After more than a year’s worth of shameless self-promotion and winking boasts that seemed like nothing more than a way to keep two of the world’s best-known fighters squarely in the 24-hour news cycle, the fight is finally, actually going to happen.
As first reported by Yahoo, the formerly-retired, undefeated five-division champion boxer and unrepentant domestic abuser, Floyd Mayweather, will enter the ring and take on the only combat sports pro in the world who can match him for strutting, braggadocio and profligate spending, mixed martial artist and current UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, in Las Vegas on August 26 at T-Mobile Arena.
Make no mistake, even with the constant media churn that’s sure to burble merrily along from now until the opening bell, it’s going to be an awful, boring fight, and McGregor is going to get pantsed. So why did all the parties involved agree to go ahead with what’s sure to be a grim, flabby spectacle? The answer is simple and, well, not that simple: money.
Mayweather-McGregor may very well attract as many eyeballs to Showtime, which snagged the pay-per-view rights, as any bout in history—topping the 4.6 million who tuned in to witness the previous “Fight of the Century” between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The UFC in particular is banking on the idea that casual, non-combat sports fans will plunk down what’ll end up being north of $100 to gawk at this hype-inflated silliness, even if a decent chunk of the population will avoid it altogether because, again, Mayweather is a misogynist who has beaten up women and hasn’t come close to apologizing. Not ever.
The Daily Beast spoke with Daniel Roberts, who has covered Mayweather extensively for Deadspin, to ask whether all the hoopla might at least make for an interesting, if substance-free spectacle, not unlike when Muhammad Ali stepped into the ring to face off against the Japanese wrestling star, Antonio Inoki.
“No,” he said. That bout actually made for a compelling bit of entertainment, because of the mingling of styles and techniques, with Inoki wrestling and Ali boxing. McGregor, with a little more than two months to learn an entirely new sport, with different gloves, stances, defenses, and means striking an opponent, doesn’t stand a chance. (There are a few clips of McGregor sparring that are publicly available, and he doesn’t look good. Not at all.)
“It’s like asking Michael Phelps to challenge Usain Bolt in a foot race,” said Roberts, paraphrasing a previous tweeted quip of his.
Karim Zidan, an associate editor for BloodyElbow.com and a columnist for Sports on Earth and OpenDemocracy, echoed those sentiments. “Ugh,” he sighed. “This is nothing more than a circus act… It’s all about money.”
“It’s an embarrassing thing for both sports,” Roberts said, “It’s like Donald Trump’s entire business career: a short-sighted, poorly-done money grab.” Moreover, the fact that Mayweather signed on is indicative that he, despite raking in $225 million after defeating Pacquiao, may have somehow managed to fritter much of it away. Again.
Now, Mayweather can restock his bank account without so much as breaking a sweat, a tack he’ll probably take again five years from now when he’s burned through the upwards of $200 million he’ll earn from this fight. To get an idea of how little Mayweather has to worry about McGregor, Roberts compared it to a well-educated individual being paid millions to challenge Sarah Palin on Jeopardy!
McGregor, though, remains convinced he can pull this off, even if his bosses don’t really have his back. According to Roberts, though you won’t hear any UFC say so out loud, “No one at the [UFC President] Dana White level believes for a second that he’s got a prayer.”
Consider the profile of McGregor published by GQ in February in which he waxed poetic about his “big ball sack,“ [italics theirs], said he wanted to look for “[Khloe Kardashian’s] big fat ass” while he was in Malibu, put the kibosh on the possibility of MMA fighters forming a union, rolled his eyes at anti-Trump protesters, and asserted that a new age-scented bootstrapping self-reliance was the answer to everyone’s problems. All in all, like Mayweather, he comes across as an arrogant and clueless ass who thinks his earnings validate not just his smug preening, but his entire blinkered worldview.
To the surprise of no one who’s followed his career to date, McGregor also says he can take Mayweather out, citing the size of Mayweather’s head as evidence, somehow. “I sleep people,” he said. “I put people unconscious. I’m stating facts. If I hit that man, his head is gonna go into the bleachers. You understand that? If I crack that little head of his, it’s gonna go clean off his shoulders and up into the bleachers.”
As to what Mayweather’s strategy will be, Roberts said he’ll probably mimic… Homer Simpson.
“Remember the Homer Simpson boxing episode where his whole thing was, ‘Let the other guy punch until they get exhausted and then knock him over?’” Roberts asked. “The only difference is, Floyd is going to make Conor miss instead of just absorbing all the punches because [Homer Simpson’s] got a super-thick skull.”
So then why would UFC agree to do this? Especially when, as Nazim and Roberts guaranteed, MMA’s highest-profile star is destined to suffer a serious ass-kicking, one that in all likelihood will dim their best-known fighter’s star power?
From the UFC’s perspective, Roberts explained, the fact that they’ve sanctioned this match shows that they’re either desperate for a huge payday, or, with Ronda Rousey retired, McGregor’s continued presence and happiness is so essential to their future earnings, they had no choice but to grant his every wish. In either case—or if both prove to be true—it’s indicative that the UFC is not negotiating from a position of financial strength.
Roberts also noted that all parties are contractually barred from disclosing how the final purse will be divided, which in and of itself is proof that Mayweather had “significant leverage” in the negotiations, and will probably end up taking home a much bigger slice of the total revenue.
“I guarantee you that’s because [the UFC] got destroyed,” he said. “McGregor will earn far more than he would have had he chosen to defend his UFC title; he's going to be taking an embarrassingly short side of this, and I think it shows the financial distress that the UFC’s in right now, because WME/IMG significantly overpaid for this. $4 billion for the UFC was a huge mistake.” (The UFC did not respond to multiple requests for comment prior to publication.)
In a follow-up message, Roberts clarified, “The UFC’s debt load is public information. Even federal regulators have cautioned on it.” Patrick Wyman, who writes about MMA for Washington Post and Deadspin, added that while the UFC fared well in 2015 and 2016, 2012 and 2014 were “disastrous” for the company’s bottom line.
Much of their 2016 profits came via four total pay-per-view McGregor and Rousey fights, each of which earned more than $50 million, according to Wyman. “The UFC’s business model is incredibly volatile,” he said. “It makes steady income from its TV rights deals (Fox in the U.S., BT Sport in the U.K., etc.), but pay-per-view is still where the real profits lie.”
When it came to the Mayweather-McGregor negotiations, Wyman agreed with Roberts’ assertion that they caved to McGregor’s demands because they had no choice, even if it means setting him up for a humiliating defeat.
“The UFC needs to find some way to make a profit off Conor McGregor in 2017 if they can’t get him into the cage—which they can’t. My guess is that WME-IMG is handling international distribution for Mayweather-McGregor and that’s how they’re getting paid,” Wyman said.
“Making, say, $25 to $50 million from those distribution deals is better than getting nothing out of McGregor for a whole year and praying he comes back to the fold in 2018.”
But if the most hyped fight in recent memory came about as a result of the grim economic realities of the UFC and the Mayweather’s need to re-feather his nest, it makes for a pretty bleak future and overall outlook if you’re a fan of either sport.
“These things are bleak,” Roberts said, adding that many high-profile MMA and boxing events arise thanks to some unseemly and self-interested financial forces that care little about the damage done to either sport’s long-term sustainability and reputation. “That’s kind of the nature of combat sports. This one is particularly unfortunate.”