Spectacle or sport? Who cares? Mayweather-McGregor is fun either way

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

LAS VEGAS – In 1842, P.T. Barnum leased the supposed mummified remains of the “Fiji Mermaid,” a creature with the body of a fish and the head of a monkey purportedly caught in the South Pacific.

The famed showman and circus operator marketed it via a genius public relations campaign, complete with fake letters to newspaper editors that created intense interest and demand. He then exhibited it in his museum in New York City.

Crowds, naturally, flocked to see it.

Now, it stands to reason that many of those who paid to examine this half mammal, half fish knew that it was unlikely to be real. The entire concept makes no sense, of course, and that’s without any knowledge of science. Yet they came.

Maybe they paid just to laugh. Maybe they paid because they couldn’t resist the ridiculous. Maybe they paid to be part of the big event of the day. Maybe they paid out of the slight possibility that it was real, and, if so, well damn if you wouldn’t feel like an idiot for not going to see a monkey-fish mermaid when you had the chance.

Which brings us to the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight here on Saturday night.

Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) of the U.S. and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor of Ireland face off during their official weigh-in on Friday. (Reuters)

More specifically, it brings us to the visceral backlash that this is a) even a thing and b) people are going to pay to watch it, either live for thousands of dollars at T-Mobile Arena or for $99.99 a pop on pay per view.

“[Expletive]-you Mayweather vs. McGregor,” former boxing great and current promoter Oscar De La Hoya tweeted Friday, a sentiment no doubt shared by many. “Both of you are disrespecting boxing.” He went on to hype up the Sept. 16 fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin that he is running.

De La Hoya, and everyone bothered by Mayweather-McGregor, need to relax and face reality. The customer is always right and the customers want this fight even if it is more promotion than anything else, even if it does feature one boxer who is 49-0 against another who is 0-0.

De La Hoya knows better. He once actively tried to get McGregor to fight his guy, Alvarez, because he knew it would deliver big money, disrespect of boxing or not. And if he could book that fight tomorrow, he still would.

Mainly he sounds like what actual New York museum owners must have sounded like in 1842 when they couldn’t get the masses to come and check out their real artwork the way Barnum could with his foolishness.

This is America. This is how it works. It always has. It always will.

No one, or at least very few people, is buying this fight because they think this will be the greatest boxing match of all-time, or the equal of Alvarez-GGG. No one is being fooled here. They are embracing it. Big difference.

Maybe 15,000 fans poured into T-Mobile Arena on Friday afternoon anyway to watch the weigh-ins (Mayweather came in at 149.5, McGregor 153). They waved Irish flags and lifted Mayweather banners. They wore shirts that read “49-1” and “Money said knock you out.” They chanted and screamed and held their phones aloft to take in the scene.

They either roared when McGregor stated he’d plant his right foot in the middle of the ring and dare Mayweather to come fight him. Or they cheered when Mayweather brushed off what will be as much as a 20-pound weight difference by opening bell by reminding, “size doesn’t win fights, fighting wins fights.”

In short, the fans enjoyed themselves. Then they went back to the casinos and pool bars to drink.

Mayweather-McGregor is not the Fiji Mermaid. This is a real fight and these are real professionals. This isn’t scripted like wrestling. The prestige, glory and future earning potential on the line are enormous. A McGregor victory means he can book nearly any fight, at nearly any price in either boxing or the UFC.

“He’ll run the world,” UFC president Dana White said.

And while this may be Mayweather’s final fight, he desperately wants that 50-0 mark, not simply for his place in history, but the long-term branding potential of it. He’s gone 21 years as a pro without a loss. He isn’t looking to blow it to an MMA fighter with no boxing experience.

“Nobody can beat me,” he boasted all week.

These two went on a wild four-city, three-country press tour that managed to thrill, entertain and horrify crowds around the globe. They dress crazy. They act crazy. They talk crazy. They are crazy.

Mayweather is using the attention this week to promote, among other things, his new gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas by hanging out there until the wee hours every morning this week, including, he promises, Saturday morning until maybe 4 a.m.

“You’ll see,” he promised when asked if he was sure he’d be ready and rested by Saturday night.

“He’s so cool, isn’t he, at the strip club a couple days before the fight?” said McGregor, who is using the occasion to push a fashion line, because, nothing is coming for free in this thing.

It is what it is, the perfect storm of marketing. There’s a UFC star and a boxing star, a 40-year-old against a 20-something, white and black, an American and a European, each of them outrageously confident trash talkers.

If it isn’t your thing, that’s fine. Not buying the fight is the easiest thing in the world.

The millions who do either just want to see how ridiculous it is that someone is trying to pass a monkey-fish off as real, or they don’t want to miss it if McGregor really does connect with a big-time left.

Here in Vegas, with the Irish pouring into town and the drinks pouring up and down the Strip, everyone is having a late-summer party, laughing and joking and talking about the big fight, money flowing in all directions.

P.T. Barnum would have loved every minute of it.

Related coverage from Yahoo Sports:
How Mayweather-McGregor fight should play out
Clause in McGregor’s contract could prove costly
Mayweather guaranteed to make $100M vs. McGregor
How a $750K bet made Mayweather a $1B fighter
Las Vegas facing disaster if McGregor actually wins