At the height of UFC middleweight Anderson Silva’s great career in 2009, he began lobbying to box Roy Jones Jr. It was Silva’s dream, he said, and for a time, other than a one-on-one bout with his clone, boxing Jones became the Brazilian’s biggest goal. UFC president Dana White spoke openly about knowing Jones. Of being friendly with Jones. And, while not quite understanding why anyone would want to see it, of wanting to deliver the bout for both Jones and Silva.
Of course, though Jones was willing, it didn’t happen. Silva has chalked up the missed opportunity to the notion that White really wasn’t interested in making the bout because it would have set a precedent that future stars might follow. White would “lose control”, Silva said, if he allowed athletes contracted to the UFC to venture off into other areas of combat sports to seek challenges.
By comparison, the noise generated around a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor has been tantamount to a fighter jet buzzing the Silva-Jones Cessna. The loudness of the “hot take” crowd has meshed too well with the possibility of Mayweather and McGregor. The fact that this same group wanted Mayweather to fight Ronda Rousey doesn’t mean anything. It’s volume for volume’s sake and Mayweather-McGregor is prime material. None of the this changes the reality that Mayweather-McGregor is just as unlikely to happen as Silva and Jones, perhaps less so, yet that didn’t prevent ‘The Spider’ from offering advice to the brash Irish UFC star that won’t serve anyone well.
McGregor has done a supreme job building up his name and his worth to the sports and media worlds over a relatively short period of time in the UFC, where he has accumulated a 9-1 record and won belts in two weight classes. Yet Silva’s recommendation to him last week was to cast aside MMA for a year, focus on boxing, and get that Mayweather fight. This is an unfortunate suggestion for several reasons. First and foremost, it means McGregor won’t be available to compete in MMA, which is where he’s beloved and truly valuable. More importantly, it’s difficult to imagine that any amount of training would prepare him – or anyone for that matter – to be competitive against the boxing masterclass Mayweather is sure to unleash, even as age encroaches on Floyd’s specialized athleticism and skill.
Not only shouldn’t McGregor do what Silva suggests, White shouldn’t ask consumers to pay money for a farce of a boxing bout, no matter how strong an MMA card he builds underneath it in support. This was White’s suggestion as he “offered” McGregor and Mayweather $25m apiece plus cuts of what most likely would be a massive pay-per-view haul that drags in suckers from all corners.
This sort of event is not what the UFC brand has been built on and that’s not what MMA fans have come to expect from the leading promoter in the space. And this is not what White said he supported during his 16 years as an MMA promoter, which at times included him railing against the unfortunate cash-grab failures of the boxing business. Yet here is he seemingly attempting to capitalize on just that scenario. Two known commodities, two entertainers, two great fighters in their own right, but men of different different disciplines and strengths. Granted, it’s interesting in the same way the wreckage of a car crash is piled on the side of the road. But what’s the point of selling one boxing bout that results in an outcome almost everyone expects. Rubbernecking for dollars sounds like an awful thing because it is.
For his part, legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum thinks White and Mayweather and McGregor are just talking to talk. Arum knows something about promoting great events and promoting farcical ones. He was with Muhammad Ali in 1976, when the heavyweight giant went to Tokyo for a match with pro wrestling great Antonio Inoki. The contest fell short at the box office and went down as one of the few decisions in Ali’s career that disappointed his fans. This is a different world than Ali and Inoki knew in ’76. Boxing in 2017 is not the combat sport anymore, and a mingling with mixed-fighting could be a boon to both businesses. But it needs to be done right.
Mayweather is no Ali, though. We know this based on his words and actions. Not only did Ali take on all challenges, he sometimes, as is the case with Inoki, sought them out. Ali was also not above acting a fool, and flirting with ridicule to create a show and bring eyes to boxing. Mayweather has built what he did by playing it smart and safe, and wouldn’t it be refreshing to see him actually risk something in this equation, especially for the amount of compensation he demands?
The boxing great laughed at White’s proposal, which was posited on Fox Sports to Colin Cowherd’s show, because he said he wouldn’t show up for less than $100m guaranteed. That’s Mayweather’s prerogative since he grew accustomed to earning massive purses after many years perfecting his craft in the gym and competition. The undefeated boxer is free to do what he wants because that is the world he created for himself. McGregor is not because, as of now, he is contractually controlled by White and simply can’t dictate terms no matter how much he would like to believe he’s on Mayweather’s level, no matter how many cars or watches or pairs of alligator shoes he buys.
If White is intent on making a spectacle – and he very well could be considering the new UFC ownership has financial peaks it needs to meet this year – he should promote something that might actually make sporting sense, that might leave the public titillated and better off for it. Agree to the boxing bout between McGregor and Mayweather, fine. But also demand an MMA contest between them and let the chips fall where they may. If they split, which they likely would, promote the rubber match and determine the sport with a flip of the coin.
Who wouldn’t pay to see that?
If this far-flung idea immediately makes any hope of seeing Mayweather and McGregor box remoter than it is now, so be it. Most levelheaded observers don’t believe it will happen regardless, but at least don’t waste the public’s time by throwing around lowball offers in the press.