Just the mere mention of a possible Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor bout is enough to send boxing “purists” into a downward emotional spiral. And with Floyd Mayweather’s recent announcement that he was coming out of retirement precisely for a big-money McGregor clash, the sound of mass hand-wringing and clucking of tongues is almost deafening.
“Oh sweet spirit of Jack Johnson, what about the sanctity of the sport?”
The sanctimonious posturing makes you wonder whether there’s another boxing somewhere else—a boxing where the biggest concern is stopping an exhibition bout between a retired fighter and a UFC champion.
In the boxing I know, stopping Mayweather-McGregor is way down on the “to do” list. The outrage over a silly exhibition makes me seriously wonder why some of these noble fans and media people can’t muster the same level of emotion over the real and pressing issues facing boxing, issues that really do harm the sport or are, literally, matters of life and death.
At the risk of further alienating the super serious “real” boxing fans, I’ll repeat what I’ve told dozens of armchair moralists— I think Mayweather-McGregor is good for boxing.
If there’s a better way to bring in new eyeballs and attention from younger fans or curious non-fans, boxing’s powerbrokers have yet to discover it (and won’t likely try too hard to discover it, either). Boxing desperately needs an influx of new fans who can add some energy to the scene. The sport’s dwindling fan base is all about a failure to reach new fans with appealing events. And while older and older “die-hards” die off, boxing behind a premium cable paywall has ensured that few new fans are being created.
“Super” fights between boxing’s best won’t grow the sport anymore—the sport is too deeply buried for that simple solution. A rotten business model has all but guaranteed that even the sport’s biggest names don’t do much to reach anyone beyond the usual fans who tune in for every fight, anyway. Like it or not, the only way to bring new fans to the table is by going out of the way to create crossover spectacles. Boxing being back on newspaper front pages and on the ESPN home page is always going to be a good thing. Good, sound matchmaking is one of the long term solution to boxing’s problems, but without some real buzz in the short term, there will be less and less to work with in the long term.
There’s also plenty of financial upside to Mayweather-McGregor. The old saying about a rising tide lifting all boats applies to this event. While the fighters will be the ones to benefit most from the fight (as it should be), those on the periphery—from casino staff right down to website owners seeing a bump in traffic and ad revenue– will also benefit. The money from the fight, itself, won’t work wonders in the sport, but it will prove that boxing can still generate real money and that, right there, is half the battle in bringing investment dollars into the sport.
If the fight does happen– and that’s still a pretty big “if”– it would be naïve to think that Mayweather and McGregor are looking to benefit anyone other than Mayweather and McGregor. And, no, it won’t be a competitive affair– Even a flat, disinterested Mayweather easily boxes circles around a novice-level boxer like McGregor. But Mayweather vs. McGregor won’t hurt boxing any more than Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki hurt boxing in 1976 and certainly not as much as boxing’s own promoters hurt it on a consistent basis.
As for the “purist” fans and media…well, I’d suggest that their cause of preserving the dignity of the sport would carry more weight if they weren’t so quiet about boxing’s real problems. Their lack of fire in pursuing more important issues betrays the real reason behind their self-righteous rage over boxing becoming a “circus.” It’s not about the sanctity of the game as much as it’s about keeping boxing “pure” and palatable for their own tastes, even if that comes at the expense of the business and its players.
The time has come to ditch this idea that boxing is some private cool kids club that rejects new ideas and “casuals.” If boxing doesn’t begin to embrace expansion while it can, it’ll soon find itself too battered to ever make a comeback.