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Media roundtable: MayMac World Tour, Mayweather vs. McGregor promotion, more

Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather come face to face in Los Angeles.
Esther Lin, Showtime

The MayMac World Tour was a whirling dervish of an experience, a four-day, four-city, in-your-face carnival attraction. Those in attendance in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York and London were treated to once-in-a-lifetime experiences — the chance to see Floyd Mayweather, the greatest boxer of his generation, go toe to toe and word for word with Conor McGregor, the biggest star in UFC history.

There has been nothing quite like the MayMac World Tour and, for better or worse, may not be anything like it again. The spectacle (and language) was over the top. The promotional effort was pedal to the medal.

Now that it's all over and the dust has settled, let’s take a look back on the tour, the controversial moments and how the rambunctious, vulgar four days will impact interest in Mayweather vs. McGregor and more.

MMA Fighting asked five respected journalists — Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated, Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, George Willis of the New York Post, Josh Gross of The Guardian and Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting — who were in attendance at one or more of the tour stops five questions about their experiences. The illuminating answers are below.

MMA Fighting: How was the MayMac World Tour viewed by your respective audiences? Are you seeing genuine excitement from fans? Or are most writing this off as not being a real fight even after the tour?

Iole: They ate it up. They were into it more than I could have ever imagined. I knew it would be big, but the level of engagement I saw with this was far more than I believed. There is a very vocal segment that calls it a bogus fight, refers to those who are interested in it as suckers and generally can’t understand the interest. But it is dwarfed by the much larger population. I get the sense from much of that audience that they understand this is more of a spectacle than a sporting competition and they just want to have fun watching the show. But no matter one’s perspective, the tour resonated significantly with our audience.

Bishop: I've seen a mixture of reaction but what stood out is how many people are interested in watching the fight and don't care whether myself or other boxing writers think it won't be particularly close. For every one comment I got that said the fighters had gone too far on the tour, or that this was a fake fight, I got 10-20 comments saying they were going to buy the fight and that Conor had more of a chance than most writers gave him. So I sensed more excitement than I expected to. I got that sense that people are willing to pay to see what might happen, even if their expectations aren't sky high.

Willis: There is genuine interest in the fight. Avid boxing fans, avid MMA fans and sports fans in general are intrigued by the fight and the two personalities. I think most view it as a novelty and not "a real fight" in terms of the traditional sense, but this being a pairing of the best MMA fighter against one of the greatest boxers of all time has people's attention.

Gross: MMA fans who watch McGregor fight seem invested. His supporters are obviously all-in, and that was felt at the world tour events. Casual fans are definitely on board. So there's genuine excitement for an event fight out there. That said, I think most people feel like this shouldn't be particularly competitive.

Helwani: I’m not one to look at traffic numbers all that much, but I definitely feel a genuine sense of excitement for this from our readers/viewers. It feels like a big event (of course, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, but you get the point), and we haven’t had the opportunity to cover many of those this year. In fact, I sense more interest in the fight since the tour than before it. I think seeing them face off and interact made the fight feel more real. I also think that because it’s just over a month away fans are choosing to ride this short summer wave because it won’t require much of an emotional investment in their time. It’s fun. It’s wacky. It’s a circus. That’s OK. Of course, there are some who say they aren’t interested, but I bet they will all watch come Aug. 26.

MMAF: The parties involved are selling hard that McGregor has a legitimate opportunity to win. Were you surprised how they played it up? Or do they not really have a choice in the matter? Also, does he stand any chance at all?

Helwani: Initially, it bugged me how Mayweather seemed to go out of his way to play up McGregor’s chances. It felt very disingenuous. However, he seemed to drop that once the tour started and left it up to Leonard Ellerbe to play that role. Personally, I think fans see through that. I’d rather Mayweather and his team tell us McGregor has no chance and they will prove once and for all that boxing is the superior combat sport. Stop trying to tell us about Mayweather’s age, brittle hands, tough training camp … with a smile. It doesn’t work. But I’m not surprised they went that route off the bat. I just think they should drop it at this point.

