“Elephants don’t beef with ants. An elephant is so large it doesn’t even see ants,” commented boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. on a potential fight with mixed martial arts (MMA) star Conor McGregor. Although an argument could be made that boxing was bigger than MMA 10 years ago, Mayweather Jr.’s analogy doesn’t hold water in 2016.
Once seen as the pinnacle of combat sports, boxing has lost its lustre since Mayweather left the ring last year. The sports’ success was largely predicated on the star power of its fighters. Millions of fans tuned in to watch household names like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, and, of course, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Although there are still great boxers around, none have the gravitas Mayweather and his predecessors did. Only a chosen few can afford to treat the sport as a spectacle as much as a fight.
Of those few, Mayweather Jr. was certainly one. He kept the sport alive by defying the status-quo and people hated him for it. After beating Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, he gained so much notoriety that all of his fights were considered the ‘Super Bowl of Boxing.’ Since his lacklustre fight against Manny Pacquiao and his retirement, boxing viewership has declined dramatically.
Conversely, MMA has recently seen a dramatic increase in popularity, leading many to wonder if it can potentially replace boxing as the most popular combat sport in the world. Some experts argue that the surge of superstars like McGregor could make it the case. Loudmouthed, talented, and extravagant, the Irish fighter’s rags-to-riches story is one of legends. Now, as MMA’s most marketable asset, he is striving to conquer disciplines outside of the Octagon. After his victory over Eddie Alvarez on Nov. 12, 2016 in Madison Square Garden, he insulted MMA executives, claiming he deserves a bigger stake in the company for all his accomplishments.
In the latest development, McGregor made it clear that he is eager to make a dream fight against Mayweather Jr. a reality, but under one condition: He wants $100 million in order to fight under boxing regulations. If both parties agree, this fight would become the most lucrative event in boxing and MMA history.
Although a Mayweather Jr.-McGregor fight is unlikely, it could have a much bigger implication than just financial gain. Simply put, it could alter the fates of the fighters’ respective sports. If Mayweather Jr. were to lose, it would severely damage boxing’s reputation and could increase the value of the MMA.
McGregor has reached a point in his career where transitioning to boxing is conceivable. Not only that, McGregor’s camp reached out to renowned boxing coach Freddie Roach to start training him for a potential switch. This shows that he is serious about the fight, but also that he will need a lot of adjustments to be able to compete with Mayweather Jr., the greatest defensive boxer of all time.
In fact, the shift from mixed martial arts to boxing could prove to be a difficult endeavour. Contrary to its reputation as a brutish, uncivilized sport, boxing is a science that requires a high level of technique and skill. One has to be more than a fit brawler to compete–let alone win–in boxing.
If this fight doesn’t come to fruition, it’ll be up to the next generation of fighters to not only win, but do so with flamboyance and charisma–a feat that only a chosen few have been able to accomplish.