There has been a lot of talk lately about Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fighting Conor McGregor. The reasons why are obvious: It would be the Freddy vs. Jason of combat sports, the bad boy box office king of one premier combat sport against the bad boy box office king of the other. Unfortunately, the much-ballyhooed fight is probably even more fantastical than the plot of the movie. There’s virtually no chance of bridging the countless logistical obstacles to making the fight, especially at a time when the UFC may be up for sale and thus less likely than ever to accept any sort of negotiating concession that could diminish its position relative to boxing. This isn’t bad news. It’s terrific news, because Mayweather vs. McGregor would be an epically bad fight, an unvarnished money grab that would leave viewers of both sports asleep in their arm chairs.
Let’s start with the first obstacle to the fight: Floyd Mayweather is “retired.” As far as obstacles go, this is like a trying to stop a Sherman tank with a speed bump. A few years ago, when Evander Holyfield finally retired from boxing, I wrote a piece about the many abortive retirements that had preceded the real one. When Holyfield first retired from boxing, Ace of Bass was on top of the charts, The Lion King was in theatres, and Derek Jeter was a minor leaguer. By the time Holyfield actually retired, Jeter was in his farewell season. Think about that: Derek Jeter’s entire career took place between Holyfield’s retirements. Well, Holyfield has little on Floyd Mayweather.
Mayweather retired after he defeated Carlos Baldomir in 2006; he retired his first victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 2007; he retired after his victory over Ricky Hatton and before his supposed rematch with De La Hoya in 2008; and, of course, he retired at some point before or after he easily outpointed Andre Berto last year, a fight so one-sided and meaningless it hardly qualified as activity. Each time, he’s been lured out of retirement by a need for more money, most notably when he returned after his “permanent retirement” in 2008 when IRS levies put the flamboyant fighter up to $8,000,000 in debt. Is it possible that Floyd has already squandered his record-setting fortune? Well, it’s unlikely, but if anyone could do it, Floyd is the guy. You don’t need me to tell you about his extravagant spending, entourage of hangers on and girlfriends (one of whom he promised a $56 million private jet) or inveterate gambling habits. Gambling is a particularly significant threat for a Vegas resident like Floyd, who habitually posted photos of his multi-million dollar bets online even before he had his record-setting megafight against Manny Pacquiao. If he was betting millions on a basketball game before that payday, imagine what it would take for him to get a thrill after.
Speaking of paydays, sort of like Donald Trump or Ted DiBiase, none of us really know how much Floyd actually made. Sure, it was a lot, almost certainly the most any boxer has ever cleared (although Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional business might make him the richest man in the sport when all is added up), but the numbers you’ve seen in the press were always exaggerated to play into the “Money” Mayweather mystique. Even the guy signing the checks, Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza, admitted that popular press reports of $30 million guarantees for Floyd’s lesser fights against mediocre opposition like Robert Guerrero, Marcos Maidana, and Andre Berto were significantly distorted. When it’s all said and done, Floyd almost certainly topped the $300-$500 million that guys like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield took home during their careers, but remember: both of those guys wound up broke, and it didn’t take either of them particularly long to fall from grace. If Floyd is short on cash, again, it wouldn’t be without precedent.
But let’s get past that. Even if Floyd is fighting because he wants to and not because he’s desperate for cash, is there any reason to think he’s still at the top of his game? Not really. As I noted in the run up to the Pacquiao fight, both Mayweather and Pacquiao had been in marked decline for years. That’s part of the reason I predicted it would end in a dull snoozefest with a flat and shot Pacquiao unable to score against a largely-inactive-but-still-evasive Mayweather. Well, swish.
Since I wrote that, Floyd and Manny impressed exactly zero fans, and Mayweather fought once more against Andre Berto, a guy who’d already been beaten convincingly by two guys Mayweather had blown out, in a 30:1 mismatch. Sure, Floyd had no issue with Berto, but that proves nothing other than the weakness of his competition. Carl Lewis has probably lost a few steps since his Olympic days but you wouldn’t know it if you saw him race the guys from your pickup basketball league. Floyd is still a master tactician with historically unique reflexes, but he’s nearly 40, hasn’t been mobile on his feet for five years, and is unlikely to have improved during his “retirement.”
