News of the biggest prizefight of a generation is still hot off the presses, but already weeks and months of whispered speculation and murmured dissection have risen into a cacophony of deliberation, as last Wednesday night (June 14, 2017) saw Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor finally confirmed for August 26. The talking heads have barely taken a breath; Does Conor have a chance? Will Mayweather toy with him? What if he lands that left hand? Yet all this debate is wasted energy; a truly fruitless task. Prizefighting is a game…and Conor McGregor has already won.
Started from the bottom…
A pinch over five years ago I sat at home, sulking as I hooked a laptop up to my TV to stream Conor McGregor’s first Cage Warriors title fight. Real life had got in the way of me heading to Dublin to witness what many felt would be the breakout moment for Irish MMA’s hottest property. They weren’t wrong; McGregor put his man away following a consummate nine-minute performance, but it was the aftermath, an outpouring of emotion from the Dublin faithful, that really stirred up my feelings of envy. I’d missed something special.
Fast forward six months: That “something special” had snowballed into “something big.” Cage Warriors had never struggled to draw a crowd in Ireland, but when McGregor returned to Dublin on New Year’s Eve 2012, tickets were like gold dust. Local fighters took many more than they usually would, knowing they’d have no trouble selling them on and earning a healthy 20 percent commission. Fans without tickets hung around the lobby bar in the hopes that scalpers would be playing third trade, but nobody was letting go of their golden tickets. With whispers abound that a handful had been returned to the box office, a scramble ensued that left many disappointed and a lucky few elated.
By this time I was working for Cage Warriors as their post=fight interviewer. My job was easy; take the winning fighter from the cage to a backstage pop-up studio and grab a few sound bytes. Easy money, right?
McGregor ran through his opponent like a hot knife through butter to claim his second title and become the only man this far to hold two Cage Warriors world championships in two weight classes simultaneously. If his previous win had prompted a celebration, this one fuelled a riot born of pure joy and pride. Dublin’s hero had done it and the crowd had no intentions of letting me drag him away for something as dull as a post-fight chat.
My camera man and I — with the help of some frankly overwhelmed security — were finally able to force our way through the masses with the newly minted double champ in tow. As a set of giant, soundproof double doors (the venue is generally used as a theatre) separated us from the cacophony outside, myself, my camera man Tommy, Conor and his partner Dee, who through all the mayhem he had kept firmly under his arm, shared a wild-eyed moment of almost disbelief in the silence.
We felt like intruders to an intensely private moment as Conor looked at Dee with the softest, gentlest smile, before that million dollar grin we’re all used to ripped across his face.
“We did it baby, we’re going to the top!”
Mystic Mac was right.
It takes that kind of brazen confidence to be a truly successful prizefighter. I’ve seen many a talented athlete crumble under pressure and many a less talented fighter over achive by virtue of their insurmountable self-belief. When you come across that rare combination of an individual as strong mentally as they are physically competant, they invariably reach the pinnacle of their chosen field.
McGregor is very much of that ilk. In the five years since that magical night in Dublin, a time in his life whe he was still claiming welfare from the state to keep food in his belly and a roof over his head, McGregor has taken the world by storm. He has made history in the UFC, earning titles in two of the three weight classes in which he has competed.
McGregor the brand is a world-wide phenomenon. Thousands flocked to see him verbally tear chunks out of José Aldo on an unprecedented global media tour. His fights have pulled in sky high Pay-Per-View numbers and live gates. His profile and value have risen to the point that he could turn down a starring role at UFC 200 and tell the company’s top brass “I will fight for what I want, not for what you think I’m worth.”
Was he Dana White’s golden boy? Damn right he was, and through all the private negotiating and public bickering, they both laughed all the way to the bank and back multiple times. Through all the talk about fighter’s rights and fighter pay, McGregor is the mold-breaker and trend-setter when it comes to getting what you’re worth. It can be done if you’re good enough… and he is good enough.
…now we are here
And so we turn to Floyd Mayweather Jr., the greatest boxer of his generation or, as many believe, of all-time. While some may argue the call on his “GOAT” status, few would disagree that “Money” is one of prizefighting’s greatest successes. Success in prizefighting isn’t just about winning or losing, it’s about chasing down the biggest prize, the highest status; ultimately, the most money.
Mayweather was good enough to write his own checks. When he got tired of splitting so much of them with promoters, Mayweather was good enough to promote himself and start cutting his own cheques. “The Money Team” became synonymous with the everyman’s wildest fantasies of opulence and wealth. While the mansions, supercars, jewelry and private jets in rap videos are hired for a day, Mayweather has them all bought and paid for, because when it comes to prizefighting, he’s good enough.
McGregor has likely hit the ceiling in terms of paydays in MMA, or at least come as close to it as possible without being made a part-owner of the UFC. He’s far from done with prizefighting though, and based on all he has achieved in the five years since he blew the roof off that small hall in Dublin, he is good enough to blaze yet another trail.
McGregor has transcended the sport.
People have been picking apart his chances against Mayweather ever since this fight was a mere pipe dream. Will Floyd school him? Will Conor be able to touch the boxer at all? What if he beats him? Discussions went into overdrive last night and will no doubt continue until the first bell rings.
The people going to great lengths to dissect the intricacies of combat between “Money” and “The Notorious” are missing the point by such a great margin that they might as well be in a different conversation.
This is prizefighting. McGregor took the biggest prizes in his sport, and now he’s landed the biggest prize in another. When that check clears, he’ll never have to raise his hands again, unless we wants to. Everything he has achieved has allowed him to be the master of his own destiny.
He’s fought the best, he’s made the money, he’s tested his limits and he can retire young and healthy, if he so chooses. He has, quite simply, achieved the dream by being the most successful at his chosen pursuit.
When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter if this is a spectacle. It doesn’t matter how he does in the ring or what the fallout is for MMA and boxing. Because before McGregor even laces up those 10-ounce gloves for the first time as a professional…
… he’s already won the biggest fight of his life.
By Brad Wharton
Follow on Twitter at @MMABrad48