Let’s get down to brass tacks, here. In four days Floyd Mayweather will fight Conor McGregor in Las Vegas. The greatest boxer of his generation will fight a man who is not a boxer. It’s a tacky, dispiriting event. And we’re all gonna watch it anyway.
And we know what we’re in for. Let’s not pretend otherwise. This isn’t a potentially great match that will take a humiliating turn, like Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear or even Mayweather’s bout with Manny Pacquiao. This was a sideshow from the very beginning. Its closest analogue is probably the 1976 fight between Chuck Wepner and Andre the Giant, wherein Wepner was tossed out of the ring. Of course he was, you might be thinking. What else would you expect to happen when a boxer fights a wrestler?
So what do we hope to happen when a boxer fights a mixed martial artist? I’ll tell you exactly what we hope, what the millions of casual fans will be tuning in for: We’re waiting for him to throw a kick.
That’s it, isn’t it? There’s nothing else that could make this fight memorable. We all know why and how this fight happened (money, the dwindling popularity of boxing and its over-reliance on big ticket publicity events in contrast with the ascendant UFC—which is to say, also money—respectively). Mayweather is the defensive master of his generation, perhaps of the century. He’s a smart, savvy promoter, ever willing to play the heel. He knows that plenty of people will pay to watch him win, and plenty more will pay to watch him lose. He’s also an inveterate domestic abuser and strip club enthusiast. He’s tied with Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, and it was a foregone conclusion that his retirement in 2015 would be short-lived. Of course he would return for that 50th win. Of course it would be a spectacle. We would expect nothing less. But we also expected that he would box, you know, an actual boxer. And McGregor, for all his skills and titles in the Octogon, is not a boxer. He and Floyd have plenty of things in common, from their ostentatious displays of wealth to their braying jackass public personas, but boxing is not one of them.
And so it will probably go that, after months of wild hype, Mayweather will casually bat McGregor around for twelve rounds, win on points, and it will be really fucking boring.
Unless McGregor does something crazy. Unless he is so thoroughly not a boxer that he somehow throws Floyd off his game and is able to get in enough to land that one knockout punch. Or unless he embraces the insanity, tosses whatever pride and/or shame he has out the door, and kicks the boxer.
McGregor would be immediately disqualified if that were to happen, sure, but so what? He’s not a boxer. He has no stake in the sport, and he’s getting paid anyway, so what does a win or a loss really mean to him? And sure, it would be a humiliating development for fans of the sport, but for the looky-loos who watch Nascar for the crashes and hockey games for the fistfights, it will be money well spent. And for a fight that was meme’d into existence, that seems about right.
Still, though, we’re gonna watch it. Even if we don’t particularly want to, especially if we don’t want to. Because it will either be a bizarre outlier, or the future of combat sport in the 21st century. The stakes are simultaneously nonexistent and sky-high. It’s the kind of thing that could have only ever happened here and now: a non-political, non-artistic event that nevertheless feels like the first artistic symbol of the Trump era, measuring the times the way 24 did for the Bush years or Hamilton for Obama—and not just because Trump, Mayweather, and McGregor are all unrepentant assholes with brittle egos and a flair for showmanship. Like the current administration, Saturday’s fight is an event that never should have happened, will make a lot of bad people very rich, and will embarrass us for years to come. The circus is in town, forever.