Was McGregor vs. Mayweather a Final Nail in the Coffin for Traditional Boxing?
Published on March 12, 2018
In the summer of 2017, something crazy happened in the world of combat sports. In the biggest attraction in all of MMA, two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor, stepped out of the Octagon and into the boxing ring for a historic challenge. Seeing the opportunity for one last enormous payday, Floyd Mayweather was lured out of retirement to be his opponent.
It was the perfect situation for Floyd. They’d do battle in his world, under his rules, where his lifetime of pugilistic experience gave him an insurmountable advantage over his novice foe. He would make a small fortune while taking on the least amount of risk imaginable, a man in his first fight. It would seem like the kind of thing the public would roll their eyes at, but there were two things that the brash Irishman could do: 1) He could make people believe, and 2) he could sell the hell out of a fight.
For months the two men stood across from each other on various stages throughout their promotional tour, exchanging hilarious barbs and telling the world that this matchup meant the world to both men. It was a public relations masterpiece from start to finish. The true cynical
brilliance in the whole promotion was a series of documentary-like shows following each man through training and preparation for the historic bout.
The episodes followed the plot of the movie “The Great White Hype,” nearly to a “T”. They told the story of a talented martial artist, trained in a different- but equally impressive- fighting art, testing his skills at another man’s game. He was singularly focused on the contest, whether that meant training or promoting. The show even chronicled McGregor bringing in talented boxers as sparring partners and showing them up in the ring; people believed.
Mayweather’s portions of the show told a much different story. There were interviews with his children were the exclaimed how happy they were that dad was home more now and not training all the time. He was rarely shown in the gym. Instead, he was doing yoga or going roller
skating. While Conor was preparing for the upset of the century, Floyd appeared to have lost his edge and the discipline that made him great. The people believed.
Finally, it was fight night, and there was no bigger story in all of sports. The T-Mobile Arena was filled to capacity, and millions of fans all over the world plopped down roughly $100 for the privilege to watch. To Mayweather’s credit, he uncharacteristically pressed the action and left himself vulnerable in order to create an exciting fight. In the first couple of rounds, it even appeared that McGregor was actually winning the battle.
But as the rounds went by, the disparity in the two skill levels became more and more apparent. By the time the TKO came in the tenth, people had been expecting it at any second for three full rounds. That night, sports media and the Internet were abuzz over the exciting contest and Conor’s impressive showing against the GOAT.
The result was never in doubt. The cold reality is that Rocky movies aren’t real, and a man cannot defeat the greatest boxer of a generation in his first boxing bout. Mayweather had merely carried him through those early rounds, inviting him to exchange and give the fans some action before tiring the MMA fighter out and exposing his inexperience.
News spread, and the casual viewing public came to the same realization that the entire boxing community had been screaming from the tops of their lungs the whole time: it was a joke fight, a gimmick. But nonetheless, the money was spent, and the two businessmen were already counting their fortunes. The question now is, did this massively popular spectacle mark the end of traditional boxing?
Could the sport resist promoting new cross-sport rivalries in the future in the face of all that money? If a man can come from another discipline and challenge an all-time great with a 49-0 record in his first bout, what’s the point of championships and rankings? With Floyd Mayweather retired, where is the next super fight going to come from?
In the short history of mixed martial arts, the sport has exploded in popularity in the mainstream, spearheaded by the success of the UFC. In a few short decades, combat in the Octagon went from being labeled “human cockfighting” and banned to becoming a fully-sanctioned, socially-acceptable competition with some of the most popular athletes in all of sports on their roster.
While mixed martial arts is booming, boxing’s popularity has declined and stagnated over the past several years. Boxing’s biggest fights, involving the four or five boxers that the public cares about, have remained some of the most significant events in fight sports, but that’s not enough to stay relevant in the public zeitgeist when MMA is putting on one meaningful card, at a minimum, per month.
I believe that this disparity in popularity will lead to the next generations of aspiring athletes to pursue careers in MMA at a higher rate than boxing. While boxing is losing most of its traditional talent pools to sports like football and basketball, mixed martial arts gyms are popping up all over the country. It may be only a couple more decades before all of the super-fights take place in the Octagon.
Another issue I could see contributing to the demise of traditional boxing super-fights is the lack of order in the rankings and governing bodies in the sport. There are so many boxing organizations, each with their own championship belts for every weight class, that it can be difficult to determine who the best in the world is at each respective weight. Couple the oversaturation with the fact that many of the governing organizations are blatantly corrupt, and the rankings and titles eventually mean nothing.
When you mix in greedy promoters and their agendas, the logical fights to make are rarely booked. Either two fighters are represented by different agencies that won’t co-promote, or a fighters representation will protect them from risky bouts and inflate their records by fighting chumps. Because so many people have their hands in the fighter’s pockets, the most competitive, exciting fights never get made while the athletes are in their primes.
