UFC champion Conor McGregor takes the stage during his promotional tour with unretired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. at their stop in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The novel creation of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor boxing match, colorfully hyped this past week in their worldwide tour, marks the passing of combat sports dominance.
It’s something akin to Mayweather’s own breakthrough 10 years ago, when he once and for all found the voice and persona to match his ability by changing his nickname to “Money,” beating the then-face of the sport, Oscar De La Hoya, and launching a decadelong run as boxing’s most important figure.
The difference this time is that McGregor, who turned 29 Friday, has such a longshot chance to defeat the 40-year-old Mayweather (49-0). The Irishman hardly devoted time to the specifics of his strategy during animated stops that drew crowds of better than 10,000 to Los Angeles, Toronto, New York and London.
With his quick mind, UFC lightweight champion McGregor won the verbal portion of the tour, setting himself up for his own extended reign atop mixed-martial arts, which boasts a younger, ever-increasing audience.
“One of the most compelling fighters and one of the greatest self-promoters I’ve seen since Ali,” veteran New York boxing promoter and former HBO executive Lou DiBella said of McGregor. “Purposeful, crass, politically incorrect, but in a room with the door closed, I bet you like the guy.”
In Los Angeles, McGregor wore a suit adorned with “F… you” in the pinstripes. He called Mayweather “peanut head” in London, criticized him in Toronto like no other past foe for “tip-tap-toeing” and “running” in fights, and torched the five-division champion for his outrageous spending habits that include excessive “juicehead” bodyguards and a new Las Vegas strip club.
The most defining moment arose when Mayweather, who earned more than $220 million for beating Manny Pacquiao in their record-selling 2015 fight, returned to the well of criticizing his opponent’s inferior earning power and dismissed McGregor as a “$3 million fighter.”
To which McGregor answered, “Not no more … .”
Mayweather had no follow-up. How could he? He did the same thing in taking the short end of the deal in exchange for the exposure of the De La Hoya fight, where he shined on the promotional tour like McGregor.
Mayweather will cash the lion’s share of the revenue that is generated from the fight, which takes place Aug. 26 fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Mayweather is positioned to enjoy at least a slightly greater cut than the 60-40 split he had for Pacquiao, according to one official familiar with the deal but unauthorized to speak publicly about it.
He’s understood, for more than 10 years now, that his purse is based not only on his fans, but on those who despise him, who purchase the pay-per-view only to see him lose.
He and UFC president Dana White have both said they believe the McGregor fight will outsell Mayweather-Pacquiao, and that bout’s $72 million live-gate record for Las Vegas will be shattered when tickets go on sale July 24. A ringside seat will cost $10,000 at the 20,000-seat venue.
McGregor is especially aiding the cause, not just by his popularity in the U.S., but with his massive following in Canada, the U.K. and Ireland — all pay-per-view markets.
“All those markets were not much for Mayweather-Pacquiao, because outside the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao’s popularity was limited to boxing and had less geographic reach,” DiBella said. “Even if the U.S. pay-per-view is somehow below Mayweather-Pacquiao, the total revenue could be higher with increased foreign revenue, merchandising and the bigger gate.”
In addition to crafting the best deal for Mayweather, who’s promising to retire for good after this fight, his powerful manager, Al Haymon, astutely sought for White to play a prominent role on the tour, separating the fighters and hyping up an audience made up of mostly UFC fans.
One official familiar with the strategy but unauthorized to speak publicly about it said: “What’s going to make this a money maker is the cross-discipline aspect. UFC fans were dominant,” with White heartily cheered and boxing broadcast executive Stephen Espinoza of Showtime roundly booed.
“Mayweather will make an ungodly fortune and doesn’t mind ceding a little ego for a whole lot of money.
“It looked like a s…-show, with Dana looking like the voice of reason. [McGregor and White are] going to lose the fight, they’re not going to make anywhere near the [same] money, but winning the war … McGregor, there’s a charisma to him that’s unbelievable.”
Despite the attention and large crowds, each fighter strayed over the lines of decency and threatened to turn off casual fans not used to the over-the-top promotion of the sport.
McGregor said, “Dance for me, boy,” to Mayweather in Toronto, raising allegations of racism, and Mayweather called McGregor an anti-gay slur in London. Each piled on f-words and several misogynistic terms.
Even if Mayweather is retiring and McGregor is peaking, they each understand what sells in 2017.
“They get that this is the entertainment business, how the president of the United States was a reality TV star and if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be president,” DiBella said. “People are into immediate gratification and confrontation … all this talking is cha-ching, cha-ching. They’re performers.
“It’s a spectacle, a guilty indulgence and there’s nothing wrong with that. This fight wouldn’t be happening if the public didn’t want it. And it’s hypocrisy on the part of those who are holier than thou about it.
“With all due respect, there is no sanctity to boxing. [Forget] that, it’s about making money.”