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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor is about entertainment, not boxing or MMA

Floyd Mayweather Jr. will come out of retirement to meet UFC star Conor McGregor in an Aug. 26 boxing match that will feature two of the top-selling fighters in the world. The two fighters both announced the fight Wednesday, June 14, 2017, after months of speculation about whether Mayweather would be lured back to the ring at the age of 40 to face a mixed martial arts fighter who has never had a pro boxing fight.  (Credit: Newsday staff)

Zero evidence exists that Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor will be a competitive boxing match. Not in any of Mayweather’s 49 boxing matches, all of which ended in victory for one of the greatest defensive tacticians in his sport’s history. Not in any of McGregor’s 24 mixed martial arts fights or any boxing videos posted to social media by the UFC lightweight champion.

But here’s the thing Mayweather Promotions, UFC and Showtime are banking on come Aug. 26, 2017, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. By all accounts, the boxer should beat the mixed martial artist in a boxing match by a very comfortable margin, but . . . what if? What if McGregor somehow is able to penetrate Mayweather’s defense, something very few professional boxers ever have been able to do and a total of zero ever could do frequently enough to beat Mayweather?

“One thing about Conor McGregor we do know,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said Wednesday night on a conference call to promote the fight announced several hours earlier. “You have to pay him very, very close attention because when he touches people, they fall out.”

Therein lies the intrigue, the reason quite a few people will offer up their money to these two combatants and all the other folks who get a piece of what figures to be a rather large sum of money. Nine-digits large. That’s to the left of the decimal point, by the way.

“It’s part of the fun of this fight,” UFC president Dana White said. “Is Conor McGregor, in a 12-round fight, going to be able to touch Floyd Mayweather?”

Pay-per-view buys will come from people wanting to see Mayweather lose. Just as many will pay to potentially witness the crowning of an MMA king in another man’s world. This, again, is what the stakeholders are counting on from the people. No price was announced Wednesday for the pay-per-view, but it figures to be above the typical $60 for a UFC event and could reach the $100 that Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao commanded on May 2, 2015.

Among the recurring questions sure to infiltrate the sports talk world in the next two months are these:

“Is this good for the sport of boxing?”

“Is this good for the sport of MMA?”

“What does this mean for boxing?”

“What does this mean for the UFC?”

These questions largely are irrelevant. They exist basically to fill air time and generate video views and social media posts. Whoever owns the trademark on “hot takes” as a phrase will make more money than anyone involved in Mayweather vs. McGregor.

“This is not a referendum on the sport of boxing or MMA,” Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza said.

Correct.

It is a spectacle of sport, which is perfectly fine. It is not the first such endeavor in athletics, nor will it be the last. If it’s a referendum on anything, it’s on the sporting society and how far from the norm they’ll stray for the sake of personal entertainment.

“Like Leonard said earlier, this isn’t some fight that we went out to try to make or build or anything else,” White said. “This thing built itself. This is a fight that started from the ground up. The fans wanted to see this thing. The media went crazy about it, and here we are.”

Will the fight live up to the hype? Likely not. They so rarely do. See Mayweather vs. Pacquiao for supporting evidence. Then again, the real answer probably depends on which name is printed on your betting slip. (Mayweather opened as a -1,100 favorite at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, with McGregor at +700.)

But the pay-per-view money spent isn’t to see the fight. It’s the credit card statement arriving in the mail for the show you’ve already watched. The news conferences, the media tours, the open workouts, the never-ending loop of their best sound bites from those events. And that’s not even taking into account tweets and Instagram posts from the respective fight camps — and the subsequent responses from fans. It all could easily be packaged into its own ESPN “30 for 30” documentary before a single punch is thrown.

“We’re not only drawing fans from the universe of boxing fans and the universe of MMA fans, we’ve actually tapped into the audience that really doesn’t follow either sport,” Espinoza said. “This is such an unprecedented event, such a spectacle that all of a sudden people who have never really been interested in either MMA or boxing are interested in this event due to the nature of the competition and the nature of these two personalities. That’s an untapped part of the market that not even Mayweather-Pacquiao touched.”

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