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When ‘push’ comes to shove, the dramatic shifts in the McGregor-Mayweather saga have been fascinating

Conor McGregor Esther Lin, Showtime

Perhaps the weirdest part so far in Conor McGregor’s venture to The Other Side has been the Paulie Malignaggi interlude, in which he and the former boxing champ sparred — on two separate occasions — and came away with vastly different ideas as to what happened. On Friday, that slice of interior drama within the Floyd Mayweather lead-up (literally) took a sharp left. Paulie had contended he was “pushed” down during the second sparring session, which justified a leaked photo of him on the canvas while providing him occasion to blow up McGregor’s camp for exploitation.

Meanwhile McGregor — finally given a chance to respond to Malignaggi after his open workout in Vegas — said this was a classic case of somebody’s “ego [getting] dented.” Right on cue, that response was given timely back-up by Dana White, who — in a move rarely seen through boxing’s long history of sealed-off camps — posted the sequence in question on his Instagram for everyone to decide for themselves. Turns out it wasn’t so much a “push” as it was a left hand to an already knocked off-balance sparring partner. Just like that Paulie became the hyperbolist, while McGregor — that fish out of water in the minds of every boxing curmudgeon in the Western Hemisphere — found himself receiving a fresh coat of publicity.

…McGregor can hang with actual boxers. In fact, he may have concussed Malignaggi despite all that protective headgear. This is why his left is an extension of something more than his shoulder blade — it’s a divining rod charged with will!...

Say what you want, but in a fight centered on bemusement and dollars this has been richly entertaining. There are many great sub-twists to a fight that is already a grand scale twist in the boxing-MMA continuum. With each thing that happens there is a surge of belief one way or the other, along with a backlash of doubt. As McGregor worked the heavy bag for the throngs, people read into his glisten — he’s out of shape. He’s glacially slow, compared to his willowy counterpart. Heavy bags, it can be reasonably said, don’t hit back. Was Conor showing fatigue through the demonstration? Floyd, who did the same tricks on Thursday, flowed like an automated cash dispenser.

Bro, your boy about to get worked.

All of it’s been true, of course, except for the bits that aren’t. When this fight was booked a couple of months back, you knew the build up would be big enough to contain our entire universe of speculation, inferences and whatever fun expletives there were to be found. It would also insult boxing purists and give rise to an inferior race (MMA fans). What could booking 0-0 McGregor against 49-0 Mayweather mean other than an examination of the sacred institution? Circus’s used to feature bearded women. Today’s boxing allows for an Irish Duchamp to scribble a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

We are exactly two weeks away from a fight that was booked against convention and at the speed of today’s attention span. The principals, both extremely confident in their ability to shape reality, feel that what they have to offer the world can be communicated by what they have to offer each other. That is, comeuppance. Hollywood has long known the significance of that set-up. This fight, given its novelty and hidden stakes, will make you feel some way, so long as you’re open to it. Out of an open mind springs the imagination, and this fight needs the one to get to the other.

It’s either a farce or the fight of the century, and it takes a stubborn person not to find a comfortable spot within that range from which to enjoy it.

As all the players well know, the truth is a fight like Mayweather-McGregor is all about the daydream. Anything is possible when the fight itself can be presented as proof. And there’s a fine line between delusion and faith. For the next two weeks, McGregor’s faithful have the benefit of being/having both. Just as Mayweather’s fans can default into more practical thinking, and — to use Jeff Mayweather’s favorite word — bask in everything that is “asinine” about it. Reading into a big fight is like reading into any classic work of literature. It can be profoundly beautiful to some, and nothing more than fiction to others.

So it turns out it wasn’t a push that sent Malignaggi down during that infamous sparring session with McGregor. It was more than a push. It was a blow, which felt to one side like sabotage, and to the other like justification for the Big Undertaking on Aug. 26. This fight is all about those details, and what you want to do with them. One of the fight world’s favorite pastimes is being duped. Mayweather has shown this time and again.

Yet it absolutely thrives to be wrong.

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