This latest Exploit into the Unknown feature is about my experience attending the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor superfight.
I should tell you in advance, though, what I attended was actually the screening of the fight at the Dakota Dunes Casino south of Saskatoon. I didn’t actually attend the fight in Las Vegas at all.
Heck, who could afford these ludicrous ticket prices? I learned from some of the other fight fans at the casino that the prices for ringside seats were absolutely ridiculous. According to what was being posted on the Internet, these were selling for something like $80,000.
This wouldn’t surprise me; major boxing fights are infamous for being the types of events that only the “elites” can attend. And there were plenty of celebrities there; names like LeBron James and Jamie Foxx and Steve Harvey, among others.
Since I’m not the “elite,” I spent Saturday night at a casino screening. And even though it was just a TV screening on three big screens at the front, the place was “Standing Room Only.” They even had to cart more chairs into the showroom for people so enough of us could sit down.
These screenings were happening in venues all over North America, and at home on pay-per-view TV. There were venues in North Battleford screening the fight, such as the Blend and Boston Pizza, and Gold Eagle Casino. But I’m glad I went to Dakota Dunes, and not just because I watched the fight there. While waiting for the fights to start I played the slot machines and came away $50 richer.
So this really did turn out to be the “Money Fight” after all, and not just for Mayweather.
I am not entirely sure how I should approach this column, because there is really nothing spectacular about watching a fight on TV anywhere.
Maybe what this really is is a story of being a fan of the fights, and my experiences following the sport of boxing over the years. It really has been sort of a love-hate relationship in many ways.
I really became interested in boxing during the 1980s when you had so many of these personalities in the ring. There were names such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, and at the heavyweight level you had names such as Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks, and “Iron” Mike Tyson.
Some of the fights were memorable, such as the three-round “war” between Hagler and Hearns that ended with Hearns on the canvas, and the fight in which Leonard came back from retirement to defeat Hagler. Most often, these fights were from Las Vegas, which is really what spurred on my own interest in that glittering desert community.
But over time, the negatives about boxing really became obvious, to me and to other fans. Such as: the corruption. And multiple fight federations and the multiple title belts. On top of that, some of these boxers were criminals.
Who could cheer for that?
I started losing interest as the personalities of the sport began to leave the scene or even go to jail (Mike Tyson). But there was one particular fight that finished me off. It was the night Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title fight.
“This is the all-time low point,” I said. I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for boxing after that, for years.
Meanwhile, you had this rise of the new sport of mixed martial arts, with its no-holds-barred combination of boxing, kicking, and wrestling inside these barbed-wire cages.
Ultimately, under the leadership of Dana White, the UFC gained momentum thanks to a combination of factors, including strong promotions, better organization, some improved regulations, and a multitude of identifiable personalities across its stable of fighters.
It included people like Georges St.-Pierre, whose dominance of the Octagon particularly captured the attention of fight fans throughout Canada.
Most recently, the fan interest focused on Conor McGregor, the dynamic Irishman whose personality dominated inside and outside the ring.
The bottom line is that a lot of “fight” fans decided their interest in fights was the UFC, not boxing.
What brought me back to boxing eventually – and it took a long time – was the emergence of some new personalities of the sport. The fights of Manny Pacquiao got my attention, and so did the dominance of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring.
But it really frustrated the masses that a “super fight” between these two wasn’t happening. People talked about a Mayweather-Pacquiao matchup for years.
When it finally happened, the hype went through the roof, and that was it. I had gone to Dakota Dunes to watch that contest, which Mayweather convincingly won in a 12-round unanimous decision.
I am sure I am not the only one who returned as a fan of boxing, after so many years, because of this fight.
Quite honestly, though, I didn’t think there would be another “super fight” of this magnitude again for a long time. But it happened again for Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
Many fans saw it as the logical matchup between the two most dominant fighters in each of their sports. But there were detractors as well.
When the fight was finally confirmed there was no shortage of people who thought this would be a farce, and that Mayweather would destroy the inexperienced McGregor in the boxing ring.
I was one of the skeptics as well. The one thing I found strange right from the get-go was that there was so much hype and interest in the fight, and yet no title was on the line! Think of it. Mayweather had previously retired, and he had relinquished all his belts. Meanwhile, McGregor was a UFC champion but this would be his first pro boxing match, ever!
They couldn’t promote this as a title fight of any kind, so they billed it as the “Money Fight,” in reference to Mayweather’s nickname “money.” Cynical fans thought it was fitting, because they thought this fight was a big cash grab.
In the end, someone did come up with a “championship belt” to be awarded the winner. But people on social media immediately ridiculed it and compared it to title belts in the WWE. People put up photos of “Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase, wearing a similar-looking belt. Coincidence?
Many fans were sure this “Money Fight” was something right out of Vince McMahon’s playbook. Contributing to this atmosphere was the fighters’ outrageous “world tour” of cities, where Mayweather and McGregor hurled no end of offensive insults and trash-talk at one another.
There were stories of drama behind the scenes with McGregor’s sparring partner quitting, and about how Mayweather was not taking the fight seriously. Supposedly, Mayweather was blowing off training sessions so he could be at the Vegas strip club he owned, every night, all week before the fight.
With all this nonsense going on, and with little on the line beyond Mayweather’s chance at an undefeated 50-0 record, why was this such a big deal?
I finally realized it in the late going when I was reading all these MMA news outlets, all of which were covering this boxing match. These were people who covered mixed martial arts for a living, who normally wouldn’t be caught dead near a boxing ring, and yet here they were covering and hyping this boxing match.
At last, it made sense. This was “MMA versus boxing”! This was the UFC versus “The Money Team” to settle the ultimate unanswered question: which sport had the best fighters?
This was boxing’s biggest star, Mayweather, versus MMA’s biggest star, McGregor. That’s what this was about. Bragging rights were on the line between the fans of one sport and one individual, versus fans of the other.
This was evident even at the Dakota Dunes, where quite a few people there wearing UFC apparel, people who were clearly there because they were cheering on “the UFC.”
This was like the AFL versus the NFL in the early Super Bowl years. Just like Joe Namath and the New York Jets, Conor McGregor was going to go in there at T-Mobile Arena to shock the world and score the biggest upset of all time: a victory for the UFC over boxing.
In fact, there were boxing people who were deathly afraid going into the fight about what would happen if McGregor did pull it off. This might finally finish boxing off for good.
What we ultimately got on Saturday night in Las Vegas wasn’t an upset. Nor was it the “farce” or “carnival” that many expected or feared.
Instead, we got a boxing match, and a compelling one at that.
McGregor seemed very comfortable in the ring as he started the first few rounds firing a flurry of punches, with Mayweather going into a defensive shell.
The on-air commentators were surprised at how good McGregor had looked early on.
But as the fight wore on, Mayweather started to land blows. It became obvious he was doing to McGregor what he had done to many fighters before him – wearing his opponent down.
In the ninth and 10th rounds, it was obvious McGregor was exhausted and ready to be knocked out. After a final flurry of Mayweather punches in the tenth round, the referee stopped the fight.
Inside the casino showroom at Dakota Dunes, fight fans were cheering and clapping. This was as good a contest as they all could have hoped for. You might say the fans had gotten their “money’s” worth.
Whether you were a boxing fan or an MMA fan, it didn’t really matter. It was simply a great night to be a fight fan.