Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor was minted as real — the fight is set for Aug. 26 in Las Vegas — and the moment that happened the gatekeepers of the sanctity of sports sprang into righteous action.
“What a farce!” the elitists and purists cried. “Made-up event! Won’t even be competitive! Money grab! Who’d pay to watch that? What a joke!”
To those acting as if Mayweather-McGregor is some sort of criminal travesty, instead of simply a novelty-event unworthy of outrage, get over yourselves, please.
The reaction has been comical.
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First, no moral high road is available to fans of either sport. This brief shotgun marriage of boxing and mixed martial arts makes sense in that both endeavors are the modern yet archaic blood-sport progeny of gladiators in Roman arenas. Fighting for our entertainment, whether in ring or octagon, is civilization’s barbaric outlier, as humanely logical as bullfighting. Some fans of boxing and MMA may be offended this hybrid is happening, but I’m not sure which group should be more insulted by the association.
(This will be a boxing match, by the way, to Mayweather’s great advantage. In fairness, it should be a trilogy. The second bout would be under UFC rules, tipping the scale for McGregor. Then, should a tiebreaker be needed, the third and deciding duel between the two pugilists would be a chess match, a spelling bee or perhaps a recitation of Shakespearean sonnets.)
Outrage over this “farce” also is funny to me because this country has a rich, goofy history of oddball events and freak shows that have dared to not take sports too seriously.
Olympic gold medalist sprinter Jesse Owens once raced a horse, gave it a head start, and won.
In 1971 Muhammad Ali challenged Wilt Chamberlain to a fight, it was agreed upon, and the two showed up to promote it. As the 7-1 Wilt walked into the room Ali shouted, “Tim-berrr!” Wilt soon after backed out.
I was a teenager in 1973 when Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played their “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in the Astrodome, with Howard Cosell broadcasting courtside in a tuxedo. Riggs, once a top-ranked player but then 55, called it “the greatest hustle of all-time.” King won in straight sets, a triumph for “women’s lib” over Riggs’ admitted chauvinism.
Like Mayweather-McGregor, King vs. Riggs didn’t count for anything. No championship was stake. But it was hugely anticipated as a bizarre side dish to the standard meat and potatoes of sports. That was enough. It always is. Sports takes itself too seriously. Fun is good. Different is good.
Only one year after King-Riggs, “Evil” Knievel tried to jump across Idaho’s Snake River Canyon in a “Skycycle” rocket. The highly anticipated event fizzled, ending in Knievel floating to earth under a parachute.
That same era gave rise to the ABC-TV series, “The Superstars,” pitting athletes from various sports against each other in myriad events. In the very first episode, boxer Joe Frazier nearly drowned in a 50-meter swimming event, after failing to tell anyone he could not swim.
Just a couple of years later — those wacky ’70s! — an aging Ali agreed to fight pro wrestler Antonio Inoki in Tokyo. The result of the exhibition was supposed to be pre-determined, but nobody told Inoki, who spent much of the fight kicking Ali’s legs. Ali won a decision. “The low point of my career,” promoter Bob Arum called it.
That was arguably the greatest boxer of them all in the ring being kicked by a pro wrestler.
Suddenly Mayweather vs. the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champ doesn’t sound quite so bizarre.
It also pays to recall that UFC itself was born as a freak show, a closer kin to rasslin’ than to boxing. In its first-ever fight in 1993, a 410-pound Hawaiian sumo wrestler in Samoan garb, Teila Tuli, was beaten by a Dutchman half his size.
Fast-forward to the present:
Next week’s NBA Draft and the buildup to it have been hijacked by shameless self-promoter LaVar Ball. Baseball’s All-Star Game (which Miami will host next month) has seen the game itself usurped by the frivolity of the Home Run Derby. Even the No Fun League just relaxed its rules against end-zone celebrations.
Sports have never been quite as serious as some of the gatekeepers would prefer.
Enter Mayweather-McGregor. You’ll watch. And if you won’t, most of your neighbors will.
Boxing fans, UFC fans, spectacle junkies and curiosity seekers will make this the most lucrative fight in history, with speculation pay-per-view revenue could top $1 billion with perhaps 10 million PPV buys on Showtime. The existing record: 4.4 million for Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
Mayweather, though 40, is a huge 1-6 betting favorite, via Bovada, although money is flowing in on the underdog McGregor, 28.
“We have had up fight odds since November 2016 with the hope it would take place, and there has been non-stop McGregor money from being a 10-1 underdog to his current line as 4-1 underdog,” said Bovada sportsbook manager Kevin Bradley. “We expected more money to come in on McGregor, but not at this level. The overall money and wagers on this may rival the Super Bowl, if not bigger.”
Re-read that last sentence, please. Mayweather-McGregor isn’t all hype. The interest and appetite are real.
“When you talk about superfights, this is a superfight,” said UFC boss Dana White.
The fight taps old vs. new and the boxing vs. MMA rivalry but mostly is driven by two outlandish personalities -- both men polarizing, as disliked as they are popular. Mayweather is the money-minded braggart whose custom Rolls-Royce limousine is lined with chinchilla fur carpeting. McGregor is the bodacious, cocky Irishman. And yes, there is an undeniable racial element, too. Black vs white.
Rarely have two athletes gone head to head in equal need of comeuppance, of humbling. Only one can suffer that, and — guilty pleasure or not — America will be watching to find out who.