorious MMA” Twitter nick and beyond), override every vetting process in place, and basically embark on a mission that can be summarized as a quest to demonstrate that a crass, cocky white guy is perfectly capable of outperforming the most accomplished and respected black man in his own turf, and all of it conveniently hidden behind the noble purpose of a quest to Make Combat Sports Great Again.

If the Trump ascent to the presidency has proven something, is that there is no limit on how much some people are willing to lower their standards in their search for the one blatantly unqualified, underachieving white guy that they’d support more enthusiastically than the most talented black guy, however unlovable he may be (granted, a guy who travels around with a duffel bag full of cash is an instant target of the working class’ disdain, regardless of race). And to all that, we must add the infamous 50-0 factor, which is the magical record that Mayweather will achieve should he beat his 28-year old Irish opponent to thus one-up former heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 final mark.
Undeniably, numbers matter, and they will matter even more in the future. Mayweather’s purse will be at least three times higher than McGregor’s, but reaching 50-0 against a no-hoper will be seen as something much worse than having been the enabler of the richest 0-1 fighter in history, and fans will be left with the image of both of them laughing all the way to the bank as they cash amounts of money that entire generations of fighters could only have dreamed of.

Even though the final numbers are still sketchy, the reality is that the bout will produce a massive revenue stream that will break all combat sports records. But the reality behind that is that a very large sum of that revenue will go to the hands of a fighter who may as well end his career after this night owning boxing’s most unflattering ring resume, with his only achievement being his ability to earn the same amount that an entire weight division in boxing would make in an entire year, and probably without even landing a meaningful punch during the entire bout.
The message, then, is clear: become the best black champion in your era, and you’ll make a lot of money, or be a loud and brash white guy and climb in the ring with him with zero experience after foul-mouthing your way into this challenge, and you can make almost as much money just for being there, as long as you have the sympathy of a blood-thirsty fan base drunk on their own sense of superiority and high on their own testosterone. Any resemblance with reality is simply not a coincidence.

The exploitation of the misguided illusions of a certain group of MMA fans who feel locked in a losing social media war against their boxing counterparts plays a big role in the making of this farce, that’s for sure. But the mere fact that a sport in which fighters are shamelessly underpaid by a monopolist company is effectively hijacking and invading a much more profitable and time-tested sport and imposing its rules on it for the benefit of the Nevada entertainment industry is enough to make every serious boxing fan worry about the future of the sport, regardless of the outcome.

Before we move any further, let’s clarify something: our analogy game could suggest that McGregor is a Trump surrogate (yes, down to the tiny hands that require tailor-made tiny gloves) and Mayweather is the Obama of this story. But there are several layers to this plot.

Much like Trump, the 40-year old Mayweather reaches this fight in his career having exhausted all of his other possibilities. He has played the villain card from the bottom of the deck long enough to be considered a liability by his sport and even by the same state that bailed him out of jail for assault and battery just to keep its profit machine churning. Boxing fans are done with Mayweather, and just like a certain presidential candidate who had no open credit lines at any of the banks in the country, Mayweather had to resort to foreign cash to finance his insatiable appetite for money.

Indeed, Floyd has run out of fans to scam in the boxing world long ago, and it is only fitting that he will now go out and take money from MMA fans and funnel it into his own war chest. We could easily argue that after touting the glories of his self-made and supposedly self-funded march towards glory, Floyd is now financing his quest to 50-0 with someone else’s money. I wonder where he got the inspiration for that.

That’s exactly what he did. And instead of denouncing him, boxing gave him a pass, a license to kill, painted a bulls eye on his opponent’s back and bet its rent money on him. Just like the Republican party under Trump, boxing is reluctantly pushing all of its chips on Mayweather, who should produce a devastating performance on Saturday if he is really keen on returning the favor to the sport that made him a millionaire, or else suffer the consequences of having lowered himself to open boxing’s treasure vaults to a guy with no demonstrable boxing skills, the equivalent of an NBA team offering a spot on the court to the world’s best rugby player just because it’s only money and we have plenty of it and we could use a TV ratings boost in Oceania.

As an early Trump supporter, Mayweather has learned from His Orangeness a cruel lesson in voter fraud and mental manipulation. Mayweather’s aikido game is at his best when he mimics Trump’s populist tactics of showing one face to his voters and another one to his donors, as he goes on to promise boxing a definitive and crushing victory against its most outstanding threat in the looming TV combat sports time-slot war with one hand while virtually gambling the future of the sport in a single throw of the dice with the other hand, with the fat cats of the boxing industry seated comfortably on the dealer’s stool and with working-class boxing fans bankrolling the adventure.

Regardless of the outcome of this fight, the damage to boxing and to sports in general will only be visible and properly evaluated after the dust settles and the final bell rings, should we ever get to that point. But the signs and wonders of the impending Trumpocalypse are here, and the “world of pending disasters” that Hunter Thompson predicted is upon us. The huge dividends of this adventure will only go to a handful of individuals and will have almost no positive impact on either boxing or MMA, and fans are just now realizing this, judging by the tepid response at the box office for this “once in a lifetime” event.

As the fight approaches, the promotional machine will turn up the volume in hopes of scoring a few more pay-per-view buys and perhaps a few more tickets sold at 10K apiece. Basic strategy says that they will try to run the clock and hijack a couple of more news cycles with a few more carefully choreographed antics, but there are not enough minutes on any clock to spawn enough suckers to convince the world that this will indeed be this century’s Greatest Show on Earth, and we are almost out of time.

The stage is set, the competitors are on their marks, and the bell will ring with a loud resemblance of a giant cash machine being opened to suck in enough cash to fund a small country for a year, with the only reward being the chance of seeing a part of history that will certainly transcend the events that will take place inside ring in ways that we will only later begin to understand.

And just like in politics, the choices we made before the sound of that bell may come back to haunt us. Bigly.

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