Only Floyd Mayweather could turn a man’s first boxing match into the biggest fight ever

“How hard can this be?”
“How hard can this be?”
Image: USA Today Sports/Adam Hunger
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Two years ago, we speculated that Floyd Mayweather was retiring from boxing after matching Rocky Marciano’s undefeated record of 49-0 simply as a ruse to make his comeback fight more exciting. But who would that 50th fighter be? The most likely candidate at the time was a young, also-unbeaten boxer who would continue to improve and get a big enough following to sell an epic un-retirement match.

Little did we know.

Today, Mayweather begins promotional duties in Los Angeles for that epic 50th fight—against Conor McGregor, the mouthy Irish UFC double champion who is leaving the brutality of mixed-martial arts for the unlikeliest of cracks at immortality in the boxing ring. Both will be part of the press tour that starts in LA, goes on to Toronto (where it had to be moved to a bigger venue due to demand), then New York, before ending in London on Friday (July 14)—that’s three countries in four days. Both then return to preparing for the bout itself in Las Vegas on Aug. 26.

What’s more incredible is how many people are going to watch the fight itself, considering how lopsided the contest is expected to be.

The last time Mayweather lost in the ring was as an amateur during the semi-finals of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (and most people agree he was robbed). McGregor is a former plumber who collected a $235 welfare check the week before his 2013 UFC debut. Brilliant in the Octagon, he has never had a professional boxing match. Not one. His first will be in the middle of the ring at the MGM Grand against one of the best fighters of all time. When ring announcer Michael Buffer introduces the fighters on Aug. 26, he will have to say that McGregor has no wins, no losses, and no draws.

Current odds have the 40-year-old Mayweather as the prohibitive favorite—you have to bet $750 on him to get $100 in winnings. McGregor’s odds are about 5 to 1 (though still only slightly longer odds than Brexit and a Trump presidency, for the record). Even McGregor’s old trainer at Crumlin Boxing Club in Ireland, where McGregor won some amateur boxing titles as a teen, isn’t hoping for miracle.  “I can’t see him winning it, but I’ll definitely be shouting for him,” Phil Sutcliffe said. “Mayweather is one of the craftiest boxers of all time. It makes money sense. In boxing sense, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Mayweather—who a decade ago changed his nickname from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money” Mayweather—is all about boxing and business sense.  They don’t have to do much more than show up a few times because the fight sells itself; they’re the only two household names in combat sport. Their bout is expected to generate more than $600 million in revenue in sales of tickets, merchandise, and pay-per-view buys—on par with Mayweather’s very lucrative and very disappointing match-up against Manny Pacquiao, if not exceeding it. UFC president Dana White said it will be the “biggest fight ever.” A brand that wants to be the title sponsor of the fight is reportedly being asked to pony up $10 million—double the amount paid to sponsor the previous biggest fight, which was, of course, Mayweather-Pacquiao.

In 2006, he split from the promoter Bob Arum (who manages Pacquiao) and took over his business interests for himself. For all his fights since, Mayweather has owned the whole pie—he books the venue, signs deals with broadcasters in 168 territories, and pays all the expenses, such as advertising. He even hires his opponents. In 2011, he made $40 million from one fight—and paid his opponent $2 million. Mayweather told the New York Times (paywall) at the time of his business model:

It’s never been done. Not in entertainment history. Not in sports history. You see that arena Saturday? It’s all Mayweather money. Want a hot dog? Mayweather money. Want a T-shirt? Mayweather money. I need all that.

When Mayweather and Pacquiao first started talking about a fight in 2009, Arum called Mayweather “delusional” for asking for an equal split of revenues. After talks broke down, Pacquiao lost some fights and Mayweather kept on winning. When the fight did happen in 2015, it was split 60/40—in Mayweather’s favor. In 2014 and 2015, he was the world’s highest-paid athlete—despite not having any endorsements at all, which is completely unheard of.

In 2013, Mayweather left HBO after more than 15 years (paywall) for US cable rival Showtime because they shared more of the revenue with him. The Showtime deal expired with his fight with Andre Berto in 2015. Cannily, he was able to negotiate an entirely new one-off contract with Showtime for the McGregor fight on his own terms under Mayweather Promotions.

And how many people could sell a match against someone who has never boxed as a mega-fight? Only Mayweather—and only against Conor McGregor. With his loud mouth and his high profile in the world of MMA, a sport that has hoovered up many of boxing’s casual fans, McGregor is a bigger draw than anyone in boxing. ”Without me, none of this happens,” the 27-year-old once said. “I run this whole shit. Everyone in this game does what they’re fucking told except for me and rightly fucking so.” He was speaking of the UFC; he might as well be talking about boxing now.

And the boxing world is furious. The legendary boxer Oscar de la Hoya, now promoter, called it a “circus.” Bernard Hopkins called it “fake news.” The British fighter, Ricky Hatton, says,”How can somebody who has not had one pro fight to his name fight the best of all time?” Pacquiao said, “The real fight and the best fight is Golovkin versus Canelo. The best versus the best. That’s the fight I will be watching.” Pacquiao is referring to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, the middleweight bout promoted by de la Hoya, which takes place three weeks after the Mayweather-McGregor fight and the most mouth-watering clash in boxing since Pacquiao fought Mayweather.

Now, Golovkin-Canelo has been completely overshadowed by Mayweather’s return, where he likely to break Marciano’s record—and more than a few purists’ hearts. Marciano’s achievement is one of the most beloved in all of boxing.