Mayweather-McGregor: Part III – The Larger Issues

By Thomas Hauser

Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor aren’t responsible for the welfare of boxing. There are organizations that are charged with that mission. Still, it’s appropriate to ask whether Mayweather-McGregor is good or bad for the sweet science.

The first comparison that comes to mind is the May 2, 2015, bout between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. That fight was radically different from Mayweather-McGregor in that it was a credible competition between two iconic boxers. The similarity between the promotions lies in the widespread media saturation that, in each instance, crossed over into the general marketplace and the manner in which the promoters sought, and are now seeking, to maximize every last dollar the way a pig ferrets out truffles in a forest.

Looking back on Mayweather-Pacquiao a year after the fight, Dan Rafael of ESPN.com wrote, “Everything about it stunk: the promotion, the greed and, of course, the fight. The fan abuse ultimately paid off because the fight generated some $600 million. The fighters and their teams made wild amounts of money for the stink bomb of a fight. But the fans got nothing for their years of waiting and nothing for their money in terms of the entertainment value. Instead of a glorious night for the sport, we got a business transaction in which we were pawns. A year later, that money grab still haunts boxing.”

Some people believe that Mayweather-McGregor is good for boxing because it will bring casual viewers to the sport. But so did Mayweather-Pacquiao. And what many casual viewers saw that night turned them off.

Also, like Mayweather-Pacquiao, Mayweather-McGregor will have a pay-per-view undercard. It would be nice if, this time, the promotion gives fans competitve fights between world-class fighters for their money rather than garbage.

But no matter how the story-line plays out, Mayweather-McGregor epitomizes the sad condition that boxing is in today.

There’s a certain purity to signature sporting events in that they feature the best competing against the best. Professional basketball would be in a sorry state if a team composed of successful rap artists could play the Golden State Warriors and engender better television ratings than the NBA Championship Finals. The fact that a substantial segment of the public is supporting Mayweather-McGregor with its dollars in the belief that it’s the best entertainment that boxing has to offer confirms that boxing is in a bad place.

“There is something second-rate about our sport now,” Bart Barry of 15rounds.com recently wrote.

Years ago, people in boxing at every level – promoters, writers, television executives and fighters – had more respect for the sport than they do today.

If the lords of boxing did their job properly, Mayweather-McGregor would be a sideshow, not a major event. But they haven’t done their job properly. Instead, by flooding the market with more than 100 “world champions” and too often denying fans the fights they want to see, they’ve created an environment in which Mayweather-McGregor became possible.

Andreas Hale put the matter in perspective, writing for The Sweet Science: “If you are one of those people who think that this spectacle hurts boxing, then you are overlooking everything from terrible matchmaking and the existence of sanctioning bodies to horrible judging that has marred the sport. This fight absolutely cannot add to that. The only way this fight can actually hurt boxing is if McGregor were to knock Mayweather out. Rest assured, boxing will be in the same state it was before and after Mayweather-McGregor, for better or worse.”

Similarly, writing in another context for The Queensberry Rules, Brent Hedke observed, “There’s always going to be bad decisions. There’s always going to be horrible broadcasting. There’s always going to be some form of corruption. There’s always going to be psychotically inaccurate rankings. There’s always going to be boring fights. But what there’s maybe not always going to be is an audience. It seems like having two guys punch each other in the face and pointing a camera at it would be impossible to fuck up. But here we are.”

However, there are issues surrounding Mayweather-McGregor that go far beyond boxing.

The Mayweather-McGregor media tour was toxic and added to a poison that has been spreading throughout the United States. It was all there. The devaluation of women, the racism and homophobia, the use of personal attacks and obscenities instead of rational dialogue.

Dana White called Mayweather and McGregor “two of the best shit-talkers in both sports” and sought to justify their conduct.

“It’s funny when people say they’ve taken this thing too far,”White opined. “This is a fight, not a croquet game. This part of the deal; the reality is what’s going on here is just as much of the fight as the fight itself, the mental warfare game. What this is all about is trying to get in each other’s heads. That’s why you’ve seen this thing escalate to where we are now.”

Oh, I understand it now.

So if LeBron James called Stephen Curry a “faggot” before the NBA Championship Finals last year. And Kevin Love, after saying he is “half-black, from the belly button down,” simulated sexual orgasm with a hand-held microphone between his legs as “a little present for my beautiful black female fans.” And Draymon Greene responded by calling Kyrie Irving, a “cunt,” a “bitch,” and a “ho.” NBA commissioner Adam Silver would say,” This is basketball, not a croquet game. This part of the deal.”

I don’t think so.

The establishment (Showtime, Las Vegas, corporate sponsors) and pay-per-view buyers around the world are coming together to reward these expressions of bigotry and prejudice with two of the largest paychecks in the history of sports.

