On August 26th, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather will face ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor over 12 rounds of boxing under the bright lights of the MGM Grand. The gladiatorial clash between an American Hero and the Pride of Ireland is one of the biggest combat sports events we will witness in our lives. It will be an epic – a clash of the ages – it will either ruin the sport of boxing or send MMA’s popularity freefalling into irrelevance.
See, this is my third attempt to try and write an article that implores you to care about August 26th. And, after two attempts of trying to convey why this titanic bout has been pencilled in my calendar with hearts and exclamation marks, both drafts felt like they just, fell flat. I could not convince myself that I could convince a casual fan why August 26th was so important.
Then I realised; as a casual fan, why should one even care?
There’re no titles on the line. There’re no careers on the line, since Mayweather’s going back into retirement and McGregor’s going to roll in his Benjamins’ till Ferguson-Nurganomedov eventually decide who’s the number one contender for his UFC Lightweight Title. August 26th has always been solely about making the most money, so why should you watch it?
The ‘worldwide’ press tour achieved some mainstream attention, since McGregor is a walking meme machine and Mayweather played the willing foil. But, in all honesty, the hype died after that second day of the press tour in Toronto. We get fleeting updates now and again, but for the most part, we’ve almost forgotten about August 26th.
And what did we get after the press tour? Memes, quotes, brilliant moments but nothing more. No storylines emerged, and the rivalry is lukewarm at best, invisible at worse. At this point, the fight has been built basically as two rich guys settling a non-existent score. If you didn’t care about August 26th, I can’t fault you one bit.
The thing is, this clash is monumental on so many levels, yet Showtime chose not to explore any of them. And that is a complete and utter shame.
The big picture? This clash between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor could represent the emergence of one sport as the marquee combat sport for the considerable future and, conversely, the probable death of the other.
Imagine the ramifications of Floyd Mayweather, boxing biggest pay-per-view draw, losing his perfect 49-0 professional record to a Mixed Martial Artist making his professional boxing debut. It could well be the knockout that the ‘sweet science’ never recovers from.
Likewise, what does it say about MMA as a sport if McGregor loses to a guy who’s been retired for the better part of two years? McGregor is arguably the most popular male athlete the sport has produced in recent times, and if he can’t overcome the challenge of a man in his 40’s, where does he go from here? For the casual observer, he’ll always have that blemish on his record, and MMA will always have that cloud of doubt looming over it.
Now, you can understand the cautious approach of promoters Showtime and the UFC, unwilling to label this clash as the defining combat sport event of the century, as it represents the possibility of one party losing it all. In other words, it’s the diplomatic approach. But, the moment we mix politics with sport, sport loses its charm, its vibrancy, its excitement. If there’s no risk, where’s the triumph?
The charges against Showtime’s promotion of August 26th becomes more criminal when you look at the two fighters on offer. In Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, you have the perfect foils to build any story you’d want. They know how to cajole the crowd to get any reception they desire. I mean, Mayweather went to Mexico City to fight a Mexican, and walked out to the ring draped in Mexican colours, wearing a sombrero backwards.
Likewise, when Brazilian opponent Jose Aldo called McGregor ‘the joker’, ‘the Notorious’ one retorted with the sweetest comeback of all time.
“I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro, so for him to say that he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback, and kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work. But we’re in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass instead.”
Throwing these two enigmas together will always produce fireworks. We saw a hint of that over the course of the “worldwide” tour. And with some direction, Showtime could have steered the ship any way they wanted. They chose not to steer at all.
This lack of direction produced the worst possible outcome; a thoroughly inconsistent McGregor and a one-dimensional, static Mayweather. In this scenario, it becomes extremely difficult for anyone (including myself) to decide who to root for. Or, to put it more bluntly, it makes it extremely difficult for any bystander to care for either fighter. And if you can’t care for either fighter, why should you even watch it?
The bottom line is the fight lacks any sense of urgency. There’s nothing concrete at stake. Even if one pulls out of the fight, you’d just shrug your shoulders and wait and for the next one. August 26th lacks that sense of scale, that grandeur that is fitting for the potential ramifications, fitting for the enormous personalities of the two fighters. As two bonafide icons of combat sport, Mayweather and McGregor deserve better.
And let’s be frank, as fans, we deserve better.