With belts and rankings cheapening by the day, how will another boxer build the reputation required to replace Mayweather’s box office triumphs? An important aspect of classical boxing super-fights was how high the stakes were. It wasn’t just about money; it was about being the undisputed best in your weight class. Fighters put their belts on the line, and they would risk death to retain them. In a world where belts barely matter, can the stakes ever be as high?
The most important factor that I believe may affect the future prospects of meaningful super-fights in boxing are the massive letdowns that occurred in the last several. Shortly after the Mayweather vs. McGregor show ended, another fight took place which was of much more importance to boxing fans. This was the fight that actually mattered; it was Gennady Golovkin versus Canelo Alvarez.
In a rare moment of brilliance, the world of boxing gave the fans what they had been clamoring for with both fighters were in their primes. The bout was everything it was anticipated to be; it was action packed, fast paced and each man had his moments. At the conclusion of twelve rounds, nearly every boxing expert and viewer agreed that Golovkin had earned a decision victory. However, when the results were read, the judges ruled the fight a “Draw.”
Rumors began to spread immediately about the corrupt nature of the decision. People said that the promoter of the event hired the judges and referees, and this fight was promoted by De La Hoya, Alvarez’s guy. It became a common point to make sure that Gennady would have only been allowed to win by knockout; the promotion couldn’t afford anything worse than a draw on Canelo’s record.
The two danced around each other for years, trading occasional jabs in the media and fighting the same opponents time and time again. By the time the fight was finally scheduled, both men were out of their primes, especially Pacman who suffered a horrific knockout loss in that time.
Despite taking much too long to happen, the fight was a real blockbuster. It was the biggest story in all of sports and was the first to carry the hefty three-figure price tag just for Pay-Per-View. The bout, if you can call it that, was an absolute snooze-fest. Neither man ever put the other in danger or scored a noteworthy punch, and by the final bell, the entire viewership had buyer’s remorse.
So, how many more of these notable competitions will fail to send the fans home satisfied before people stop purchasing them? Has the damage already been done? At least the fight between Conor and Floyd was somewhat entertaining, but now that the public understands what happened in that fight, will they fall for it again?
Promising Young Boxing Talent
As far as talent is concerned, boxing is in the best condition that it has been in years. There are several emerging superstars gaining prominences such as Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko and Deontay Wilder that have boxing fans feeling optimistic about the future. What’s even more promising is that Joshua and Wilder are both heavyweights. No weight class in boxing captures the public’s attention like the heavyweights.
After an extended stretch of time without any new marketable stars making waves while the previous generation grew older and less exciting, boxing is trending in the right direction. With a little luck and the right matchups getting booked, there are fighters with the potential to step into that “money” role.
The fact that an event as absurd as Mayweather v McGregor became such a huge success means that enterprising promoters will be exploring additional cross-sport matchups in the future. Minutes after the scrap ended, we even saw Stipe Miocic, the UFC heavyweight champion, challenge Anthony Joshua in a boxing match of their own.
Perhaps these co-promotion fights will be the future of blockbuster bouts. Down the line, they could even tweak the rules to give the MMA guys a few more weapons to even things out some. There’s one thing you can be sure of: if at any time the two most famous combat athletes in the world are in contrasting sports, they will find a way to make it happen. There’s just too much money at stake.
So while this wouldn’t be the same as the traditional super-boxing fights, it could potentially be the way of the future. If MMA talent continues to improve as anticipated, these bouts could become more competitive in the future. Once that happens, they are a worthy substitute for their historical predecessors.
While it’s difficult to imagine where the next colossal boxing fight will come from when they do get it scheduled, there is nothing more meaningful in fight sports. MMA is continuously producing entertaining cards, especially the UFC who has at least one a month. Furthermore, on those events, there are typically between three and five fights that play importance in the standings and involve top talent.
But while the UFC and MMA produce more consistently and have a higher floor than boxing, it also has a lower ceiling. The very peak experience that boxing has to offer is unparalleled in combat sports and always becomes a socially significant affair. The rare massive mega-fight has a way of permeating the entire culture and grabbing even the most unlikely fan’s attention in a way that UFC can never do.
Looking at the landscape of combat sports, and boxing in particular, I’m confident that we have not seen the end of traditional boxing superfights. Between the crop of young boxing talent, the growth of MMA and the potential for intriguing cross-sport matchups, I believe that the sport is in the best position it has been in in decades.
Fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Vasyl Lamanchenko, Anthony Joshua, Carl Frampton and Canelo Alvarez promise to deliver the highest levels of pugilism available. All that they need is some fortunate timing and the right storyline. If I had to guess, the next nine-figure payout in the boxing world would come from Anthony Joshua fighting Deontay Wilder. Both heavyweights have been gaining prominence and prestige these last few years, and the buzz is beginning to grow around this contest.
Another likely candidate for the next massive happening in combat sports involves Conor McGregor once again. There have been public comments that imply Manny Pacquiao would like to challenge the Irish cash cow next. Once again, a novice of the sport will be confronting an all-time legend. Will they be able to talk us all into believing the impossible is possible once again? And if so, for how many more times?