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Uncashed Checks and Other Fighting Metaphors

Five takeaways from the first leg of the Conor McGregor–Floyd Mayweather trash-talking hype tour

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

With the fight a little over six weeks away, boxing’s Floyd Mayweather and MMA’s Conor McGregor came together for the first time in Los Angeles on Tuesday to kick off a four-city promotional world tour. More than 11,000 people turned out at the Staples Center just to see what would happen when the UFC’s most mystical figure showed up for his first appointment with boxing’s freshly unretired Nine-Digit Man.

It wasn’t quite the "shit show" that UFC president Dana White predicted it would be, even if there were flashes when it was the kind of show in which circus dung was a key ingredient. By the time the tour reaches London on Friday, all bets are off, but on Tuesday the novelty of what Mauro Ranallo called "a once-in-a-lifetime happening" playing out in real time swept up the moment. There was McGregor (0–0), decked to the nines in a tailor-made suit, standing across from Mayweather (49–0), who wore a patriotic "TMT" hoodie. There they were — two record-breaking capitalists from different realms finally squaring off in a pre-war détente, staring into the money vaults of each other’s eyes.

Aloe Blacc performed a song to kick things off, because historic fights are gratuitous affairs. Boxing fans could spot Jimmy Lennon Jr., Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza, and Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe taking turns on the mic. MMA fans could see the face of the UFC, Dana White. As with all big boxing events, there was a ton of foot traffic on the stage and plenty of pageantry.

Both fighters were given a chance to speak, and there were plenty of shots taken. Some of it was good (there was mild terror when Mayweather told Conor he was going to "get up in that ass"), some of it was weird (like when Mayweather asked for his backpack, from which he pulled out a prop — more on that later), and some of it was telling (McGregor referred to boxing as a "half sport," as if it were as easy as removing a bazooka and a mortar from his usual MMA arsenal for this one battle).

What it really felt like was two sides of the combat-sports world finally getting it on, trying to play nice with each other while harvesting their prideful little secrets. After all the debate about McGregor’s credentials and Mayweather’s motives, the boxing people were free to say, "Just wait," while the MMA people could puff up their chests and come back with, "You guys just don’t know Conor." In any case, as the intruder on the boxing stage was making himself right at home, it was fun to see the snobs of each sport struggle to understand the other.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s presser.

1. McGregor Was Right at Home in the Boxing Sphere

With the recent news that Mayweather owed over $20 million to the IRS in back taxes, McGregor knew just what to do. Right off the bat, he delivered a shot below the belt, directly in the area of Mayweather’s not-quite-as-deep pockets. One of the first things McGregor said when he got on the mic was, "He’s in a fucking track suit — he can’t even afford a suit anymore." With the crowd laughing along and Mayweather sitting just to his left, it felt like a celebrity roast.

"He is fucked," McGregor said. "There’s no other way about it. His little legs, his little core, his little head — I’m going to knock him out inside of four rounds, mark my words."

And then later, "He’s fought people who have shied away from him. I don’t fear him. I don’t fear this limited set of fighting. This is a limited set of rules that makes this half a fight, a quarter of a fight. This isn’t a true fight. If this was a real fight, it wouldn’t even take one round."

While the people laughed and cheered, McGregor grabbed his own lapel and smiled. "How’s this suit look?" he asked. "It’s a cracker! A [David] August–McGregor line. I’ve got my own line of suits coming out. If you zoom in on the pinstripe it says, ‘fuck you.’"

That seemed like an appropriate introduction to Conor McGregor for those on the boxing side.

2. Floyd Walks Around With an Uncashed Check for $100 Million

In most cases McGregor outshines his opposition so thoroughly in prefight press conferences that it feels like he’s running up the score, but not this time. Even though he was roundly booed when announced, Mayweather was like Cyrus in the opening scenes of The Warriors up there, commanding the space. It was evangelism and lived-in swagger. He said he still had it. He said that 21 was the number, because that’s how many years he’s been kicking ass. "Y’all already know, I ain’t backing down from no-fucking-body," he said. "You line them up, and I knock them down like bowling pins. August 26, I’m going to knock this bitch out, too."

