Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor and the Magic of Mass Amnesia
By: Ivan G. Goldman
If you try to make sense of Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor as an athletic contest you’re probably expecting too much. But if you accept it for what it is — an enormously lucrative entertainment – you have to respect its genius.
These two men from different sports are of course successful in their own right, but combine them into one spectacle and it’s like adding glycerol to nitric acid, giving birth to nitroglycerine. The product is far more powerful than the sum of its parts.
“It takes two warriors to bring an event like this together,” said Mayweather, and that’s absolutely true. His last fight against Andre Berto didn’t set the financial world on fire. It was also a dud as a fight, but dull fights don’t seem to harm Floyd’s cash flow.
Thousands of fans are already showing up just to hear boxer Mayweather and UFC fighter McGregor shout at each other in publicity events, beginning with 11,000 in Los Angeles and ending this week in London. In financial terms the spectacle is so enormous it probably shouldn’t even be measured against other boxing matches. It fits better in the category of fabulously successful entertainments such as Wonder Woman or Seinfeld.
Superhero movie Wonder Woman has grossed more than $750 million since opening last month, says Forbes. But it took five weeks of night-after-night attendance to amass that sum. Seinfeld, the most successful sitcom ever, has made more than $3 billion just from its reruns. But remember, it ran nine seasons. Mayweather-McGregor will pull in somewhere less than a billion for an event that takes place on one night only – August 26 in Las Vegas.
It’s no longer possible to pretend the excitement isn’t for real. The fight, as the promoters keep saying, is what people want. But what will they actually see on fight night?
“Floyd is going to run around and won’t get touched,” said Hall of Fame ESPN analyst Nigel Collins. “It’s just ridiculous. He’s the only boxer I can remember whose fights were very dull and yet his fights sold. His lifestyle sold. To the hip hop crowd, yes, and he also marketed a luxurious, ostentatious lifestyle.”
After Mayweather’s marketing image clicked, noted Collins, he “went from a guy earning $500,000 per fight to earning millions. It’s like wrestling, where you get baby faces and heels.” Mayweather, noted Collins, sold himself as a heel.
But even when the fighter’s strategy to gain attention is clear, it’s not necessarily a pattern others can follow, he pointed out. “So many heavyweights tried to be like Ali.” Yet there were always inaccessible ingredients missing from their efforts. You can’t artificially manufacture charisma. It’s there or it isn’t.
On the other hand we also witness the inexplicable Kardashian phenomenon — a family of non-performers who aren’t particularly magnetic or talented and don’t seem to do much yet succeed more than folks who can actually sing, dance, act, or think.
“Adrien Broner tried to imitate Floyd,” said Collins. “He’s an asshole who’s already been beaten up a couple of times. But Floyd is dedicated. It seemed like the money went to his head, but it never interrupted his discipline as an athlete. Even as he’s rolling in money and women.”
Irishman McGregor is, according to analysts who know the territory, exceptional within the context of his own UFC world. And when it comes to publicizing the fight with Mayweather he also makes the grade. Yes, he’s got charisma and comes up with rejoinders that exert force. Mayweather chose well.
But on fight night, McGregor, who’s never been in a professional boxing match, is entering one against a great boxer. And inside the ring, his charisma and rejoinders won’t help.
Meanwhile Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza promises the full reality-programming pre-fight treatment to lure in pay-per-view subscribers on fight night at a hundred bucks a throw. Also as usual, Floyd Senior challenged McGregor to mix it up with him. He’s been saying that to his son’s opponents for years. Daddy Floyd has always showed mixed love, admiration, and envy for his son, spiced with a dose of resentment for eclipsing his own boxing career with such magnitude. It’s all part of the Mayweather medicine show.
Also part of that show, Floyd promises plenty of action, delivers something else on fight night, and eventually the bitter aftertaste of the contest is forgotten as he goes through the same routine with another hand-picked opponent. Some sort of mass amnesia seems to be at work here. Is this witchcraft?
“The thing that puzzles me is why so many people are interested in this fight,” said Collins.
Of course this is the contest that, barring an Irish miracle, gives Mayweather his 50-0 record, one-upping the record of Rocky Marciano. And this one might actually be his last bout. Unless he comes up with another great gimmick. You never know.
Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter, nominated as a Notable Book by the American Library Association, is available online and at better bookstores everywhere.
Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class (Permanent Press, 2015) is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.