So, since I’m taking three months off BJJ, I’ve decided to use this space to talk about a non-BJJ thing that’s been on my mind.
(For the three of you who read this blog that I don’t know personally, I’m recovering from the surgery nicely, I’m breathing better already and working out at the Y almost every day to stay in some kind of shape during my time away from rolling.)
A quick question. Am I on acid? Or possibly having some sort of weird fever dream? Because those are the only two scenarios in which tomorrow’s “superfight” between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor is a thing that makes sense.
I mean, don’t get it twisted. I’m not naïve. It makes sense because we live in a world in which people will pay scads of money for it. We also live in a world in which a man who is totally unqualified both professionally and temperamentally, a monstrous human, and quite possibly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s managed to become the leader of the free world because people like to watch him insult people on television. The fact that Conor McGregor has only managed to use that same core talent to talk himself into a multi-million dollar fight purse is relatively small beer.
To be clear, I’m not cheering for either of these men. Floyd Mayweather is a serial domestic abuser. Conor McGregor is a fucking racist and the avatar of everything that’s wrong with mixed martial arts right now. I’m basically cheering for a flock of fighting cocks to get released in the ring to peck and kick both of them to death. Fuck both of these guys entirely.
But from a purely sporting perspective, this fight is completely insane. It seems insulting to all of our intelligence that it is somehow taking up most of the oxygen in sports media right now. Floyd Mayweather, for all his awfulness as a man, is the best boxer of his generation. (I am counting Trip G as a member of a different generation, even though they’re pretty close in age.) Conor McGregor is an amazing MMA fighter, and one of the best strikers in that sport.
But being the best striker in MMA is like being the best soccer player among NFL place kickers. It’s a related skill, for sure, and an interesting fact, but Barcelona isn’t going to be giving you a call any time soon. Brighton and Hove Albion probably aren’t even giving you a call. Scunthorpe. Maybe Scunthorpe United would take you on. McGregor needs to be fighting the Scunthorpe of boxers. But of course, there’s no money in Scunthorpe.
The idea that McGregor is a competitive opponent for Mayweather is completely a farce. It is a lead balloon that is somehow miraculously being held aloft by the sheer volume of hot air coming from the fighters themselves, as well as Dana White, Showtime and a sports media trying to find something to get excited about in the face of an imploding combat sports landscape.
Conor McGregor has about as much chance of beating Floyd Mayweather as I do of beating Conor McGregor. Floyd Mayweather handily beat Manny Pacquiao, a man who once looked superhuman, and who has forgotten more about boxing than Conor, who last boxed as a teenager amateur, will ever know. Think about that. Are we really supposed to believe that Conor McGregor is a better boxer than Pacquiao? Than peak career Ricky Hatton? Hatton ran through 43 consecutive opponents, before losing to Mayweather in 2007 and eventually partying himself out of the sport. Are we really saying McGregor is a better boxer than his fellow ginger Canelo Alvarez? Mayweather is the only blemish on Alvarez’s otherwise spotless record, and Canelo is still out there absolutely annihilating people. (He’s fighting Trip G next month, an actual boxing match between the two best active fighters in the world that people have totally forgotten about in the run up to this circus fight.) Can anyone who has watched even three minutes of boxing in their entire life, and doesn’t have a shit ton of money wrapped up in this absolute farce of a fight, say any of those things with a straight face?
Sure they can, if they’re either a massive McGregor stan or are completely detached from reality. McGregor is a 40-1 underdog, but honestly, he should be a 400-1 underdog.
As I write this, I’m sitting in Super-Jet International—where the owner/barista reminds me a fair bit of Colin Quinn’s character in Girls—listening to AC/DC’s “Money Talks.” The song choice feels a little on the nose. Because that’s what this fight is about. It’s what every fight is about, but this one is a different degree of magnitude.
For over a decade, boxing and MMA have gone back and forth trying to be the dominant combat sport in North America. The boxing establishment have dismissed MMA as a band of thuggish upstarts, MMA’s army of young, digitally active fans have called boxing a boring old man’s sport. But now they’re both in trouble.
Brock Lesnar has gone back to pro-wrestling, Ronda Rousey is probably going to join him, and Jon Jones couldn’t pass a drug test with someone else’s urine. The UFC’s glamour divisions are helmed by guys like Tyron Woodley, a great technician who is almost astoundingly unfun to watch, and Stipe Miocic, who knocks guys out, but who you would probably walk by in a crowd. Flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson is tied for the most successful title defences in UFC history and has totally dominated his division, but has been woefully underpromoted and overlooked in favour of bigger fighters with bigger personalities. Their most interesting champions are women’s strawweight champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk—who might be the most technically perfect kickboxer of any gender on the planet—and men’s featherweight title holder Max Holloway, a tough, affable Hawaiian with the face of a 13 year-old. But neither of them have anything close to the crossover appeal of a Lesnar, or Rousey, or a GSP. No one is asking Joanna Jedrzejczyk to star in an action film.
Boxing, meanwhile is now a niche sport in North America. Outside of a few specific regions (Quebec) and ethnic communities (Latinos), boxing isn’t really on anyone’s radar. It’s biggest stars are European and Latin American. Every so often, something big happens and people go “Oh yeah, boxing!” But for most North Americans, boxing comes after the MLS, after NASCAR, after MMA. It’s on a par with lacrosse.
Boxing needs this fight, but that doesn’t make it a boxing match. It’s a circus fight. It’s a sideshow. It’s Ben Johnson racing a horse, except I’m not sure who’s Ben Johnson and who’s the horse. But whatever. Money talks.