In combat sports, there are hypothetical scenarios discussed, the crossover between weight divisions or even different forms of the sport. Who would win if a legend of the golden era fought a current superstar?
Since Conor McGregor skyrocketed to the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship just over two years ago, his flashy style allowed his popularity to surge to become one of the most recognizable athletes in sports. A major draw at the box office, the Dublin native is overwhelmingly the most marketable fighter on the UFC roster, generating more pay-per-view buys last year for his three events than the rest of the PPV shows combined in 2016. If that’s a truly positive or negative aspect of the business for WME, the group that bought the promotion for over $4 billion last July, is another discussion for another time. The bottom line is, Conor McGregor is money and he’s currently drawing the most money in combat sports. Despite lacking some of the more technical ground skills, the brash Irishman is dynamic enough, and knows how to sell PPVs, often borrowing a page from the pro wrestling playbook to generate the most interest possible before his steps in the cage. Make no mistake, underneath the lavish clothes and rants in his native accent, McGregor is a very smart businessman.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather was the top draw in boxing for almost a decade before he retired without much fanfare after he defeated Andre Berto in 2015. Floyd, who often carefully chose his opponents throughout his career to protect his record, garnered a disappointing 400,000 buys for the advertised retirement bout. As I’ve written before, the stain of the lackluster “super fight” with Manny Pacquiao, a contest that was criticized and surrounded in controversy, had a diminishing effect on both stars. HBO dropped Manny from his contract, forcing his promoter Bob Arum to distribute a bout with Jesse Vargas through Top Rank, an event that was the lowest Pacquiao pay-per-view offering in eight years with just 300,000 buys. When Floyd sat ringside for the Filipino superstar’s return last November, there was some speculation about a potential rematch, but the public reaction was lukewarm at best, as it’s doubtful the same record-setting number would pay to watch it after the disappointment of their original bout. As I wrote previously, fans no longer wanted to pay to watch Mayweather in glorified exhibition bouts and he clearly doesn’t want to fight some of the more dangerous opponents in boxing, mostly notably when he ducked Gennady Golovkin as a possible choice before he retired.
If Floyd isn’t willing to fight the top opposition in boxing, and the fans aren’t clamoring for the Pacquiao rematch, the contest with McGregor is probably his most lucrative option right now. The very valid argument could be made that Floyd, at least within the past decade, is a businessman first and a fighter after that. “Money” Mayweather, much like he negotiated in boxing to get opponents into his preferred weight class, will basically dictate the terms of a McGregor bout, which is why he would only agree to a boxing match, not mixed martial arts. Conor, smart enough to know that the format wouldn’t be open to discussion, already applied for a boxing license in California so at least that hurdle was cleared.
The ONLY reason this fight is even a possibility is the money on the table for everyone involved. It brings the most money for Floyd, especially considering the lack of interest when the prospect of a Pacquiao rematch surfaced. It gets McGregor the biggest payday of his career, and we all know that each promotional organization will get a piece of the pie as well. The bottom line is, this isn’t about a competition of skill, as Conor was completely out-boxed by Nate Diaz in their original fight so you could expect a more lopsided tilt against Mayweather. There’s a 99% chance that Floyd would KO Conor within just a few rounds so the result isn’t the draw. Fans would be willing to pay to see the speculate surrounding the fight and that will be the entertainment it could provide on pay-per-view. As over-matched as Conor might be from a striking aspect, he would get KO’ed for the most money of his career so it’s worth the risk. At the end of the day, prize fighting is about the money you can make and you can’t blame McGregor if he steps into the boxing ring for major cash.
Money, the same reason this contest could happen, will probably be the reason it doesn’t happen. Quite frankly, Floyd seems to overvalue himself and didn’t agree to a $25 million offer with a percentage of the buy rate from Dana White. If Floyd thinks he will get a paycheck anywhere close to the Pacquiao fight, the McGregor bout won’t get passed the negotiation stage. Keep in mind, prior to the Manny contest, Showtime actually lost money on a few of the Mayweather PPVs because the buys didn’t cover his guarantee. While Conor McGregor is currently more relevant to pop culture, he’s not necessarily more well known than Manny Pacquaio, who has a much more lengthy track record as a draw during a longer career. The record-setting Manny/Floyd contest in 2015 did 4 million buys, nearly double of the previous top seller of De La Hoya/Mayweather that generated 2.4 million buys in 2007. Realistically, I’d say that a potential Conor/Floyd bout would bring a number similar to the De La Hoya fight, a figure that would put it among the most successful pay-per-view events in history. Assuming the price tag would be around the typical UFC or boxing event of $60 and then factor in the cable companies’ percentage, the math just doesn’t add up for Floyd to demand the previously mentioned $100 million to sign to fight McGregor. Again, Conor is a relatively new commodity and this possible bout doesn’t have the storied build up that the Manny contest did so it’s unfair to use those to gauge the possible draw of Conor vs. Floyd.
I don’t think this hypothetical contest will happen because Floyd Mayweather will demand an unrealistic amount of cash to sign a contract. The bottom line is, Floyd will request a substantial guarantee, and when the figure is close to $100 million, it can be a risky deal, which is something WME won’t promote. Again, Showtime lost money on a few of the Mayweather bouts, and nobody wants to be responsible for paying him an outrageous amount of money if the buy rate doesn’t cover it. To put it in prospective, even if the bout draws $80 million and Floyd demands his previously mentioned figure, the promoters might lose money if they don’t carefully consider the potential revenue the contest could realistically draw.
So, while this fight probably won’t happen, Floyd at least considered the possibility because it gave him more publicity than he received for his retirement bout. The Berto fight was briefly mentioned, and not much from Mayweather was discussed after that until the speculation about a McGregor deal surfaced. At the same time, Conor McGregor received publicity as well and it highlighted his status as the top draw in MMA. There’s no doubt that McGregor would sign to fight because it brings him the most cash of his career, but ultimately, Mayweather already has a few hundred million dollars and he wouldn’t risk any possibility of getting hit with a fluke punch from an MMA fighter in a boxing match. For Floyd, this entire scenario was just a promotional tour for the Money Team organization that promotes fight cards, and sells merchandise. Regardless, the entire situation at least provided some entertaining discussion and it gives Conor McGregor hype for when he returns to the octagon later this year.
Until next week
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