As for McGregor’s chances, here’s my theory: Everything McGregor has done since his UFC debut four years defies logic. The fact that he was able to make this fight happen defies logic. So why can’t this crazy story end in the craziest way possible? What more does this man have to do for us to believe he can do the impossible? Luckily, I’m not in charge of coming up with the game plan to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr., but I sure as heck am not counting him out.

Iole: I’m not surprised at all they’re selling the angle that Conor can win. If they don’t do that, this inches dangerously close to professional wrestling. They also realize there is a large segment of MMA fans who have never followed boxing and aren’t aware of the significant challenge that anyone who has never boxed faces when going against a world-class boxer. There is also an equally large segment of boxing fans who know nothing about MMA, who don’t like Mayweather and would love to see him get knocked out. The pitch to those folks becomes, ‘You don’t like Floyd? You hate the way he fights? Well, here is a guy who has great power, who comes to fight and who is much bigger.’ That will get them engaged.

As for whether Conor has a chance, I think very little and I don’t say that disrespectfully. I do think Conor’s movement will take Floyd longer than normal to figure out. He won’t move like a normal boxer, and there is little Floyd can do to prepare for that. Floyd is a genius in the ring and is brilliant at reading fighters and understanding what they’re going to do before they even know it. With Conor, I think it will take him a bit longer to figure him out. That said, Conor’s challenge is enormous. Everything is different for him, and everything is set to favor Mayweather. I believe Mayweather wins by a large margin. It is not impossible that Conor can land a punch that hurts Floyd and stops him, but the odds are hugely against it.

Gross: Some case has to be made that this is legitimate if you're asking and expecting fans to pay $100 to watch on pay-per-view. It's the fight promotion business, and many events have embellished the chances of one side of the fight in order to sell it. McGregor is a great fighter, which can't be ignored. This is boxing and McGregor is facing a master defensive technician and tactician. It would be shocking to watch McGregor beat Mayweather, but if anyone can beat Floyd it might just be a wildcard like Conor. That "what if" is all the case that needs to be made to get people to watch. I give McGregor a 2 percent chance of doing the miraculous.

Bishop: I wasn't surprised that that's the tact they took, although it was unusual to see Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Leonard Ellerbe in the odd position of telling everyone, repeatedly, over and over, how good their opponent is. I've seen Floyd compliment guys before. He does before most fights, in fact. But I've never seen him sell an opponent quite this hard.

This most stood out when Ellerbe met with writers before the New York presser. I've never in the 10 years I've covered Floyd seen Ellerbe talk that long. It felt some like a filibuster but mostly it came off like a last stand. What I saw was Ellerbe defending this fight and their right to choose it and Ellerbe defending Floyd's legacy and how this fits in. He wasn't angry. He didn't even raise his voice. But he spoke for 40 minutes and those were the kinds of things he talked about. He kept saying, "How many of y'all picked Jeff Horn?" (Which is a bad analogy, by the way, because Horn won that fight by the judges' scorecards only.)

As for McGregor's actual chance, I keep coming back to this: Floyd has beaten bigger fighters, older fighters, younger fighters. He's topped 17 world champions. He made Canelo Alvarez look slow. He made Shane Mosley look old. He's beaten, by my count, at least five future Hall of Famers. I don't see how with his defensive acumen and experience he'll allow McGregor to get in close enough to damage him. This is what we always see with Floyd, by the way. We convince ourselves for months that someone has the chance to beat him, and then when he wins a unanimous decision with a defensive style, the same people who "thought" he'd lose then cry about how his fights aren't exciting, or how he picked opponents. Well, this is different. But I see the outcome the same way. I've seen this movie too many times to think otherwise.

That said, when I was on McGregor's plane from Ontario to New Jersey, he left absolutely no doubt that he believes he can win. That's a good place to start from. As he is 28, bigger, longer, stronger ... ah, shoot, I'm doing it to myself again!

