Column: Spectacle or sham? Mayweather-McGregor is outside the box and we can’t look away

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a laugh as Conor McGregor glares at him after each fighter weighed in Friday.
(John Gurzinski / AFP / Getty Images)

It’s not supposed to be much of a fight, but it sure is dressed like one.

Ben Mulligan is wearing his Irish flag like a cape, peering down from beneath an Irish-themed cowboy hat, adjusting his Irish sunglasses, waving his tall beer like a sword. On behalf of Conor McGregor, this Dubliner is ready to rumble.

“When one Irishman goes to war, we all go to war!” he shouts.


Across the sidewalk outside T-Mobile Arena on a sweltering Friday morning stands Anthony Lascon, dressed all in black and adorned with images of Floyd Mayweather Jr. He has Mayweather’s name tattoed on his right biceps, his favorite sayings inked on the inside of his arms, and his trademark money symbols hanging around his neck. All he’s missing is two boxing gloves, and he’s swinging his hands as if ready to wear them.

“This is two worlds clashing,” he says.

That collision will occur Saturday night here in a celebrated joke that suddenly feels pretty serious. In the most hyped sports event of the year, boxing champion Mayweather will fight mixed martial arts champion McGregor in a 12-round boxing mismatch that has captured the imagination of a nation that just can’t help itself.

“Call it whatever you want to, this . . . is big,” said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “We’re in a society now that it’s what people want to see.”

This town is buzzing. Earlier this week, long lines of Irish fans marched through a casino singing “Olé” while Mayweather fans stared and stewed.

The boxers are buzzing. During Friday’s weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena, Mayweather laughed and pointed at McGregor when McGregor dropped his pants to reveal gray boxer briefs. McGregor then screamed at Mayweather while he was being weighed in his green shorts. The two men later stood chest to chest while McGregor screamed in such close proximity to Mayweather that their mouths almost touched. Mayweather said nothing. Thousands of fans who showed up just to watch two guys strip to their underwear rained down boos and obscenities.

McGregor weighed in at 153 pounds, Mayweather weighed in at 149½ pounds, and this fight officially weighed in as huge.

“The mainstream world wants to see this . . . we figured out a way to take this to another level,” Ellerbe said. “We did this!”

Well, they certainly did something, although what that exactly is has yet to be determined. This is a fight with seemingly only two possible, wildly disparate outcomes.

It will be either the biggest upset in the history of sports, or one of its biggest shams.

Putting these two men in the same boxing ring is like matching up a softball team against the Dodgers in the World Series, or asking the U.S. men’s figure skating team to compete for the Stanley Cup.

The sport will be boxing, and Mayweather, 40, is one of the most accomplished boxers ever. He is 49-0 with a dozen world titles in five weight classes. In the other corner will be a fighter not used to boxing out of corners. In fact, he hasn’t boxed anybody since he was a teenager, and never professionally. McGregor, 29, is a two-time MMA champion and current Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion in a sport that includes kicking and body-slamming and occurs in an octagon-shaped cage.

For as many as 12 rounds Saturday, the activity will strictly be punching, and this is where everyone is crying foul. Few think McGregor has a chance. Most believe that, at best, he will be humiliated in a couple of rounds. At worst, some fear, he could be gravely injured.

Larry Lovelace, president of the Assn. of Ringside Physicians and an official on Oklahoma’s boxing commission, told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez, “It’s underheard of to have a guy make his debut against a world champion. I doubt we ever would have sanctioned a bout like that.”

The reason this is even happening, of course, is money. It is expected to be the richest fight ever, setting records with more than 4.6 million pay-per-view buys, more than $72 million in ticket sales, and more than $600 million in total revenue. Mayweather could make about $350 million, McGregor could make at least $100 million, and, unless McGregor wins and breaks every sport book, Las Vegas will clean up.

The fighters are vastly different in appearances and styles — Mayweather is compact and consistent, McGregor is lean and reckless — and so they capitalized on those differences in a four-city press tour this summer filled with bombast and tinged with racial overtones.

It started in Los Angeles, where McGregor looked at a shadow-boxing Mayweather and said, “Dance for me, boy.” It moved to Toronto, where McGregor led the crowd in an obscene chant directed at the entire Mayweather family.

Next, in Brooklyn, Mayweather threw piles of dollar bills at the crowd, after which his bodyguards menacingly surrounded McGregor. In their final stop in London, Mayweather openly addressed the racial element of the fight, saying of McGregor, “He totally disrespected black women, he called black people monkeys, then he spoke disrespectfully to my mother and my daughter.”

By the time they finally showed up in Las Vegas this week, it was clear that McGregor is easily the more popular fighter. Fans look at him and see a former plumber from a hardscrabble Dublin neighborhood who kicked and jabbed his way to greatness almost overnight. Meanwhile, outside the ring, Mayweather is considered misogynistic and abusive, with a history of domestic violence that has included being jailed on misdemeanor domestic assault and harassment. Only Mayweather, it seems, would brag about how he spent this fight week hanging out late at his recently purchased Las Vegas strip club.

The only thing they share, it seems, is a belief that each is going to beat the snot out of the other guy.

Said McGregor: “I don’t see him lasting two rounds, I think I could end him in one round if I want. This man is not on my level. He’s not a quarter of the man I am. Everyone is going to eat their words on Saturday.”

Said Mayweather: “Remember what I said, 100% chance, this fight won’t go the distance.”

A few folks feel McGregor can take advantage of his size, speed and age to overcome his lack of skill against an aging fighter who hasn’t been in the ring in two years. A large majority of others think, nah.

Late Thursday night here, a McGregor fan named Diarnuid Shanahan was partying in an Irish pub with 15 friends who flew with him here from Ireland. Shanahan sang Irish folk songs, locked arms with other patrons and swayed into the night at the outset of the weekend of his life.

But no, he wasn’t going to the fight, because he didn’t want to see McGregor get pummeled.

“He doesn’t have a chance,” Shanahan said. “But I wanted to be here anyway.”

Sounds about right.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke