by Okay Karan
Months ago, we witnessed what was promoted as, “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History”: five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather vs. UFC two-division champion Conor McGregor. This fight between the two renowned athletes of different sports became the second highest Pay-Per-View event ever, behind only the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Was this really because of the competition, or achieved through promotion? Why did we become so interested in watching the best boxer in the world face off against someone who doesn't even box? I can’t shake the feeling that we essentially watched a match akin to Tiger Woods attempting to outplay Serena Williams in tennis. Something so bizarre may be ranked in sports entertainment, but not sports history.
Rory McIlroy, Northern Irish golfing champion and friend of McGregor, expressed his suspicions before “May-Mac” when saying, "I'm interested just to see how it all plays out, but I just fear that they do all this trash-talking and they go behind the scenes and they are having a laugh and thinking: I can't believe we are talking all this public for a ride”. Rory Mcllroy further stated before the fight, "We are all buying into it and they are like, can you believe these people believe this. I just hope it doesn't turn into it and I hope it's not in any way fixed”. To say that the fight was potentially fixed may be a bit extreme, but if so then it was perfectly executed.
Perhaps he was right, despite the documentaries and extreme promotion legitimizing the fight. Conor McGregor came into the limelight of the UFC partially due to his results, but mostly because of his ability to attract the big fight. The Irishman first mentioned Mayweather ahead of his bout against Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. After winning his second UFC belt that night, Conor made it known in the post-fight press conference that he was after a substantially higher paycheck. He went so far as to say that the UFC should offer him shares in the company due to his significance for the brand.
For Mayweather, the 40-year old champion with the chance to break an all-time record in his last fight, the lucrative match was perfect. It was unprecedented and people are drawn to the unpredictable, which goes to show how a fight with an overwhelming underdog could become the second highest PPV ever. There was an overwhelming amount of non-sports related promotion. There was no actual belt on play, meaning it essentially had no significance whatsoever to either sport. McGregor’s first training videos were leaked – odd timing to show off rudimentary boxing skills. When his second training video leaked closer to the fight, McGregor's transformation was obvious: he completely dominated former welterweight world champion Paulie Malignaggi in a sparring session. The levels of doubt and misdirection to the audience did nothing but create hype.
As for the outcome, nobody really lost. Pundits were expecting McGregor to be dominated in the ring by Floyd, but the Irishman won the first round on all scorecards and was considered ahead in the early stages, lasting into the 10th round. This was enough to note an honorable performance, while Mayweather still managed to give a dominating show, and have his legacy solidified among the greatest boxers ever. Since the fight wasn’t for any belt, Conor remained the champion in the UFC while laying claim to a fight purse unparalleled within his own arena, meanwhile Mayweather got the chance to end his career with the big “money fight” instead of facing a tougher opponent or even just a professional boxer (GGG perhaps?).
Whatever the case may be, “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History” worked. It worked for both participants, it worked for boxing, it worked for the UFC, and it gave the public what it wanted. However, its meaning in the world of sports and its significance in sporting history is debatable. Make of the event what you want. Essentially it was an entertaining build up more than anything, and a cool thing to witness. Mayweather Promotions made a good payday, Floyd ended a perfect career without any real risks, Conor lost in an irrelevant sport and made his biggest paycheck while also providing significant marketing for the UFC and Dana White. The conclusion is simple: In great entertainment, everybody is happy.