MMAF: Was the World Tour effective? Do you think it did what it was supposed to do, which is convince more people to plunk down $100 to watch on pay-per-view?

Willis: I question that. There is a large segment of fans that were going to buy the fight no matter what. Probably 2-3 million. The general sports fan may have been turned off by all the profanity and homophobic slurs uttered especially during the last three stops, though there's no real way of knowing this.

Helwani: I believe it was very effective. First of all, booking it during the slowest sports week of the year was brilliant. I didn’t think it would break the Mayweather-Pacquiao PPV record before it started, but I now think it will. The crowds who attended the press tours and watched at home shocked me. In fact, during the tour, my mom and brother made a bet on the fight. This fight transcends all fan bases. It is the classic barber shop fight. People are talking about in barber shops (and other places) all over the world right now. It’s just fun to discuss, debate and dissect. It will do monumental business next month and the tour only helped.

Gross: Yes it was certainly effective in generating press and percolating public attention. For good or for ill, the tour prompted media coverage that wouldn't normally come to boxing.

Bishop: I do think it was effective -- and more than I expected it to be. I remember turning to Dan Wetzel, the great Yahoo! Sports columnist, in Toronto and saying something to the effect of, "I know I'm supposed to hate this but I just don't." I found it wildly entertaining, particularly that night, which was the most interesting in my opinion of the four. I didn't really have any expectations going into the events. I figured that given the interest level and the personalities involved it would be worth at minimum seeing what the scene was like. It was way crazier than I expected. I shadowed Mayweather one day and McGregor another. There are so many personalities involved, so many outfits -- the mink coat, good Lord -- the stand-up routines, the way McGregor turned Showtime czar Stephen Espinoza into a secondary foil. Did I see any of this as a way to legitimize the fight? No. But I do think I can like it for what it is: an interesting spectacle and a fight worth checking out in August, regardless of expectation. As far as events go, you could do worse. Same for how you might spend $100. I spent more than that on paint for my fence yesterday.

MMAF: Did Mayweather and McGregor cross the line with their words? Or was this run-of-the-mill combat sports hype? Where exactly is the line when it comes to this kind of stuff?

Gross: In the regular world, yes, lines were crossed. But the expectation for anything above base discourse in combat sports doesn't exist so it won't matter. Concerns about Mayweather or McGregor playing down in the muck are overstated. McGregor treaded very dangerous water when he approached race. McGregor's comments were dumb and unfunny, and thus different from the way we've come to think of him. Mayweather's use of “f*ggot" was a low moment. Chalking it up to his ignorance and crassness doesn't excuse anything, it only puts his language in context considering everything else we know about him.

Bishop: I do think they crossed the line. And I think the tour sort of devolved as it went along. It felt more offensive in New York and even more offensive in London. I don't personally think you can excuse comments that are racist in nature or sexist in nature as just part of the show. I think that's not fair to all the boxers and MMA fighters who promote events without resorting to that kind of stuff, to paint them with that kind of brush. There are ways to convey those points without saying things like "dance for me, boy." What's difficult is what you allude to in the question. Where is the line? Who draws it? When someone like Espinoza is saying that it's gotta be hard for kids to watch some of this stuff, that's a fairly clear indicator in my mind that the tour eventually went off the rails. All of that only helps sell more buys, of course, which is why I think that ultimately they're happy with it, regardless of where things went sideways. And in my opinion, they did.