Writing in Sports Illustrated, Charles Pierce called the promotion a “glorified cholera outbreak” and “festival of fools.” He then condemned the “racism, sexism and homophobia” at the core of the promotion and placed it in the context of 2017, noting, “It is a fearful dangerous time. And while there is never a good time for a prizefight that seeks to turn that dread and unease into a big payday, it’s especially not that time now.”

Sarah Spain expressed similar thoughts on ESPNW.com: “As their exchanges get uglier and more offensive, it’s time to check back in with ourselves. Are these the kind of people deserving of our attention, admiration and time? If we give celebs like them a pass on homophobia, misogyny and bigotry, how many others will feel entitled to express their own hate?”

One of the most eloquent critiques came from Tim Freeman of The Daily Beast, who weighed in on Mayweather calling McGregor a faggot.

“To give his ugly litany proper context,” Freeman wrote, ‘Punk. You faggot. You ho.’ There it is. Loud. Like a bullet. A knife. Threatening.”

“I’m ready for ‘It’s only pre-match hype,’” Freeman continued. “’It’s all pantomime. This happens in every big boxing match. None of them mean it. This is just boxers trash talking.’ … Don’t bother. We can all hear how Mayweather says, and means, ‘faggot.’ He means ‘faggot’ when faggot means ‘gay,’ when ‘gay’ means ‘less of a man than me’ who should be scared of me when I shout ‘faggot’ at him, and know his lower disgusting place. The ultimate, demasculinizing insult. That kind of ‘faggot.’ Mayweather said ‘faggot’ just the way gay men and men assumed to be gay have heard ‘faggot’ shouted, said, whispered, spat at them for centuries.

“If this all sounds a little dramatic and you’ve never been called a ‘faggot,’ Freeman elaborated, “here’s a primer. You never know when it’s coming. You might be at school. You might be in a restroom. You might be going to lunch. You might be leaving a bar or club. You may be with friends. You may be on a bus or train. At night. During the day. But every time, it scythes the air. And you think: Now? You may not be out as gay. You may be coming out. You may not even be gay. But the threat is suddenly there. This is ‘faggot’ as the bigots with their fists, guns, weapons and whatever else they have to injure and degrade gay people intend it to be heard. And ironically, as Mayweather said this as a prelude to beating another man up, it often comes with the threat of a fist or worse. The word can even be carved into both your arms – ‘Die Fag,’ to be precise – by your attackers. Perhaps Mayweather thinks that sounds pretty cool.

The genie is now out of the bottle. We might hear statements later on to the effect of, “Oh, we were just doing this to build interest in the fight” … “One of my closest business associates is gay” … “I love women and black people … I apologize if I offended anyone.”

That won’t eliminate the damage that has been done so far and is being done every day by this toxic promotion. It’s a metaphor for some of the worst impulses of our time.

And there’s another important point to make.

During the media tour, McGregor taunted Mayweather for not being able to read at an adult level. He taunted Mayweather for owing millions of dollars in back taxes. He was crude, belligerent and insulting. But McGregor did not mention the fact that Mayweather was convicted on multiple occasions and served 63 days in jail for being physically abusive to women.

Let’s make that point again so you don’t miss it.

With all the insults and profanity and bigotry and prejudice that were hurled back and forth, McGregor didn’t reference the fact that Mayweather was criminally convicted on three occasions and spent time in jail for physically abusing women.

Why not?

Because to do so might have led to closer mainstream media scrutiny of the underside of Mayweather-McGregor. It might push some potential pay-per-view buyers, corporate sponsors and others away, and cost the promotion dollars.

Racism, misogyny and homophobia might be good for business to a point. But reminding people that hate speech sometimes translates into action could pose problems.

It would be interesting to know if one or more clauses in the many contracts that govern Mayweather-McGregor preclude McGregor, Showtime personnel and others from referencing Mayweather’s criminal convictions for being physically abusive to women.

We’re living in a time of hate-filled rhetoric and an assault on human rights. The gains made in recent decades by women, people of color and the LGBT community are under attack.

Somewhere, as you read this, men who think that Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are really cool role models are abusing women. The abuse will psychologically scar some of the women for life. Maybe one of the abusers will kill his victim. Similar abuse is playing out against victims because of their race and sexual orientation.

This is not a time to glorify and financially reward people who demean others by calling them “bitch,” “ho,” “boy,” “cunt”and “faggot.” Every person who buys or otherwise supports the Mayweather-McGregor pay-per-view is doing just that.

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This is Part III of a three-part series.

Part I

Part II

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Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – “There Will Always Be Boxing” – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He is a consultant for HBO Sports.

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