So, then, I’d obviously pick McGregor, right? LOL, no, don’t be an idiot. McGregor would be a dead man walking trying to compete with a Hall of Fame fighter in his first professional boxing match. Remember when Michael Jordan tried to play minor league baseball? Well, that was the greatest athlete of his time trying to compete with minor league players, and he hit .200 over a full season. This would be like asking McGregor to step in against Pedro Martinez circa 2004 and go yard on his first swing. Forget boxing; there’s still a pretty good debate about how great an MMA fighter McGregor is. There were knowledgeable MMA observers who expected Nate Diaz to expose him, and fighting Nate Diaz is very different from stepping into a sort-of-similar-but-actually-completely-different sport and performing at the highest level on your first go.
And this brings us to the most important point: there is no way to “split the baby” between boxing and MMA. One friend of mine, a retired professional UFC fighter, suggested that they could alternate rounds between boxing and MMA rules. Besides the obvious logistical hurdles (are they going to switch gloves, footwear and even rings between rounds?), such an arrangement would never be acceptable to Mayweather. Fighting even a minute of MMA rules would put him at a huge disadvantage, since his entire strategy is based on a type of elusiveness that wouldn’t play in a sport where foes can kick and grapple with their opponents. The only way this fight could happen is under the rules of one sport or the other, and since Mayweather is a much bigger star and more established box office draw than McGregor, it is Mayweather who is going to dictate the terms, just as he insisted on doing with Manny Pacquiao. That’s simply reality.
So what would happen if we ever got this godforsaken fight, this Goliath vs. Goliath mishegoss of a matchup? Well, in the best case scenario for McGregor it would look a lot like Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, but vastly, vastly less competitive. Even with a full boxing training camp in him, and even if his power is legit, McGregor would have no chance of catching a defensive wunderkind like Mayweather. He’d come out, throw a flurry of punches that would elicit loud screams from the crowd, and then probably tire out pretty quickly when he realized that even this aged version of Mayweather is infinitely more mobile and elusive than any opponent he’s ever seen in a cage. By the fourth or fifth round, with McGregor approaching the point at which most MMA fights conclude and Mayweather just beginning to warm up, Conor’s attack would become increasingly erratic and ineffective, and the risk-averse Mayweather—now feeling increasingly secure—would begin to delicately but precisely pot-shot his foe each time he rushed in before resettling himself at a safe distance. The end result? A wide decision victory for Mayweather, with Conor trying to salvage some dignity by claiming that Mayweather was afraid to engage with him, as if he’d never seen a Mayweather fight before.
To be clear, this isn’t just a boxing fan’s patronizing opinion of the quality of UFC fighting. I would give Floyd no more chance of upsetting Conor in the cage than I would of Conor beating Floyd in the ring, or than I would give either man of hitting a dinger off of Max Scherzer or beating Steph Curry at one on one. Even if we just focus on punching, almost everything about punching in the UFC is different than it is in professional boxing: different gloves, no shoes, different rules about what is permissible contact, and so on.
Let’s call this what it is: a publicity stunt, and an unusually ham-fisted one at that. If anything, Mayweather is using it to keep his name fresh in fan’s minds while he waits for a worthwhile opponent to emerge for his comeback fight in boxing. After all, right now, no one is clamoring to see a rematch of the snoozefest with Pacquiao, and there’s no one else with name recognition on a level that makes financial sense for Mayweather. For McGregor, it’s no coincidence that this talk comes about just after he found himself booted off the UFC 200 card after a power struggle with UFC boss Dana White. What better way to try to show up White, and prove that he is bigger than the rest of the organization, than to have people speculating about a megafight with the biggest name in combat sports the imaginary revenue from which would dwarf any UFC pay-per-view? But just because both men have a reason to encourage talk of the fight doesn’t mean either man is serious about it happening: the only way it happens is if one side caves completely, which means accepting a very short end of the financial stick as well as highly disadvantageous rules of engagement, and both men have way too much leverage to give in completely, especially since a loss would be devastating to either man’s future marketability.
So, don’t—please don’t—ask your cable provider to charge you $100 to see a questionable performer, competing outside of his element, ineffectively charging at a faded, defense-first actuary who repeatedly had fans walk out of his fights in boredom during his finest days. There are a million better things you could use that $100 for, like the Jon “Bones” Jones vs. Andre Ward fight we’ve all been demanding.