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August 25, 2017

Mayweather-McGregor: A Reflection of the Times

by Matt O'Brien

post-truth adjective

relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts

Conor McGregor is an interesting character. If you listen to him in an interview, he can be witty, polite and genuine. When he forwards an outlandish prediction, he does so with calm and conviction. Speaking in front of a large audience, McGregor is often animated, fiery and profane, yet manages to maintain a sense of humour. He has charisma. He knows how to captivate the public’s attention. Regardless of setting, he always emanates a cast-iron certainty in his own ability to bend reality to his will – a quality shared by some of the most successful people in history, most notably the greatest boxer ever, Muhammad Ali.

UFC boss Dana White was recently quoted on Twitter as saying: “If you sit in a room with @TheNotoriousMMA for two minutes, you’ll believe him too.”

Many people don’t even require that long.

For McGregor’s legion of fans, whether supporting him through Irish pride, a sense of loyalty to the sport of mixed martial arts over boxing, a dislike of Floyd Mayweather or simply being suckered in by the Dubliner’s cheeky powers of persuasion, their faith is already unshakable. They have their cause; they have their leader. Take Back Control. Make America Great Again. All you need is belief.

And so, as the Irishman without a single professional boxing bout to his name prepares to step into the ring against one of the finest boxers of the last few decades, absurdity meets reality.

Floyd Mayweather is currently a -400 favourite to beat Conor McGregor. To put that into perspective, the odds makers rate his chances against McGregor on a par with “Sugar” Shane Mosley in 2010, a three-weight world champion who was ranked among boxing’s pound-for-pound best when he faced Mayweather. Miguel Cotto, also a three-weight world champion, highly ranked pound-for-pound fighter and veteran of 39 pro bouts when he fought Mayweather in 2012, was seen as less likely to inflict his first defeat, with “Money” going into that contest at -700. Prior to his last outing against Andre Berto, a former Olympian and welterweight world champion, Mayweather started as a -3000 favourite. Think about that for a moment.

Yet for members of Clan McGregor, reasons to back their man abound. He is an expert martial artist who has defeated several world-class fighters; he is a two-weight world champion in his chosen field. He has knockout power. He is younger, bigger and stronger. He’s awkward; he’s a southpaw. All he needs to do is just land one big left hand, and it’s over. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning.

Of course, Mayweather is smaller and he is over 40 years old and he has been out of the ring for two years. It is the conclusion that these differences in size, youth and activity are enough to plug the gap in boxing skills between a man who has competed in 26 world title fights while barely taking any punishment, and one who has spent just a few months focusing on the sport, where the obvious fallacy lies.

There are plenty of others, though. Mayweather struggling for a few rounds with world-class southpaw Zab Judah, and for a few brief seconds with DeMarcus Corley, has somehow mutated into the idea that they all give him fits. UFC referees saving downed McGregor foes while he hammers fists into their faces from above has been re-fashioned into the notion that he puts people to sleep “as soon as he touches them”. Twelve seconds of spliced together video footage of Conor punching Paulie Malignaggi is proof that he can easily handle a former world champion. Alternative Facts. Fake News.

It doesn’t matter that Mayweather controlled the most dangerous southpaw of the modern era with ease; or that he has withstood full-bloodied shots on the chin from punchers like Mosley and Maidana; or that Hall of Fame-level boxers like Oscar De La Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez struggled just to land a clean glove on him. For pointing out that McGregor’s unorthodox style and lack of fundamental boxing technique is not, contrary to popular opinion, actually going to be an asset against the most defensively adept boxer for a generation, boxing purists have simply been dismissed as “arrogant”. People have had enough of experts.

A number of boxing fans have pledged to boycott what they consider to be nothing more than a farce and a mismatch; a money-making circus masquerading as a world-class boxing contest. I am not one of them. Though I will certainly not be paying for the privilege to watch, I’m keen to see the art of boxing on display and to watch the McGregor myths dispelled as the cold, hard reality of the Sweet Science dawns.

To many observers, the unsavoury nature of the press world tour epitomized everything wrong with this “event”, with every extra day seeming to drag the sport further into the gutter. And yet, even with the fighters trading a torrent of curses, homophobic insults and thinly veiled racial slurs, they barely managed to out-do the leader of the free world in lowering their standards of decency.

The truth is that this event is not unique to boxing; it is more a representative of the times we live in than of the rules under which they will compete. We live in a world of Big Business, corporate greed and offshore banking. We live in a world where our politicians paint great big lies on the side of big red buses and scream obscenities at journalists. We live in a world of hate-filled rhetoric and fatuous slogans. Build That Wall. Brexit Means Brexit. It should be no surprise to anyone that in this world, at this time, so many have bought into the Mayweather vs. McGregor vision and its shallow promises. That does not make it right; it just makes it tragically ordinary.

There is reason to be optimistic, though. With thousands of tickets for the event reportedly still on sale, it seems that the fat cats have gotten too greedy this time and taken their audience for granted. Perhaps paying members of the public have come to their senses after all, and seen the contest for what it really is: a glorified exhibition between an aging master boxer and a novice from another combat sport trying his hand.

As long as we keep sight of that perspective, we can enjoy the fight for what it is, get drunk and sing songs with the Irish, and move on to better things. The real fight of the year is just three weeks away, and it sold out long ago. #MayMac may be a reflection of our times, but it doesn’t have to define them forevermore.

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