It would be a fool or a madman who claims that the long-anticipated boxing match between currently retired pound-for-pound boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and UFC two-division champion Conor McGregor is anything more than hypothetical. The fight remains a nebulous thing, a wisp and a rumor, proof of little else but the power of hype to take up space in the human mind, the prominence of speculation over actuality in 21st-century life, and the promotional weight of two outsized personalities, of the air they can suck out of a room and the space they can fill in newspapers and on web sites for doing nothing more than existing in hypothetical relation to each other. Two of the greatest self-promoters in the history of prizefighting have raised their art to the level of magic: turning absolutely nothing into the most significant something in fighting.
In the face of such sur-reality—where the possibility of something matters as much as, if not more than, its actuality, where news can be “real” or “fake” and presidential accusations of treason can be tossed around under the guise of social-media musings—perhaps the only thing a reasonable person can do is grab onto what he knows is his and work from there, come what may. Which may be just what McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, was speaking to earlier this week when he was asked about the Mayweather fight on Fox Sports in Australia and he responded by saying, “In my mind, it’s on. … [A]s far as I’m concerned, I really believe it’s going to happen this year. That’s the mindset I have.”
“In my mind.” “As far as I’m concerned.” “That’s the mindset I have.” When in doubt, Kavanagh was saying, and when the scope of hype has gotten beyond the power of reality to contain, or a simple person to comprehend, the only thing one can really rely on is what is in one’s head. Though dangerous in theory, this kind of solipsism might be the only reasonable reaction in these times. Solipsism and hope. Of course the Mayweather/McGregor could (and likely will) self-destruct under the weight of its own promotional bloat, but that won’t stop Kavanagh from training his fighter as if the fight is on. Because if he didn’t, a down-to-earth sort like himself, not as comfortable as Mayweather or McGregor with the vertiginous perils of multi-million-dollar public self-adulation and the triumph of the surreal, could become unmoored and go flying off into the ether. Better to focus on what you can control, not on the giant abstraction hovering over your life.
In that spirit, Kavanagh continued, he and the rest of McGregor’s team have begun the task of converting a mixed martial artist into a boxer, paring the innumerable anatomical options of the cage-fighter down to the few available to the boxer, making sense of a nonsensical world by making it smaller.
“Boxing is one of the 10 skills you need for mixed martial arts. But now we’re only doing boxing so we can drop wrestling and jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing, we can just focus on the boxing,” Kavanagh said about McGregor’s new regimen. “So of course we’re getting ready to fight arguably one of the best defensive boxers of all time, but the training will become simplified cause we only have to do boxing so it’s a new challenge I’m excited about.”
Yes, John, aim for the simplified. To be working with McGregor these days must be complicated enough, what with all the wild speculation disguised as assurances and all the layered questions about the promotional value of an actual fight compared to that of the possible and all those theoretical tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars. Add in the layers of complications that come with mastering not just punching, but kicking and elbowing and clinching and grappling and submitting and escaping, and you’ve got what could prove to be an untenable situation.
No, maybe the best thing for McGregor and Kavanagh at this point, with hype reaching a critical mass, is for the latter to focus on the former’s hands: to reduce the teeming world to those two small tools.
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