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Uncertainty on the Eve of Mayweather-McGregor

Will boxing get a black eye? Will McGregor shock the world?

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor - Weigh-in Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Chuck Mindenhall is in Las Vegas this week covering the Mayweather-McGregor fight for The Ringer. On Wednesday, he likened the match to “the Super Bowl on mushrooms.” On Thursday, he was among the handful of writers hoping to catch an early-morning glimpse of Mayweather in the boxer’s Vegas strip club. On Friday, he attended the weigh-in and considered Mayweather’s overwhelming odds.

As many in Las Vegas suspected would be the case, the money has started to pour in on Floyd Mayweather (49–0) for his lavish Saturday-night fight with boxing’s great interloper, Conor McGregor (0–0). There were at least two separate million-dollar bets placed in a short span and a few six-figure ones, and that’s not including whatever Mayweather — who’s done his best to sell a competitive fight, music to the ears of a thousand rejoicing sharps — plans to drop on himself. As the fight draws nearer, getting Mayweather at -500 has a lot of people believing it’s like printing your own money.

That’s part of the fun hysteria that happens when you have a historically great boxer against a completely inexperienced one. People start getting a little loaded with the idea of “sure things.” What’s been even more fun is watching boxing’s slumbering giants lift a drowsy eye at the spectacle, while grumbling under their breath. ESPN’s longtime boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, who didn’t look too happy about any of these shenanigans on Friday as he made a brief visit through the media tent, said that if the fight went the distance it would be a black eye on boxing.

That underscored the point made by a Deadspin article a few weeks back entitled “Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Vs. Conor McGregor is the Second Biggest Possible Fuck-You,” that was basically a finely crafted, 4,000-word piece asking “WTF?” Charles Farrell — a former boxing manager and excellent writer — wondered about the legitimacy of the fight with refreshing clear-headedness, and puzzled over a simple question that’s been on plenty of people’s minds — why would anybody in their right mind give McGregor a chance? Farrell compared it to other historical locks in the gambling realm that people lost sight of in the potion of yearning and hysteria, fights like Jack Johnson’s bout with the alfalfa farmer (and “Great White Hope”) James J. Jeffries, and the already shot Muhammad Ali when he stepped against Larry Holmes riding the fumes of his legacy.

(Oscar De la Hoya — boxing legend and promoter of Canelo Álvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin — made his feelings on the fight known earlier today when he tweeted “FUCK YOU #MayweatherVsMcGregor BOTH OF YOU ARE DISRESPECTING THE SPORT OF BOXING”.)

That’s one prevailing side of the coin.

Equally interesting has been listening in on those attempting to make the delicate case for McGregor this week, and on that front nobody has come within a country mile to former boxer Chris Eubank Sr. Dressed in a black short-sleeved shirt with a bow tie, the 51-year-old Eubank gave an awe-inspiring speech to The MMA Hour, reciting — from memory — “A Warrior’s Code,” and later Rudyard Kipling’s entire poem “If,” (the one that advises, “if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same …”). If that weren’t enough, he also compared McGregor to Invictus, and Mayweather to the chess grandmaster Kasparov. Invictus, he said, simply can’t play chess on Saturday night.

So how does McGregor do it? “Madness,” said Eubank. Of course! Madness. Conor must lose his shit a little bit in there on Saturday night, to be as “maniacal” as Steve Collins, the possessed man who beat him in a rematch in Cork back in 1995. It tells you everything you need to know about this fight that Eubank — who speaks with a parlor elegance that leaves his s’s running straight for the decanters — came off like the rational one. Or in any case, Eubank’s path to a McGregor victory was far more satisfying than any of the boozy ideas down on the Strip, where people keep saying things like, “I wonder if he’ll kick him? Hope so!” I had a cab driver who insisted McGregor would throw a spinning punch, even when I told him that the heavy penalties for illegal moves in his contract would surely prevent him from doing so.

Such is the range of opinions for Conor McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather. It’s a fight that closed in quicker than anyone can get their heads around. The boxing people, the MMA people, the national media, the tabloidists — nobody truly knows what’s going on. Nothing makes sense beyond the hunch. Even The New York Times published a piece on Friday — two days before the fight — centered on ringside physicians worrying about McGregor’s well being. The Nevada Athletic Commission is sanctioning a bout between a UFC champion with no boxing record against its cash cow, “Money” Mayweather? There’s a lot that’s glaring about that, as well as the switch to 8-ounce gloves, which is an odd exception to make for a commission put in place to regulate safety.

In other words, even the bureaucrats are caught up in the McGregor-Mayweather circus.

One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the fight is something with blob-like immensity, a sporting vortex of sorts that can carry every kind of emotion, and twirl around every kind of onlooker. Even those people who just happen to be in town during the same weekend that the fight is happening, like poor Isiah Thomas, the NBA Hall of Famer in Vegas for the Big3 finals (which also take place on Saturday).

“I can’t think of anything,” he said, when asked what the closest equivalent he could think of from his 13-year NBA career. “This is an event in itself. You’ve got two charismatic fighters who have brought the whole world’s attention to them. Whether it’s a good fight, bad fight, who wins or who loses, I mean, 20 years from now we’ll be talking about we were here and what we saw.”

That’s for sure. This week Skip Bayless said that Conor McGregor would unleash “unholy hell” on Mayweather, while his old First Take counterpart Stephen A. Smith — who’s been in love with boxing since his dad showed him a tape of Ali fighting Cleveland Williams — said he likes Floyd to win via TKO in the sixth round. The 64-year-old Floyd Mayweather Sr., who has drawn a swarm around him each time he makes a move in the media center, said he could whip McGregor himself. He even demonstrated his jab to a group that included the actor-director Michael Rapaport, who is in town as a sideline reporter for the Big3.

Rapaport, taking in the madness going on around him — at Floyd Sr.’s jab, at the basketball players, former fighters, writers, radio people, Ice Cube, all the cameras — just smiled at the spectacle before the spectacle.

“It’s just such an eclectic mix,” he said. “I think it’s very emotional, you’ve got UFC versus boxing guys. It’s intrigue. It’s the unknown. And it’s fighting. You always have your preference of who’s going to win, so we’ll see what happens. It’s not like Conor’s going to do some shit that’s never been seen in boxing. It’s boxing. It ain’t MMA, it’s not sort of MMA, it’s not sort of boxing, it’s boxing. It’s not like he’s going to break the mold of boxing. I think it’ll be 12 rounds of very easy Floyd Mayweather fight.”

Then he imagined what it will be like tomorrow night, when the moment finally arrives when McGregor and Mayweather square off.

“To be honest with you, I am concerned that something — not catastrophic could happen, but that things could jump off. It’s Vegas, there’s a lot of alcohol. But I’m expecting it to be a very easy Mayweather fight. There’s definitely a racial element to it, which hopefully remains peaceful. I don’t want anything stupid to happen, because I feel like anything could happen because it’s such a tenuous time in the country, and we don’t need any of that. The country doesn’t need that.”

It’s a fight that is as frivolous as you want it to be, yet holds the gravity of something historic. The Irish have arrived in numbers to see the improbable. Mayweather is at home in Vegas to do the inevitable. It became official Friday afternoon at the T-Mobile, when both fighters made weight. It’s Invictus vs. Kasparov, the bedfellows who came together to turn Vegas a little crazy, and to put the odd in the odds.