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The Mayweather vs. McGregor world tour kicked off with a few head games

Esther Lin, Showtime

Well, to be honest, Conor McGregor did look like he was having a good time on Tuesday out there in Los Angeles — even if he was improvising under the Marquess of Queensberry rules. McGregor showed up to the first of the four World Tour appearances with Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a realized fighter. Though he said he wasn’t accustomed to the Showtime set-up, he carried the spryness of an infomercial pitchman in pointing out “McGregor Sports and Entertainment” right there on the banner alongside Mayweather Promotions.

While smacking his gum in the most satisfied manner, McGregor summed up his improbable act in his first four words: “Baby, we did it!” The fans in LA were McGregor fans on whole, and they knew exactly what he meant. He’s a genuine rags-to-riches story who in four years went from Marcus Brimage and borrowed money to Floyd Mayweather and more money than MMA can produce. Some people throw out old adages like “seize the day.” McGregor just seizes the hell out of it. He seizes it like somebody’s trying to steal it from him.

He hit the Staples Center with his rich waxed whiskers, a silken pocket square, and a tailor-made suit that had pinstripes made out of “f*ck yous.” Perhaps nobody in the fight game has made vanity feel so selfless, or so vicarious; he’s a pillar of the times in fighting, and everyone is of his times. “I’m absolutely honored to be here before you, to give you this great spectacle,” he said, speaking as a gift to mankind. 
Crazy, right? The whole thing never stops being crazy. That crazy goes to Toronto today, and Brooklyn tomorrow. It hops the pond to London on Friday. Crazy can mean stupid, which some people think it is. Or it can mean fun, which is where others are centering. It can mean hard to wrap your mind around, foolish, audacious, surreal and gratuitous.

The Mayweather-McGregor boxing match is all those things. Are we being duped? Just in case, the asking price is $100 come Aug. 26 to find out for sure. People like having the wool pulled over their eyes, especially good quality wool — you know, the kind that McGregor imports. People will pay come fight night to be wrong. It’s rare that we can be shocked as a shared experience, just as it’s rare that a situation presents itself to do just that. The beauty of the step-up is that McGregor isn’t just cashing in, he’s vying for our astonishment. He’s trying to give life a Hollywood rewrite, to make people say “holy shit!”

What more can you ask of your sports figures?

And you wouldn’t know from the first get together that McGregor was the steep underdog in the fight. McGregor assured everyone that he would stop Mayweather inside of four rounds; Mayweather, who, aside from getting buckled by “Sugar” Shane Mosley in a singular brief moment some seven years ago, rarely takes a clean punch.

Still, when McGregor talks about his own power it’s infectious. He believes that Mayweather is frail and small. What makes it fascinating is that his beliefs generally turn a corner at some point in a fight lead-up and arrive at something actual and real. Ol’ Mystic Mac. Did he not turn Jose Aldo into a mental putty by the time they finally fought at UFC 194? He had Dustin Poirier spooled in inner turmoil before they fought. Did he not reduce Jeremy Stephens to ash when he said, undermining his entire existence with just six words, “Who the f*ck is that guy?”

Maybe he doesn’t have a chance. But the better part of most fights occurs in prospect, when imagination is free to roam. The dumbest thing that the Showtime producers running the show did on Tuesday was cut McGregor’s mic when Floyd was doing his bit during the press conference. The best stuff was in McGregor’s responses to Mayweather, the little interruptions. When Mayweather said he would knock “this bitch out too,” McGregor intervened that he hadn’t knocked anybody out in 20 years. When Mayweather pulled up an uncashed check for $100 million out of his backpack, McGregor said it was to the taxman, playing on the news that Mayweather owed some $20 million to the IRS.

The repartee is part of what makes McGregor who he is. It’s all head games. In fact, this is one of those fights where everything is head games, from the fact that a fighter with no pro boxing experience is taking on a 49-0 champion, to the nixing of horsehair gloves, right down to Floyd Sr. crashing McGregor’s press conference with comical threats.

“No one’s done this shit before, you got to give me that,” McGregor said, finishing up an impromptu speech he didn’t realize he’d be giving. “No one’s done this. No MMA guy has crossed over like this. There’s been a few times in history where people have crossed over. Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki in Japan many years ago under MMA rules. He thought at the time it was a wrestling contest. That wasn’t like this.

“Then [there was] James Toney, who had a very big problem with the UFC, very similar to the way Floyd has, but he crossed over into our world. Floyd has a problem but doesn’t want to come over and deal with it. He wants me to come over to his side. That’s no problem, I’ll do that. That’s confidence.”

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