I’m certainly not the first person to tell you I won’t be watching Floyd Mayweather box Conor McGregor tonight.
It’s one thing to watch Randy Couture pummel James Toney in the co-main event of a strong UFC card. It’s another to shell out $99.99 to watch a UFC fighter who’s third, at best, in the current pound-for-pound rankings of a down period for MMA taking on a boxer who, for all his personal flaws, knows his craft about as well as anyone ever has. McGregor isn’t even the UFC fighter who would bring the most entertainment value to a freak-show MMA-vs.-boxing bout — that would be Nate Diaz, who cheerfully absorbed a McGregor beating for five minutes and then turned the tables for a submission win.
And it’s not as if these are people worth rooting for. Nancy Armour has summed up the casual racism, homophobia and other bigotry that peppered the promotion of this event. McGregor can be gracious and entertaining at times, and the Irish part of me would love to get behind Dublin’s biggest export since U2. But he considers himself bigger than his sport, demanding things no other fighter has demanded, showing up for scheduled appearances with all the reliability of Axl Rose in his heyday, and never finding the time to defend a championship belt.
The classic example: On The Ultimate Fighter, he trash-talks Urijah Faber about making exponentially more money than Faber ever did. But that’s a question of timing, not talent. McGregor should be thanking Faber for fighting when fighting was not big business. Faber was one of the fighters who made us take the lighter weight classes seriously, building the base upon which McGregor would like to place the idol of himself. Without Urijah Faber, Conor McGregor is still beating people up in Cage Warriors, probably making about as much money as Faber did when he was making WEC shows on Versus must-see TV for hard-core MMA fans.
But money makes an effective blinder. And this fight is all about money.
Worse, it’s about people who’ve made a ton of money but spent more. Mayweather does everything with his money short of burn it. McGregor’s heading down the same path: “I got Versace plates and forks,” he told ESPN. “I don’t even need ’em.”
And then there’s the pinnacle of overspending: WME-IMG, which spent $4 billion on the plateauing UFC and now seems desperate to recoup some of that money.
Here’s how Victor Rodriguez put it in an entertaining Bloody Elbow predictions column:
See, this fight had to happen. WME|IMG is trying to outwork the bank on that loan they took out to buy the UFC. PPV buyrates are down, ratings are in a slump, Rousey’s gone, and even after the performance of a lifetime Jon Jones can’t stop stumbling over his own feet. Oh, but GSP’s coming back, don’cha know? Yeah, he’s fighting for a title in a division he’s never competed in after 4½ (years) out of action. Even then, we don’t know what kind of box office allure he’ll have! Add to that the woes of negotiating a new TV deal and you can see why they’re so urgently willing to make reckless moves for quick cash.
Meanwhile, most of the media simply can’t avoid this fight. We’re desperate, too. Our business models, from ad-supported online ventures to subscription fee-supported networks threatened by cord-cutting, are all shaky. It’s been disappointing to see journalists who certainly know better buying into and building the hype for this event, but what else can they do?
And I don’t mind supporting the journalists doing credible commentary, putting all of this into proper perspective. If the wealth of this fight trickles down to them, that’s fine.
As for the fight itself …