LAS VEGAS – There have been numerous fight cards in the last 120 years or so that have had a significant societal impact or changed the sport.
The Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match, which took place nearly a year ago on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena, never was going to be that.
It was a collision of the two biggest stars in combat sports designed to see how much money they could generate with a frequently raunchy, occasionally racist, and always trash-talk-filled build-up.
It did nothing to boost the profile of either mixed martial arts or boxing. It didn’t have an impact upon society and it wasn’t a classic battle that will be remembered fondly by history.
Instead, it was a nod to our social-media-driven world. The seeds of the bout were germinated on Twitter, after McGregor said at a news conference he was willing to take on any challenge, including Mayweather.
Before long, both fighters saw the possibilities and leaped head-first into the fray. Mayweather wound up making over $200 million, while McGregor raked in $85 million. The bout sold 4.4 million on pay-per-view, which was second all-time, and had a live gate of $55.4 million, also second all time.
It is most notable for the outlandish media tour, which went from Los Angeles to Toronto to New York to London and attracted hordes of fans and media and saw the fighters stoop to the gutter to promote the event.
It was, as predicted, a one-sided bout as Mayweather stopped McGregor in the 10th round. Always cautious, Mayweather carried McGregor in the first several rounds to get a feel for his speed and quickness, his power and his movements. Once Mayweather was comfortable that he understood what he was up against, he opened up and dominated and won with little threat from his outmatched opponent.
These kinds of mega-fights have often in the past had enormous impacts socially, politically and/or within the sport itself.
Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round in 1938 as Adolf Hitler was proclaiming Aryan superiority and the world was on the brink of war. That bout had great cultural significance that extended far beyond the events in the ring.
So, too, Jack Johnson’s successful defense of his heavyweight title over James J. Jeffries in 1910 that began to change the way blacks were treated in boxing. Johnson had become the first black heavyweight champion in 1908, but it wasn’t until he faced the legendary Jeffries in 1910 that his greatness was widely appreciated.
In more modern times, Ronda Rousey’s first-round submission of Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 signaled a cultural shift in MMA. It was the first time women fought on and headlined a UFC card and it opened the door to a women’s division that has had an enormous impact upon the sport as well as the UFC.
The Mayweather-McGregor bout was predictable in so many ways. McGregor had used the force of his personality to rocket to super stardom. He was willing to fight anyone, at any time, anywhere and usually called his shot before he did it.
When he mused about fighting Mayweather after his win over Jose Aldo at UFC 194, it got the ball rolling and the fight eventually was made.
Mayweather was happily retired at the time, but recognized that a bout with McGregor would be an easy one for him in the ring that would not threaten his perfect record, and would promise yet another nine-figure payday. He earned his first nine-figure check for beating Manny Pacquiao in 2015. He left the ring and walked toward a Yahoo Sports reporter at ringside that night and opened an envelope to reveal a $100 million check that served as his guarantee.
Given his pay-per-view proceeds from the Pacquiao fight, Mayweather earned nearly $280 million from that bout alone. With his gross of over $200 million for beating up McGregor, Mayweather earned more than a half-billion dollars in those two fights, more than any boxer had ever earned in a career.
McGregor’s $85 million purse and $14 million outside-the-ring earnings placed him No. 4 on Forbes’ 2018 list of the highest paid athletes.
And that was all the event was about: money.
It didn’t harm anything, and it led the UFC to its most successful financial year ever. One wonders how many fans the show may have turned away from either boxing or MMA, or both, though there is no serious evidence suggesting that has occurred.
It was a forgettable night at a glittering new arena in the desert, memorable only for the staggering sums the stars earned.
It already has been largely forgotten as its first anniversary approaches. There was a lousy undercard, scores of empty seats and a predictably one-sided bout.
It wasn’t the finest hour for anyone involved, and will be best remembered by historians as the answer to a trivia question and nothing more.
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