Are hardcore fight fans excited for Mayweather vs. McGregor?

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS – The message from hardcore fight fans about the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match is unmistakable and hard-to-miss: Yuk.

On Internet forums, message boards and social media, the most intense fans of boxing and mixed martial arts are sharing their displeasure regarding the bout between the legendary Mayweather, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist who is 49-0 as a pro and has won championships in five weight classes, and McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion whose skills with a microphone made this unusual match a reality.

Yet, the fighters will earn nine-figure paydays each and the bout is expected to be one of the three largest-grossing single-day sports events in history. Pay-per-view sales are on track to exceed five million, which would be a record, and the gross revenue looks like it has an outside chance to surpass $700 million.

UFC president Dana White scoffed at the notion that there was a lack of interest from hardcore fans. He has seen their comments on social media, but he knows what drives a fight fan as well as anyone.

UFC president Dana White scoffed at the notion that there was a lack of interest from hardcore fans. (Reuters)

“You’ll always have naysayers, because people live to dump on things, but every one of those people who are dumping on it now are going to watch the fight,” White said. “Trust me on that. If I listened to people who comment on the Internet, the UFC would never have worked. I’ve started to realize, those people don’t matter at all. They don’t impact our business one bit.

“Boxing guys who live in that boxing world, they don’t get it. People want to see this type of stuff. Look, this is a fight that was built by the fans and the media. This is exactly the kind of thing that people are interested in.”

Mark Taffet, who headed the pay-per-view division at HBO and is now the co-manager of women’s super middleweight world champion Claressa Shields, said there is an easy explanation for the apparent disconnect between fans who are blasting the fight and the reports of its financial success.

It’s a different audience than normal, he said.

“What we would define as a megafight is usually a million to a million-and-a-half buys,” Taffet said. “It reaches megafight status through the historical boxing fan base. When you do two million-plus buys, as did [Oscar] De La Hoya-Mayweather, Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao and now, very likely Mayweather-McGregor, you’re reaching fans who are not buying the event because of the sport. They’re buying it because of the spectacle.

“Both Mayweather-De La Hoya and Mayweather-Pacquiao transcended boxing, but they didn’t transcend the culture to the level of Mayweather-McGregor. This is an entertainment spectacle. People will be interested in it who have never watched boxing before or have never watched MMA. It’s just one of those events that people won’t be able to miss for its entertainment value. To some extent, it reminds me of the old Evel Knievel jumps. It was a lot more than motorcycle fans who watched Evel Knievel and it will be a lot more than boxing and MMA fans who watch Mayweather-McGregor for the same reasons.”

So while the boxing and MMA fans grumble about what they refer to as “the circus,” others make preparations for parties across the country to watch the bout.

White, though, was angered by the insinuation that fight fans aren’t into the fight. He insisted it is just the opposite.

Dana White doesn’t want you to compare Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor to Evel Knievel. (AP)

“The Evel Knievel [comparison] is the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life,” White said. “This is a fight — a real fight — and people know Conor McGregor is coming to knock out Floyd Mayweather and they want to see if he can do it. This is in no way a spectacle. People will tune in to see the two best in their sports and two of the biggest superstars in all of sports fight each other. Can Conor McGregor beat Floyd Mayweather with a limited rule set? That’s what this is about. People want to see the fight because they want to see if this guy can walk into boxing and knock out one of the greatest to ever do it. That’s why this is such a massive event.”

One expert says that from a sociologic standpoint, though, it may not be as significant an event as the sheer number of eyeballs on it may suggest it should be.

Dr. Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, told Yahoo Sports he sees this fight as reflective of boxing’s decline. It’s the sizzle without the steak, he said.

“Boxing is not nearly as popular as it used to be, when it was one of the most popular sports in the country,” Boyd said. “It’s not that. So for younger generations of people, I don’t think the natural desire is there or the appreciation of the sport is there the same way it used to be. Instead what we get is in this age of the Internet and social media, a fight based purely on hype.”

Many boxing matches have had lasting social impact, the most significant of which was American Joe Louis’ victory over German Max Schmeling in a heavyweight title fight as World War II loomed.

“The racial component of it is easy. That’s low-hanging fruit and you don’t have to even work very hard to pitch that angle. In one sense, it’s historical but in other sense, it’s not having much of an impact. The fight looks like it will draw huge numbers, but I don’t think this fight is not going to have much of a cultural impact at all. It will be a big event that evening, but unless something really unusual happens, I don’t suspect that people will be talking about this fight very long after it’s over. With that in mind, you’re selling hype and racial hype is an easy choice in that matter.”