Boxing’s Last Breath

Fightland Blog

By Sam Winter

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Surely you’ve heard! After months of jawing back and forth, Floyd Mayweather finally wants a piece of Conor McGregor in the boxing ring. And he’s set a date! June!! Let the Fight of the Century commence!!!

Not so fast. We know UFC president Dana White has thrown water on a June showdown, asserting a deal is far from done. He also says the money will be so big that it’s inevitable and he won’t forbid McGregor from taking the fight.

Any student of Mayweather’s late-career modus operandi can see the pattern of lying in wait until public hype around a potential opponent grows to such a clamor that he can further stoke the fire until economics and logistics of the event round up in his favor. That day may soon come, but what’s unique about this situation is of course the McGregor factor, as the ascendent star of the world’s ascendent combat sport rises to the challenge. Mayweather versus McGregor isn’t just a fight between two masters of hype. What we have here is a meeting at the summit of modern history’s two dominant fight sports; and there can only be one dog at the top of the pile.

Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports​

Conor McGregor has seemingly willed himself into becoming MMA’s transcendent attraction through a combination of sheer clarity of vision and world-class next-level shit talk. But it’s his skill as his sport’s most evolved mixed martial artist—from the psychology to the training methods to the mastery of movements that turns his body into a swiss army knife of woopass—that has earned McGregor his current place as a transcendent athlete.

The velocity of Conor’s bright burning star in the sky of sports entertainment only adds to the stakes that are so fragrant when imagining this bizarro matchup with Mayweather come to fruition. We’re living in an era when public consciousness is becoming acutely aware that MMA will replace boxing as the preeminent major league combat sport. Whichever fighter has his hand raised at the culmination of McGregor vs. Mayweather, MMA will have assumed position at the top; a truly modern moment.  

That Other Fight of the Century

True the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight of 2015—also billed as Fight of the Century—shaped up to be a historically important bout between two boxing greats. After 6 years of mainstream level hype, Mayweather finally granted Pacquiao a shot just as he was semi-retired living the life of a politician in his native Philippines. Fight fans witnessed a spectacle as much as a boxing match, and the stakes—albeit high for both fighters—amounted to pride and money. Mayweather won by decision in a snoozer while the fight did record numbers on pay-per-view.

The Mayweather vs. Pacquiao saga was a lesson in delayed gratification so severe that the fight itself never could have lived up to the hype, but Mayweather had exacted his long game to perfection. After all that waiting the fight itself had taken on lesser significance but grew in necessity and profit as audience interest increased to outsized proportions. By the time Manny and Floyd met in the ring the world’s casual fight fans, non-fans, and diehards alike had become invested in the outcome.

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now less than two years later—with his prime earning years waning—Floyd is leaning in to the possibility of a bout with McGregor after months of dismissing the idea outright (but always asserting his superiority). For all his power to manipulate the fight game and opponents into playing his game, Floyd has to thank The Notorious one and a vocal MMA community for his next windfall.

The WWE style call-outs and Internet rapper beef ethics from both men have brought us to the moment when boxing’s last great undefeated champ Floyd Mayweather will lower himself to scrap with a man who rolls around on mats with other men. There are no stars left for Mayweather to antagonize in his own sport, so Conor gets his shot.

Make no mistake, McGregor—by far the bigger man and a decorated boxer at the youth level—can win. Let’s say the mental warfare leading up to the fight is a wash, which is being generous to Floyd. Expect Floyd to utilize his frustrating defensive point boxing style and avoid trading shots. But how long can Floyd run from that powerfully pinpoint left hand? We’ve become accustomed to seeing Conor find his power shots early on in the UFC’s three or five round fights. Against Mayweather he’ll have twelve rounds.

A Question of Gameness

In fighting, they talk about gameness—the eagerness to fight despite prospect of harm or injury—as an essential quality of any great competitor. Mayweather versus McGregor will be a high level boxing match. But will we see a fight?  

Mayweather is known for his nearly impregnable defense and thoroughly frustrating even the best punchers. He’s a boxer’s boxer, a man who plays to win and always knows the score. To understand Mayweather’s brilliance is to see why boxing is on the outs. Even boxing’s great tacticians appear increasingly limited and stilted when compared to the all out expression of the human body’s violent potential on display in the UFC octagon. One reason we like MMA is because it more routinely puts gameness on display.

Boxing is a genteel western ideal of another era. The official rules are after all named for the Marquess of Queensbury, who held sway over the boxing landscape when the rules were first published in 1867. In 2017 MMA has finally matured as a business, and it’s lineage and appeal are quintessentially global. Classic boxing is merely one of MMA’s four essential arts along with wrestling, Muay Thai, and jiu jitsu. If boxing is so 20th Century, MMA represents a multicultural globalization of sorts and a sure expression of the millennial tendency to make a hybrid remix clusterfuck out of everything. Modernity in 2017 looks and feels like MMA, and a Mayweather vs. McGregor fight proves it.

In another manner of speaking, the fight game hasn’t undergone this much disruption since the previous turn of century. In the early 1900s, white boxing champion Jim Jeffries for years refused to take on the ascendent and transcendent black fighter Jack Johnson—known for such flamboyant theatrics as taunting his opponents. Jeffries retired from boxing undefeated, but in 1910 returned to fight Johnson in a bout dubbed “The Fight of the Century”. Sound familiar?

In the leadup, Jeffries admitted that he’d taken the fight at the urging of “that portion of the white race that has been looking to me to defend its athletic superiority." Now he’s remembered mostly for losing that fight. In the fourteenth round, Jack Johnson knocked Jeffries to the canvas for the first time in his career. Two knockdowns later, Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel.

A contest in which two men enter a ring and one emerges victorious will always be a direct mainline into the human psyche. The stakes are clear, and the fight is real. Today, just as western-style liberal democracy is showing cracks in the facade in the face of globalization, boxing is like the fraying teddy bear of the industrialized West’s collective childhood—no longer that rare combination of cultural institution, major league sport, and favored metaphor for life’s struggles.

For boxing die-hards, Floyd Mayweather would enter a face off with Conor McGregor as the game’s one true champion who will stick it to that loudmouth upstart and show fight fans all over the world the superiority of pure boxing mastery. Vegas odds favor Floyd, but McGregor will step into that ring already the victor. History will record the next indelible “Fight of the Century” a win for MMA.

You can’t really say Floyd fell for the trap as much as he—the embodiment of his sport’s current reality—is simply profiting from the inevitable future. At least he’s game.


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Mayweather-McGregor Needs to Happen So We Can Stop Talking About It

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