The Mayweather-McGregor fight could just be the best thing to happen to boxing

Forty-nine fights later and people are still betting against him.
Forty-nine fights later and people are still betting against him.
Image: USA Today Sports/Joe Camporeale
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Everyone in the world of boxing thinks that Floyd Mayweather, an undefeated five-weight champion, should easily beat Conor McGregor, who is making his pro debut. McGregor’s fans aren’t listening.

According to Bloomberg, 15 out of every 16 bettors at South Point casino’s sports book is putting money at the UFC star winning on Aug. 26; British bookie William Hill’s US operation said that it is going to have a record loss on a single event should McGregor win. The influx of money on McGregor has helped push the winnings on a Mayweather victory up—you have to bet $700 on him to get $100 now, down from $750 a couple of weeks back. McGregor is still a 5-to-1 outsider, way down from the 11-to-1 where he opened. (A British company is giving new customers odds of 49 to 1.)

Because they think Mayweather is going to win easily, many boxing enthusiasts feel the sport is being demeaned by him even entering the ring with McGregor. The legendary boxer-turned-promoter, Oscar de la Hoya, said that “boxing is starting to dig [itself] out of the hole that Floyd and Manny Pacquiao shoveled by waiting seven years to put on a fight that ended up being as dull as it was anti-climactic” and “only we can shut the circus down by making it clear that we won’t pay to see a joke of a fight and telling our casual-fan friends that they shouldn’t, either.”

Actually, they should all grab a drink and tune in. Far from ruining it, this is the best opportunity that boxing has had in years to win people over.

As the betting shows, a lot of McGregor’s fans think he can win. The upstart Ultimate Fighting Championship, which launched in 1993 and it is now the premier venue to watch the melange of fighting techniques known as mixed martial-arts, has its own foul-mouthed stars (of which McGregor is the foremost) and its rabid fanbase, so much so that it was recently bought for more than $4 billion.

Those fans love the brutality of MMA. The knockouts. The blood. The submissions. They think that makes it a better, tougher sport. ”This is a limited set of rules, it makes this half a fight, a quarter of a fight,” McGregor said of his Mayweather bout. He hasn’t even hired a boxing coach for this fight. “If this was a true fight, it wouldn’t take a round,” he added. But boxing isn’t a street fight. This isn’t in “standup” in the Octagon, where you also have to worry about kicks and takedowns. This is a 150-year-old Olympic-level sport where people train their whole lives to do two things: execute and dodge punches.

If the fight goes as expected—Pacquiao says “there is no way he will be able to land a meaningful punch on Floyd”—it will be an opportunity to show millions what boxing is all about.

After 50 fights, this is also our last chance to watch Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers ever, in what will certainly be his final fight. The unappreciated 40-year-old often reminds fans that boxing is about “hitting and not getting hit.” Against an opponent 11 years younger in his prime, this fight might make people understand the incredible skill involved in doing what Mayweather does.

And there are a lot of casuals who could be lured back in—far more than there are hardcore UFC fans who are moving the betting odds. There have been six UFC events so far this year; none of sold more than 300,000 pay-per-views each. In total, they have had less than 1.5 million buys in the US in 2017. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight alone had 4.4 million buys, a record.

The fight against McGregor should do many millions more. This fight is being set up as Boxing vs. MMA. Those fans betting on McGregor might be about to learn the difference between the “sweet science” and “ground and pound.”