Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s 10th-round boxing victory over UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor on Saturday night in Las Vegas was unlike any night we’ve experienced in the mixed martial arts world, one which could have a profound effect on the sport going forward from many angles. Here’s five:
1. Mayweather taught the MMA world lessons on the art of promotion. The 50-0 Mayweather was the star who eclipsed all others in fight sports in this generation, and over the past couple months, we got a front-row seat for a master class on how to get it done. Mayweather, as the promoter, had a vested interest in selling the notion McGregor would be a competitive opponent. He managed to rope the Nevada Athletic Commission into allowing the bout to be contested with eight-ounce gloves instead of 10, which set off a run of bettors placing money down on a McGregor knockout. Mayweather also conveniently made himself available at his strip club after hours for selected reporters. I did more radio spots for this fight than any I’ve done in my career and every single sports-talk guy across the country I spoke with asked me if this meant Mayweather wasn’t taking the fight seriously (oh, and he brought attention to the club itself, too). This is next-level stuff that goes way beyond the UFC’s usual “press conference/workouts/Embedded/weigh-ins” routine and helped push this to the forefront of the mainstream sports world. Hopefully the UFC, and Bellator for that matter, were taking notes.
2. This might be the night MMA outgrew it’s little-brother complex once and for all ... Some of the best athletes in the country got it: McGregor did something truly extraordinary last night by stepping into the ring and going 10 rounds with one of the greatest boxers of all-time. Check out what LeBron James, Bryce Harper, Michael Phelps, among others, had to say. Ditto for boxing legends like George Foreman and Lennox Lewis. By performing well on so grand a stage, McGregor put another big dent into whatever might still be left from MMA’s “human cockfighting” roots in the mainstream and announced it’s here to stay on the world sports stage.
3. ... even if much of boxing hasn’t lost the big-brother complex From the condescending treatment of McGregor by the Showtime crew (with the notable exception of Mauro Ranallo, who did his usual tremendous job), to the stunningly unprofessional, showboating pre-fight speech by referee Robert Byrd (who scolded McGregor like an incorrigible schoolkid, knowing full well McGregor knew the rules) to the pair of judges who gave Mayweather rounds two and three (despite McGregor dictating the pace and Mayweather barely throwing a punch), to the boxing media types who didn’t let what actually happened in the ring get in the way of their pre-written columns about the fight being a farce (the less said, the better), it’s clear too many people in the Sweet Science still turn their nose up at MMA.
4. Never doubt Conor ... I mean, how many times does McGregor have to claim something everyone initial says is outrageous before we start to believe him? He said he was going to rise through the featherweight division and he did, even as everyone accused him of being a hype job. He said he’d finish Jose Aldo, who hadn’t lost in nearly a decade, and he did it in 13 seconds. He said go up to the lightweight division and take that crown, too, and finished Eddie Alvarez inside two rounds to become the only simultaneous two-weight champion in UFC history. He willed the Mayweather fight into existence. And when just about everyone, myself included, acted as if the fight was going to be something between Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki and Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River, he went out with zero professional boxing experience, landed more punches on Mayweather than most of his opponents, and took him into the 10th round. At this point, if McGregor says he wants to colonize Mars, you should invest in rocket fuel futures.
5. ... but he belongs in mixed martial arts McGregor proved his point. He’s one of our generation’s greatest athletes, period. But even with a strong showing against Mayweather, the UFC lightweight champ belongs in the cage, not the ring. McGregor is in the midst of his prime as a mixed martial artist and each boxing match he takes is time removed from his true calling. And is there really going to be all that much more money in boxing than MMA going forward? Mayweather’s a once-in-a-lifetime payday. It was the collision of the two biggest stars in their respective sports. You can’t replicate that. A washed-up Paulie Malignaggi isn’t going to sell like a Nate Diaz trilogy fight. The McGregor-Diaz bouts were the two biggest fights in UFC history, and that was before this summer’s publicity carried McGregor further into the stratosphere. He can always keep the idea of a second boxing match in his back pocket as an option down the road and a bargaining chip. But McGregor now has the leverage to get whatever he might want out of the UFC (ownership points maybe?) and there’s too much potential money for all involved for the UFC not to keep him happy doing what he does best.
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