Then he had one of his faction give him his backpack. He pulled out a piece of paper and held it up as if the people in a vast sports arena could use a collective supersight to make out the numbers.

"Let me show all your motherfuckers what a hundred-million-dollar fighter look like," he said, holding up the check. "Still got a hundred million, and ain’t never needed to touch this shit."

"That’s to the taxman," McGregor said on his mic, which was still hot.

"You’re right, I’m the IRS," Mayweather said. "And I’m going to tax your ass."

This was a power move by Mayweather. It was him showing he had $100 million (at least on paper) just sitting there unused in his JanSport, and that McGregor was barely in his orbit as a businessman. It was a counterpunch he planned three rounds in advance.

3. Conor’s Mic Went Cold

In the heat of the moment — right when Mayweather was working himself into a kind of fervor and making it clear that he believed himself to be the "A-side" — McGregor’s mic cut out. If McGregor is a genius in selling fights, it’s in his ability think on his feet. His comebacks are legendary. Cutting McGregor’s mic (intentionally or not) is like taking the big band out of the dance hall.

Then again, maybe cutting the mic was a precautionary move by Showtime. Shortly before it went out, there was a moment Mayweather was shadowboxing at the front of the stage, and McGregor yelled out, "Dance for me, boy!" McGregor quickly followed it up with another comment, either "Dance for me, son," or "Dance for me, sir!"

For his part, Mayweather took no notice. But the fact is, the comment landed extremely poorly, and McGregor’s mic was cold not long after.

4. Floyd Sr. Crashes McGregor’s Media Conference

If there’s one thing that could end up proving more fun than McGregor vs. Mayweather Jr., it’s McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather Sr. Floyd’s old man has never been shy when it comes to talking trash come fight time, and he was at it again Tuesday in McGregor’s post-press-conference scrum. After McGregor made a joke about not being able to tell the two apart, Mayweather Sr. decided to announce his presence.

McGregor playfully batted at him for the better part of 15 minutes, and Floyd Sr. said he’d kick McGregor’s ass (he even demonstrated some punches). We knew Floyd Sr. would give McGregor an earful at some point. But the first stop on the tour? Hopefully Vegas places a prop bet as to whether an incident takes place between the two come fight week.

5. There Are Some — Like Brendan Schaub — Who Genuinely Believe McGregor Has a Chance

Though only the bravest souls dare give McGregor a chance at this early stage of contemplation, there’s at least one man on record who does. That’s former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub, who is working as an analyst alongside boxer Paulie Malignaggi for Showtime during the press tour. Schaub told Malignaggi and host Ranallo that having the fight at 154 pounds favors McGregor, and that McGregor has the X factor of unknowability.

As the MMA representative on the panel, Schaub was unafraid to let his biases fly. He pointed out his reasons for giving McGregor far more than a puncher’s chance.

"Listen, Floyd’s a slow starter," he said. "He really is. Boxers, they don’t get started for about four to six rounds, and in MMA we don’t have that luxury. So we’ll see Conor, right out of the gates, applying the pressure. People will be watching at home, looking at their friends, going, ‘Did you give that round to Conor?’ ‘Yeah, man, I did.’ It’s going to add up, and he’s going to start putting rounds in the bank."

He didn’t stop there. In fact, he sounded like Timothy Leary trying to warm stodgy, square people to the idea of psychedelics.

"You’ve got to open up your mind and understand that Conor can box. Now, can he box like a Canelo or a Zab Judah, no. It’s going to be different. So I’m just asking all the boxing experts, open up your mind. What if Conor gives him problems? What if he lands that big left hand that knocked out a Jose Aldo, one of the best strikers of all time in combat sports, in 13 seconds?"

That’s the kind of presser it was. MMA and boxing people in the same place, each with wildly different views as to what will happen come August 26. Los Angeles was the first weird chapter in what could become the biggest fight ever, and for the next six weeks everybody will be right until the moment they’re wrong.

But for now, reading between the pinstripes, Round 1 goes to McGregor.