Mayweather-McGregor: A corporate bailout, not a fight

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 …


Huge night for McGregor, Lawler and UFC 3.0

The UFC couldn’t have picked a better night to unveil its new look.

Let’s face it — the UFC of a few years ago was big but a little predictable. Georges St. Pierre would take people down at will or methodically jab them to a pulp. Anderson Silva would dance around a little and win with a Matrix-style move if he was interested or win methodically if he was bored. Brock Lesnar would take someone down and pound them with the giant ham hocks he calls fists.

The stars faded, and the UFC seemed to be fading with it. A lot of up-and-coming fighters were boring wrestlers who just leaned against opponents on the cage. The recurring feature on The Ultimate Fighter is now Dana White’s exasperation with fighters who show little fighting spirit but just try not to lose.

Tonight, we got a new perspective on the UFC. Part of it was the UFC’s production — new graphics, the Octagon used as a video screen, live music for the main event. Part of it, sadly, was the personality-killing Reebok gear that makes everyone look like a character in the original Rollerball, in which the corporation tried to make sure no athlete stood out from the gladiatorial spectacle.

Then part of it was a wild main card — a bloody showcase for a sport that has reached new heights of competitiveness.

We got hints early in the main card. Massive underdog Brad Pickett picked apart Thomas Almeida until the young Brazilian landed a knee that sent Pickett tumbling backward to the mat. Jeremy Stephens was also bloodied before landing a flying knee of his own.

The co-main event was an instant classic title fight. It’s hard to imagine that, just a few years ago, Robbie Lawler looked like a plodding journeyman. Now he has had two terrific title bouts with Johny Hendricks, winning the second to take the belt. Tonight, he made an utter mess of Rory MacDonald’s face but absorbed some punishment himself through four rounds. He was trailing on all three judges’ scorecards:

He might not have known he needed a knockout, but that’s what he delivered, landing a left hand that sent MacDonald down slowly, as if his ability to fight back was ebbing from his body.

Each of those fights was a compliment to the competitive spirit of today’s elite UFC fighters. We see so much mixed martial arts on television that we forget what these top-tier fighters are capable of doing.

And that led us to … Sinead O’Connor. Really. She sang for the entrance of the favorite son of Ireland and possibly my distant relative, Conor McGregor. (I’m related to the McGregor clan of Scotland, which finished third in a two-way power struggle in the Scottish highlands. Maybe some of us hopped over the water and found a better life in Ireland?)

So far in his career, McGregor’s mouth has outpaced his fighting accomplishments. He has long talked as if he already had a UFC belt, and he broke all manner of protocol by grabbing the belt at a press conference.

But when he actually earned the belt, coming back from a ground-and-pound onslaught by Chad Mendes to get the knockout late in the second round, we saw a more humble McGregor. He and Mendes showed the sportsmanship we’ve come to expect from most UFC greats. And he seemed to realize he might not have made it through the fight without the support of the massive hordes of Irish fans who wildly cheered for him.

McGregor might not be the best fighter in the featherweight division. He showed some holes in his game against Mendes, a late replacement for injured champion Jose Aldo. With a full training camp, Mendes might beat him. So might Aldo, when the champion faces the interim champion in a bout that should approach Lesnar-type pay-per-view numbers. Frankie Edgar should also be in the conversation.

And on a given night, Lawler might lose. He was down tonight. He barely beat Hendricks.

But these fighters fully deserve their belts. The fact that they’re not as dominant as Silva or St. Pierre in their primes just means we might be getting better and better fights.

New presentation. New clothes (though they need to work on that, along with the contracts behind them). New competition.

The next few years should be as thrilling as any we’ve seen in combat sports.