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Click Debate: Has the Mayweather vs. McGregor World Tour changed fight promotion forever?

Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather jaw back and forth during the London world tour stop.
Esther Lin, Showtime

NEW YORK — Fight promotion as we used to know it is dead. Dirt has been heaped onto it by a diamond-encrusted shovel with the words “F*ck you” emblazoned on the handle.

For all the cringeworthy moments, over-the-top excess and borderline offensive speech (some not so borderline), there was one thing likely very clear to executives from Showtime, Mayweather Promotions and the UFC when they hopped onto planes Saturday in London to return home.

It all worked.

The numbers on YouTube and various other social media platforms were off the charts for the MayMac World Tour. Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas might very well break the pay-per-view record of 4.6 million buys set by Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015. And if it does, you know brass will point to the lewd four-day, tour de farce world tour as the reason why.

“Times have changed,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said Thursday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “You’ve gotta get away from the way things were done before, the traditional this and that. Nobody wants to see that shit. Ain’t nobody want to see that. People like to see people talking trash. You call it whatever you want to — that’s what people want to see.”

After all the “bitches” and “hos” and sexual gestures of Los Angeles, Toronto, Brooklyn and London, most of the casual fans have already forgotten that this is a matchup of an undefeated all-time great in boxing against a UFC champion with no pro boxing bouts to date. They just want to see Mayweather and McGregor fight. Maybe that was the point. It almost doesn’t even matter anymore what transpires at T-Mobile Arena. There will probably end up being a rematch, too.

More than 11,000 came out in LA, about 16,000 in Toronto, 13,000 more in New York and another 10,000 in London. Ellerbe said the manager of a well-known celebrity hit him up for tickets — not to the fight, but merely for the World Tour stop in Brooklyn.

Drake made an appearance as a fan in Toronto, before coming on stage to fill some time while Mayweather was stuck in traffic. Aloe Blacc performed at Staples Center. Swizz Beatz and Doug E. Fresh took the stage at Barclays.

Once McGregor and Mayweather were introduced, things were every bit as unpredictable. McGregor fired off profanity at Showtime exec Stephen Espinoza in multiple cities, Mayweather made it rain on McGregor with dollar bills while McGregor was bare-chested wearing only a mink coat and floral pants in Brooklyn. Mayweather grabbed an Irish flag from the stands in Toronto and McGregor jacked his expensive bag in Toronto.

In London, McGregor rubbed Mayweather’s bald head. In Brooklyn, Mayweather had his bodyguards “form Voltron” around McGregor and his team, which almost led to a brawl. By the time the tour was winding down, Espinoza and UFC president Dana White were taking shots at each other in the press. Even the background people in suits were getting into the act, which wasn’t really an act at all. At least not entirely.

This was all part pro wrestling, part performance art, part standup comedy, part rap concert, part two-bit carnival attraction. White said last week at UFC 213 that it was going to be a “shit show” and he wasn’t lying.

For better or worse, how are we ever going to look at another attempt at fight promotion again? It’ll be skewed through the lens of this wild, woolly affair, whether you loved it or hated it. I was there for three stops — LA, Toronto and Brooklyn — and I experienced both of those emotions on an hour-to-hour basis.

Backstage in interviews with present media, those like Ellerbe, Espinoza and White broke down the fourth wall a bit. Espinoza acknowledged the pro-wrestling bent to it all and the careers of both Mayweather and McGregor, who are both known as much for their ability to sell a fight as win one.

“That has really what has fueled both their rises,” Espinoza said. “You don’t go from a 2013 UFC debut to where Conor has gone without some charismatic skills [outside] the ring. You’re not a small, defensive-minded African American fighter that becomes a superstar without a charismatic personality. That personality has been critical to both of their careers.”

Added White: “I don’t think it’s from the WWE playbook, it’s both of their personalities. If I had two other guys that were promoting this fight, neither one of them could hang with either one of these guys when it comes to the shit talking. That’s what these guys are known for. Obviously they’re both great fighters, but what they’re really well known for is their level of shit talk. You couldn’t just say let’s take a page out of the WWE playbook, because some guys have it, most guys do not.”

Ellerbe said all the World Tour did was give fans what they wanted and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Mayweather and McGregor weren’t getting up there talking about how great their training camp is going to be and what kind of strategy they were going to implement in the fight. The actual in-ring competition is almost secondary, at least until Aug. 26. Nothing about this whole four-city song and dance was boring.

The truth is fans don’t buy pay-per-view fights because they think the competition or the in-ring or in-cage action is going to be excellent. Fans, especially the mainstream, casual ones, gravitate to stars and storylines and, yes, rivalries with crap talk, whether it to contrived or otherwise. McGregor and Mayweather are both good enough at what they do to make it come across authentic and truth be told by London they were legitimately getting on each other’s nerves. The good vibes and fun in Toronto deteriorated by Thursday in Brooklyn.

McGregor gyrating his hips for his “beautiful black female fans” and Mayweather calling McGregor a “f*ggot” were crass at best and bigoted at worst. But, like it or not, that kind of thing isn’t going to effect the PPV buyrate. In reality, all the headlines generated — positive and negative — will undoubtedly make everyone more money.

Donald Trump didn’t suffer much from his own raw, misogynistic language last year when he was campaigning. He was elected President of the United States in November despite being caught on a 2005 tape saying he could grab women by their genitals because he was a star.

That doesn’t sound too far off from some of the crass banter on the World Tour, where McGregor kept bringing up all the “stripper bitches” on Mayweather’s payroll and Mayweather said White was a pimp and McGregor was his ho.

And so the MayMac World Tour was the ugliest embodiment of what some hardcore MMA fans say they hate most about the sport: the continued rewarding of trash talk and the loudest voices, regardless of merit or substance. Those fans, though, are the vocal minority. They don’t represent the whole and, well, they’re probably going to pay for this fight anyway. They always do.

Meanwhile, just about every major media outlet in the world covered this tour and fans all over the world ate it up, hanging on the words of McGregor and Mayweather for four days straight. It went from lighthearted and genuinely fun early on to rude, objectionable and profane in the latter half. I felt a little dirty leaving Barclays Center on Thursday night. But damn if it wasn’t effective.

“We found a way to go out and take this thing to another level,” Ellerbe said. “We did this. You can’t get mad because the people are receptive to it and they embrace it, because this is what they want to do. It’s called entertainment. It’s entertainment.

“We’re in a society now that this is what people want to see. You can sit there and say whatever you want to, people are intrigued about the Kardashians. That’s what it is. How can you be mad at anybody for that?”

The MayMac World Tour definitely cut directly to our ids in a visceral way. And the buildup process to big fights will never be the same again.

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