Helwani: I generally believe that all’s fair in love and fight promotion, but there’s always a line. Here’s the issue: the organizers asked a lot of them. To ask them to perform in front of thousands in attendance and millions at home for four straight days is a huge demand. And it wasn’t like they could recycle material. No, I guarantee the majority of people who attended Toronto watched LA, and those who attended Brooklyn watched Toronto. So come Brooklyn I believe they felt pressure to one up Toronto and themselves. That’s when things got a bit uncomfortable. And that’s not me condoning or excusing anything that was said. We all know both went too far at times, and that’s unfortunate. I wish they would keep race and sexuality out of this, because they don’t need to go there. I do think there’s a racial element to the intrigue in this fight, but it was not addressed in the right way last week. But again, tensions were very high and they were asked to come up with entertaining material on the fly. That’s not a good combo. In hindsight, I wish they altered the format after Toronto. Live and learn. I don’t think anything that was said will affect the buyrate in a negative way, though.

Willis: I think they crossed the line in New York and London. Look, you hear profanity in combat sports all the time, but the shouting and endless stream of B-words and F-bombs that escalated into homophobic slurs in New York and London was crossing the line. Talking about daughters and black women, is that really where MMA or boxing wants to go? It's kind of like pornography. You know it when you see it and we saw way too much of it during the last two stops of the Tour.

Iole: They did cross the line with their words and their is no excusing it or covering it up. There is no excuse to call someone a f*ggot. It’s despicable. It’s horrific to refer to an African-American as a monkey and a boy. The problem is the way the tour was set up. They’re on stage like performers in front of 11,000 or more people in each city and they felt like they had to put on a show. They didn’t know where to stop and they were offensive and outrageous to many people. It’s not OK to dismiss it as, “Oh, they’re fighters. What did you think they were going to do?” This is a professional sporting event that people bring their children to and it’s not a spot where racist, misogynist and homophobic statements should be thrown around as jokes.

MMAF: How do you think McGregor came across on this stage? Mayweather has been there, done that on many of these tours over the years. This was McGregor’s first one that got incredible mainstream attention. Did he come off well or lower his stock?

Iole: I think he’s written his name permanently into the mainstream consciousness. I thought he was terrific the first two days in the way he came across, even though some things came across a bit mean-spirited on Day 2. But I thought all in all, he was received well those first two days. The last two days, I think he hurt his image without question, particularly among people who haven’t been around him for as long as we have. But I think he did far better than Pacquiao in getting this fight off to a rousing start and he’s going to make it a massive show via his wit, force of personality and indomitable spirit.

Willis: I'm sure some people loved it. I thought he came across as scripted and with not much in his game other than acting crass. It gets old eventually.

Helwani: For better or worse, I think his stock is higher than ever. He had his viral moments, didn’t seem fazed and genuinely seemed happy to be a part of this experience. The buildup is his time to shine, and for the most part, I think he took advantage of the spotlight well.

However, the real story of the tour was Mayweather. He still got it. I thought McGregor was going to annihilate him in the trash-talking department, and while McGregor had his moments, no doubt, Mayweather was on point. For the most part, he seemed unflappable. McGregor tried to crack him, and I don’t think he did yet. That was very surprising. I loved that he turned back the clock 10 years to the Mayweather who fought De La Hoya and Hatton. We had not seen that guy for a while, and I didn’t think we ever would again. He returned last week, and that was a pleasant surprise.

Gross: From his best to his worst, McGregor showed several sides. He learned as he went on but by the end it came off like he thought he knew everything. Really the whole tour turned into pro wrestling. So as far as his stock goes, it gets a bump simply because more people know of him now. If he shows up Aug. 26 and puts on any kind of fight, the whole thing will have been a big boost to McGregor's fame. If he gets chopped up into little pieces and made to look bad by Mayweather, then there's risk he'll take a pretty serious ding.

Bishop: This was the biggest revelation I took out of the tour. McGregor as a showman was impressive. I didn't love everything he said and not all of his "jokes" landed. But friends I know who had covered him said you really don't know what it's like to be around him unless you are. I felt that in a visceral way. It was like someone said to me beforehand: an experience. Riding on his plane confirmed that. Dude has star-power unlike most athletes I've been around, and that charisma was obvious and prevalent throughout. Regardless of what happens here, I'll be watching him for a long time.

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