Thursday 22 February 2018

James Lawton: A curiosity yes, but Mayweather-McGregor is not a fight for the ages that we should take seriously


Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Conor McGregor exchange words
Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Conor McGregor exchange words
Floyd Mayweather Jr. Photo: Gene Blevins/AFP/Getty Images
James Lawton

James Lawton

Already the trans-Continental trash talk of Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Conor McGregor has made a lurid bonfire of the crumpled old concept of taste and even a touch of decorum. The Irish flag is casually introduced by Mayweather. McGregor flirts with heavy racial innuendo and all the time Forbes Magazine coyly speculates over a take of more than $500m in Las Vegas on August 26.

Where will it leave us? Curiously, it may just take us to at least some of the territory of the most revered fighter in boxing history. Certainly, it is possible to hear a small echo of a favourite theory of Muhammad Ali. Ali was accused of introducing racism in the build-up to one of his great trilogy of fights with Joe Frazier. The victim Frazier never forgave the implication that he was an "Uncle Tom" subservient to white society.

Before the second fight in Madison Square Garden, Ali and Frazier appeared on an American talk show hosted by Dick Cavett with Michael Parkinson flown in from London having enjoyed a fine rapport with Ali when he interviewed the former champion on the BBC.

"You insult everyone you fight," said Parkinson to Ali. "What's the point in insulting each other?"

"What's the point in insulting each other," responded an incredulous Ali. "The Garden is sold out that's why."

The genuine venom between the pair was such that they brawled on the floor of a TV studio two days before the fight but, even in the absence of such antipathy, selling a fight on the basis that opponents don't like each other is nothing new.

Conor McGregor. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Conor McGregor. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The best part of half a century on, McGregor and Mayweather are firing insults at each other in front of thousands at press conferences and millions online. The pair arrive in London tonight for the last of four days of consecutive press conferences when the hype machine might just explode.

Even at his most braggadocious, Ali couldn't have imagined, not for a second, that someone like McGregor (right, below), who had never fought under the rules that shaped the achievements of every great fighter in the history of the sport, would be allowed into the same ring as a Floyd Mayweather (right, top), who some held to be the finest defensive boxer of all time.

And that despite an age advantage of 12 years, McGregor would not be laughed to scorn but given raucous cries of support when he declared this week in Los Angeles - a city long acquainted with some of the most brilliant Mexican practitioners of the lighter weights - "This is a limited set of rules that makes this half a fight, a quarter of a fight. What can I say? I'm a young, confident, happy man who has worked hard for this chance."

Half a fight, quarter a fight? The truth is in defiance of another notion this week that many old fight men would stealthily stump up their $99 pay per view fee and tune in rather like furtive customers at a house of ill repute. It is not a fight, not a fraction of one however small McGregor eventually settles on. It is a curiosity, one involving not the exquisite balances of a contest between an Ali and a Frazier, a Leonard and a Hearns, but the old claim that no-one ever got poor underestimating the intelligence of the public, American or otherwise.

The big problem is that Mayweather-McGregor provides no grounds on which to base any serious expectation. It has the form line of two strangers taking issue in the street. But with one significant difference. One is schooled, and gifted, in the combat to an extraordinary degree. The other is lacking both any kind of grooming or the help of anything he has been able to develop as a working instinct.

No one has made the point more trenchantly than the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Lennox Lewis.

Mayweather, it maybe should not be forgotten, played his part in boxing's struggles when he dallied for so long before his fight with Manny Pacquiao. That had the potential of the ages but the best of Pacquiao had gone when they came together and Mayweather received his acclaim as arguably the greatest defensive strategist in the history of the ring.

Maybe so, maybe not, but the truth was that his sport had been denied the chance of seeing the art displayed against an aggressor still filled with the prime of his talent.

Still, it was no kind of preparation for the spectacle due to unfold at the T-Mobile arena in six weeks. Heaven knows how much revenue will have been generated by then, and how loud will be the cries of McGregor and those who believe he has a chance of making a nonsense of sport's oldest trade. No doubt the businessman Mayweather will also give the profit potential plenty of massage.

He has already shown some signs of limbering up for the challenge, saying, after some ritual sneers directed at McGregor, "He does have a chance. Any time two warriors go out there anything can happen. He's going to come out and go for the kill. He's a heavy hitter, so I've got to be careful. I'm older now and I can't move like I used to."

Then, curiously, he turned back the clock to a different sport - and a different world. He likened the rough talk of McGregor to the mental warfare once waged by Ali.

That was 1971, Frank Sinatra couldn't get a ringside seat, Ali and Frazier shared $5m for a collision billed as the fight of the century before becoming one of the ages. What chance Mayweather-McGregor achieving such status? 500m-to-one seems reasonable.

James Lawton's 'A Ringside Affair - Boxing's Last Golden Age' will be published by Bloomsbury later this year

Irish Independent

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