There’s been uproar on the sports media landscape, and in the boxing world in general, concerning August 26’s megafight between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor.
CNN.com’s Glen Levy and Don Riddell proposed that the fight was either a farce or a circus. Both Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin questioned the legitimacy of the bout during recent media conference calls, and ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael told his readers to expect a spectacle instead of a fight, proclaiming McGregor had a “one-in-a-million chance” of pulling the upset.
While there is some truth to the bout’s criticism, no one yet has really delved into why the fight might be important for the sport of boxing.
First, consider the amount of eyeballs will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse at boxing’s best practitioner of the last 20 years. Love him or hate him, Mayweather is as skilled a boxer as any fighter ever, and his accomplishments certainly warrant all-time great status among the very elite of boxing lore.
Boxing needs new fans. It needs them in a bad way, and the last such opportunity to attract them was squandered in 2015 when the long-awaited Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao superfight turned out to be a super dud.
It wasn’t Mayweather’s fault. Pacquiao reportedly went into the biggest fight of the new millennium with an injured right shoulder, the undercard was a hodgepodge of boring, one-sided showcase bouts and the fight itself was uninteresting and one-sided after around the fourth round when Pacquiao seemed to tweak the injury.
Per Boxingscene.com, Dana White went so far as to say the Mayweather-McGregor promotion would learn from what he termed a “disaster of a fight.” In short, Mayweather-McGregor would be nothing like Mayweather-Pacquiao. It would be better.
Let’s hope so, because according to ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, Mayweather-McGregor might actually top Mayweather-Pacquiao in pay-per-view sales, as well as many other important statistical categories.
Even if it doesn’t quite surpass Mayweather-Pacquiao in numbers, it’s still really important. Because boxing will again have what should have been a once-in-a-generation opportunity to market its product to new fans. And unlike Mayweather-Pacquiao, there’s a high potential that many of these people will already be combat sports fans who follow the UFC.
Mayweather is a beautiful fighter. His balance, timing, speed and power punching potshots are truly mesmerizing. And while his claim to fame is his excellent defensive repertoire, there’s simply no reason to believe he’ll need to move around the ring all that much against McGregor to win the fight. Mayweather is just as good defensively standing right in front of his opponents, like he did to open the fight against Pacquiao, as he is using his feet to create punching angles.
Here’s where the boo birds come in with that one overarching criticism of the fight. As good a mixed martial artist as McGregor is, he simply has little-to-no-hope of outboxing Mayweather. Very likely, he’ll be slower, less skilled and woefully unprepared for Mayweather come fight night.
But that’s a good thing.
Think about it this way. How many mainstream sports fans will be on hand to watch the fight? How many will believe McGregor will have a legitimate chance to win? UFC, after all, calls itself the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
I’m not saying its right to think McGregor has a real chance. I’m saying lots of people will think it.
Now picture Mayweather carving up the top MMA star in the world in a similar fashion of Mayweather vs. Arturo Gatti. Picture the hopelessly outmatched McGregor, with his slower, looping punches being easily dodged and parried by the masterful Mayweather while the latter sends precise, laser-like punches to his adversary’s head and torso.
What might these mainstream sports fans believe about boxing versus the UFC after the bout?
No, it’s not logical to say boxing is the better sport. They’re simply different. But sports fans aren’t always logical. Fight fans fall for promotional circus antics every single day, myself included, and we are supposed to be the ones savvy about such things.
John Doe stands little chance against the promotional machine Mayweather-McGregor will employ, and after the fight is over, whether Rocky Balboa makes it to the end of the bout or not, boxing will have mainstream recognition and support—even if just for a short while—that it hasn’t enjoyed for many years.
Mayweather-McGregor might not be a very good fight, but it almost assuredly will be a great night for boxing. Besides, how smart will we boxing people all look at the water cooler when we tell our non-boxing friends how easy a night it will be for Mayweather?