Boxing purists’ loyalty to the sport faces an interesting test Saturday night.
For the past two months, the excessive hoopla surrounding the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight has moved boxing into mainstream acceptance. Finally, after all the bombast and non-stop spin from both camps, Mayweather and McGregor will fight in Las Vegas.
Anticipation toward the bout is featured on nightly sportscasts and is a frequent topic on local and national talk shows. If one listens to the so-called “experts” and talking heads, the fight is expected to shatter the pay-per-view record of 4.6 million buys established by Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in their bout two years ago.
But are the purists willing to buy? Perhaps they are fed up with Mayweather, who ended a two-year retirement to face a mixed martial arts fighter without professional boxing experience.
No one questions Mayweather’s brilliant career and spotless 49-0 record. Mayweather, a part-time Miami resident, built the platform to tease fans on a ring return for close to two years before selecting McGregor in his quest for the legacy-sealing 50th victory.
Whether Mayweather still carries clout to successfully sell the event, just like he did in his bouts against Pacquiao and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, will be an indicator if the purists have had enough.
Mayweather’s match against Pacquiao received similar attention to Saturday’s bout. However, the fight failed to live up to its hype. Mayweather won a tactical match and Pacquiao later disclosed he fought with an injured shoulder sustained prior to the fight.
The fallout resulted in subpar pay-per-view numbers for Mayweather’s bout against Andre Berto three months later. And there is a telling sign that the lofty expectations for Mayweather-McGregor could flatten on fight night. The match at the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena has not sold out.
“The pay-per-view numbers will be unbelievable and we will have a sold out crowd,” Mayweather recently told reporters. “I’m not worried about that.
“We’re doing crazy [sales] numbers. Forget what you’re hearing.”
In another interview Mayweather said he is willing to engage with McGregor in close exchanges more than he is accustomed to. Mayweather dictates pace with his superior boxing and counterpunching skills, yet he will consider it a moral victory for McGregor if the Ireland native lasts the distance.
Skeptics perceive Mayweather’s knockout goal as a sales pitch because of the looming possibility that projected viewership will fall short of expectations.
Mayweather also knew in facing McGregor for his comeback bout that a new audience will emerge Saturday. McGregor has headlined three of the Ultimate Fighting Championships’ top four pay-per-view events, including his fight against Nate Diaz that generated a franchise best 1.6 million buys in August 2016.
MMA fans are viewed as the targeted demographic to offset departures by the boxing purists.
“I’m not going to buy it or watch it,” said Eddie Cruz, a Miami resident and business owner who has purchased pay-per-view fights for more than 30 years. “As business people, they are smart because they are presenting the two most popular fighters in each sport.
“The fight doesn’t interest me because all the advantages go to Mayweather. One is trained for the sport while the other isn’t. McGregor would have all the advantages if it were under MMA rules.
“The MMA crowd is going to buy it more. I think there are a lot of skeptical boxing fans.”
Dwaine Simpson is a boxing purist who will watch the fight.
A Weston resident, Simpson ran the Miami-Dade amateur boxing program for 35 years after a 15-year professional fighting career. Simpson doesn’t take offense to the Mayweather-McGregor matchup.
“Boxing fans are intrigued by the possibility of McGregor finding the openings to make it an interesting fight,” Simpson said. “Mayweather is two years older since his last fight, and you wonder if age has finally caught up with him.
“At first I didn’t think McGregor had a chance and didn’t consider it much of a fight. But as the fight approaches interest grows, including for those of us who consider ourselves boxing purists.”
AROUND THE RING
▪ Boxing purists offended by the Mayweather-McGregor fight will find an alternative Saturday night. Four-division world champion Miguel Cotto will fight Yoshihiro Kamegai for the vacant WBO junior-middleweight title at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
A native of Puerto Rico, Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs) has not fought since losing his middleweight title against Alvarez in November 2015.
▪ Late Saturday, Terence Crawford became the first undisputed world champion in 12 years following his third-round knockout win over Julius Indongo in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) dropped Indongo (22-1) with a body shot midway through the round. Indongo failed to beat the 10-count, earning Crawford the 140-pound title of boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies.
Tuesday (9 p.m., Fox Sports 1): Juan Carlos Payano vs. Alexis Santiago, 10, bantamweights.
Friday (9 p.m., Fox Sports 1): Tureano Johnson vs. Sergiy Derevyanchenko, 12, middleweights.
Saturday (9 p.m., pay-per-view): Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor, 12, junior middleweights.
Saturday (9:45 p.m., HBO): Miguel Cotto vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai, 12, for the vacant WBO junior-middleweight title.