By Jason Keidel
Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor… the fight no one wants, but everyone will watch.
For all the lamentations from the media, masses and Oscar De La Hoya, we have a staggering cultural contradiction. The indignant pundits are bashing the Mayweather-McGregor bout, now signed and set for August 26, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and questioning the intelligence of those who express even oblique interest in it. We’re hearing regurgitated quotes from history’s roll call of ringleaders, from P.T. Barnum to Don King, all the while calculating America’s sucker quotient.
Indeed, it’s crazy, the kind of crazy that could generate $600 million and challenge Mayweather-Pacquiao as the most profitable bout in history.
With all due respect to De La Hoya, it’s likely his largest regret is not the fight but rather that he has no piece of it. From a wider view, it’s also hard to understand the collective indignity. What is the problem? Other than jarring our old-world sensibilities about who should fight and how, this feels like good old Americana.
For all the failures of boxing — a sport, at times, ruled by the Mafia and Don King — and for all the bloody inelegance of cage fighting, both are, at the core, entertainment. For all its gory and glory, fighting is an exhibition. And the only reason these sports exist and prosper is because we show a willingness to indulge.
What do you have planned for August 26 that supersedes this fight? It’s perfectly nestled into the calendar, a week or two before the NFL begins in earnest and well before baseball’s pennant fever hits full-throated fervor.
“But a belt isn’t at stake!” you shout.
Let’s look at the preeminent fight this year, between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady ‘Triple G’ Golovkin. It’s a valid fight between perhaps the two best boxers on the planet. Can you even tell us what titles are on the line? Can you even tell us the weight limit for the bout?
Boxing long ago trivialized the import of championship belts, a soup of meaningless words and letters and legitimacy. So what is Mayweather-McGregor but a mutation of the modern prize fight? Does anyone care that it’s not sanctioned as a world championship fight?
“It’s such an obvious money grab!” you cry.
Hasn’t that been Mayweather’s career? He’s so profoundly obsessed with cash that he’s branded himself ‘Money’ Mayweather for the last decade? This, of course, follows his more muted handle of ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd from the ’90s.
“Conor McGregor isn’t even a boxer!” you insist.
McGregor may not be a boxer, but he’s surely a fighter. Even if the rules are bent well out of his favor, he knows that Mayweather is hardly George Foreman, and not a thunderous puncher capable of ending his night, career or life. The worst that will happen is Mayweather does his Fred Astaire dance, circles McGregor for a few rounds and peppers him with punches. Both will leave the ring as they entered, but with a mountain of money in the bank.
We have a sprawling history of exhibitions and exhibitionists, and while we publicly denounce much of it, we’ve always secretly supported it, through our curiosity, attendance and wallets.
Bill Veeck is hailed as baseball’s quintessential showman, an American original. The former White Sox owner trotted out circus acts, animals and freaks between doubleheaders. (Remember the infamous anarchy of Disco Demolition night?) Veeck even trotted out a man under 4-feet tall so that the opposing pitcher couldn’t find his strike zone. Imagine the slack-jawed masses when Eddie Gaedel, all 3-foot-7-inches of him, strolled out to the batter’s box. Then imagine the pitcher’s expression.
Whether it was aesthetically, morally or legally agreeable, you can be sure every person who saw it never forgot it. And you can be equally sure that those who weren’t there wished they were.
We’ve had boxers wrestle, and wrestlers box. We’ve had former NFL greats try the sweet science. We have an inherent curiosity for the abnormal, an appetite for the unusual, that, for some reason, we’re supposed to suppress or deny.
The intelligentsia sees this brawl between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor as a metaphor for the sad state of the sweet science, for the frothing desperation of a sport that used to bogart the bold ink. Fight Night used to own every Saturday. But this is not a statement on any sport, but rather a commentary on us, our lust for the inane and insane, and our willingness to experiment. Our minds and hearts and wallets are indeed open to the bizarre. Which means it is we humans, not Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Conor McGregor, who are bizarre.
Is there any news in that?
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.