Since it’s being dubbed everything from the “fight of the century” to “a dry dung circus,” when historians one day check back on what was going on with their fellow man the week Conor McGregor crossed over to fight boxing’s Floyd Mayweather, they’ll see that these were some highly emotional times.
On Monday, we had a total solar eclipse, which gave everyone occasion to sing Bonnie Tyler lyrics while wearing funny glasses. On Tuesday, the UFC’s newly (re)crowned light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, was informed that he had tested positive for a banned substance, thus blocking out the sun in his own way. With his title being stripped and a suspension looming that could run into years (plural), the UFC’s greatest fighter ever is now officially its greatest fuck-up. Think about that — while gearing up for the most profound spectacle to date, the fight world just saw its Michael Jordan morph into Roy Tarpley. And speaking of basketball, on Tuesday night the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, who could see the moon intercept the sun just fine from the flat earth beneath his feet.
So that state of confusion is where we are on Wednesday as McGregor and Mayweather get rolling through the fight week preliminaries, which kicked off with the “Grand Arrivals” on Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Floyd lives in Vegas, and Conor has been renting a house in the vicinity for his training, so this isn’t the Ringling Bros. elephants parading across the bridge into Manhattan. “Arrival” is just an archaic form of ceremonial clickbait that really means, “Don’t worry, they both showed up.” Nonetheless, it was a pinch-yourself moment to begin actualizing an event that may end up becoming fighting’s brightest — or darkest — reverie. The idea that MMA’s great conqueror and boxing’s biggest money man will at last lay hands on each other this weekend is enough to carry the imagination into wild places. Can McGregor catch boxing’s greatest mirage with his left hand? Or will Mayweather play peek-a-boo over his shoulder, disappointing his legions yet again with clinical dominance?
As the media began sagging into Las Vegas this week, the consensus seems to be the latter. Many see a Mayweather victory as inevitable, which is a hell of a thing to stick a $99.95 pay-per-view price tag on. Never have foregone conclusions been this pricy. Yet there are others who are showing in larger and larger number that keep saying things like “49–1,” in obvious reference to Mayweather’s pending defeat. There are two kinds of people saying that: people who bet the substantial underdog McGregor at the book in hopes of cashing in, and the Irish.
Both parties are making themselves heard over the loud typing of boxing’s cynics. It’s a lunatic time in the fight game, with the partition not only coming down between MMA and boxing, but between logic and whatever stands on the other side of that. In fact, Bovada put out a list of prop bets this week that includes: (a) Will Lil Wayne wear a shirt during the walkout? (-230 yes, +160 no); (b) Will Justin Bieber walk out with Floyd? (+300 yes, -500 no); and (c) total Donald Trump tweets on the day of the fight (over/under set at 6.5 for combined @RealDonaldTrump and @POTUS). Those are good, but the easy money is in the “Will either fighter lose his mouthpiece during the fight?” You can get +425 that somebody will, and with the amount of talking that’s been going on between these two, it seems likely that a mouthpiece will come out.
Now WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman has even introduced a diamond-studded “money belt” made out of genuine alligator skin, and it will be up for grabs Saturday night. There quite literally couldn’t be a better — nor more symbolic — prize for this fight.
Mayweather-McGregor is like the Super Bowl on mushrooms. If you want to find Floyd outside of his media obligations this week, look no further than his gentleman’s club, Girl Collection. He says he’ll be there partying until next Monday. (He’s serious, too. He told me “come on down” when I asked him about it.) And as if McGregor’s hands aren’t full enough with Mayweather on his weekend docket, he’s already baiting the hook for a future bout with recently retired fighter and current Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi, who keeps showing up at odd intervals. How far down the rabbit hole have we gone as a fight game collective when the idea of McGregor vs. Malignaggi — a fight nobody would have contemplated in a thousand years — begins to look like a plausible thing? This would feel like a damaging side-effect of this nine-digit excursion.
What feels bigger as the fight draws near are the stakes, which have never been satisfactorily defined. Should Mayweather win, it would raise his record to 50–0 in what will (almost) certainly be his last bout, yet the fight will be remembered (in all likelihood) as a scam. That’s what is supposed to happen when a fighter with 49 victories in pro boxing faces somebody with none. His job is to make pragmatic people say “duh.” If McGregor wins, it’ll be pandemonium. Not only will he become the biggest fight name since Mike Tyson, but he’ll dispense with some old notions — namely, everything we thought we knew.
In light of what just happened with Jon Jones, what the UFC could use more than anything is at least a good showing. A competitive showing, where McGregor not just survives, but hangs. Where he lands a few good shots, and maybe even hurts Mayweather once with a hard left. Short of that, this has the potential to be a damning week — broadly speaking — for mixed martial arts. The UFC lost its recently emerged GOAT right when he seemed to be gaining momentum, and now is risking its biggest draw against one of boxing’s greats, with all the advantages swung to Mayweather’s corner. These are uncommon stakes for uncommon times.
And it’s only Wednesday.