Having followed and covered professional wrestling for so long, I have to admit I’ve become somewhat of a cynic. To the point that I think that most sports are actually “a work.” That bookers come up with storylines that are played out by the participants like actors following a script. With the goal being to create a story so compelling that people will spend money to see it play out — whether they’re ordering a pay-per-view, or subscribing to a network, buying a ticket to a live event, or even purchasing merch or other related ancillaries. How else could things like the Cavs’ and Cubs’ 2016 comebacks be explained? Or hockey’s Miracle on Ice? As creative and compelling as those stories were, though, this weekend’s “fight” between boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and MMA star Conor McGregor could be the greatest work of all.
If you’re one of the estimated four people in the world who haven’t heard about it, multi-time boxing champion Mayweather will be risking his perfect 49-0 boxing record when he faces off against current UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor, making his professional boxing debut, on Saturday night, August 26. The event is expected to be one of the highest grossing pay-per-view events of all time, given the popularity of both men and the very nature of the spectacle.
To say that this event has been brilliantly-promoted would be a major understatement. The hype around this match has been unreal, and some would say, unprecedented. After months of teasing and speculation as to whether the fight would even happen — a slow build to the angle, one might say — the announcement that the fight would happen finally happened in May. Over the next two months, the angle continued. The two men went on the road to hold public press conferences, including a standing-room only one at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. At those events, the two verbally jousted, engaging in brash smack-talk to express their (character’s) disrespect and dislike for one another and to put over their own skills. With McGregor being one of the best trash-talkers in the world who’s never shy about delivering an expletive-laden promo, the fans and the media ate it up, building the anticipation for the fight to a boiling point.
Meanwhile, stories emerged about McGregor’s sparring partner quitting after McGregor’s camp released a photo that suggested McGregor had knocked him down. Was this perhaps an embarrassed fighter who learned that McGregor’s reputation as a KO master in the octagon could carry forward to the boxing ring? Or, as he claimed, was he offended that he was portrayed to look badly, and that this was an attempt by Conor’s camp to boost their fighter’s credibility? Or perhaps this was all a red herring swerve worthy of the Fingerpoint of Doom or Higher Power reveal? Either way, it got people talking.
The bottom line is that every news story, article, sound-bite, Tweet, and late-night talk show appearance has served perfectly to promote the fight and engage the potential mainstream audience. The results? A match for which the two fighters’ combined purse could reach nearly $200 million, which serves to illustrate how big of a draw this is expected to be. In short, a huge-dollar blockbuster marquee event that most wrestling promoters — Vince McMahon included, I’d wager — could only dream of.
Which now begs the question as to how the fight will be booked. Who wins and who loses? How do they book a finish that keeps both guys looking strong and maintains the heat? Obviously, with this much money on the table, they have to be thinking about prolonging the feud, at least for one more match.
So, putting on my “fantasy booker” hat, here’s how I see things going down.
First round is very much a stalemate, as Mayweather uses his vast defensive skills to keep Conor, who’s swinging hard, looking to end things with a KO, at bay. Near the end of the round, Conor connects with a really hard shot, stunning Mayweather, and knocking him backwards, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Conor rushes into the corner aggressively to try to finish things, but Mayweather uses a clinch and some evasive footwork to escape and the round comes to an exciting end.
Second round, Conor is pumped up and confidently strides into the centre of the ring, stirring up the crowd, as he gestures to Mayweather and dares him to exchange blows. The experienced Mayweather knows better than to engage, and again takes a defensive stance, using footwork to keep away from Conor’s haymakers. The crowd solidly boos Mayweather, who is able to stave off any meaningful punches, while laying in some shots that don’t seem to hurt McGregor, but are still keeping him at a distance.
Third round is more of the same, with Conor slowing down his swings for the fences, and trying to be more strategic. Mayweather’s speed advantage proves frustrating, and this time, Conor eats a few more peppering shots to the face and body, including a cut under the eye. Conor gets more aggressive near the end of the round, but his gameplan looks to be pretty much stymied at this point. The crowd, restless and sensing that their man is in trouble tries to rally with “Conor!” chants, which Mayweather mocks after the bell rings, mockingly holding his glove to his ear, like when Paul Orndorff used to do this to rile up the Hulkamaniacs during that awesome feud. Between rounds, Conor screams obscenities at his opponent, “fight like a f***in’ man!” and the like, which the crowd eats up, but Mayweather no-sells.
Fourth round, Mayweather is clearly in Conor’s head, and the Irishman’s famed temper comes into play. He starts wildly swinging, and Mayweather takes advantage, counterpunching at every opportunity. After a particularly sweet combination of hits, Conor gets frustrated, and, out of instinct, throws a quick kick, connecting on Mayweather’s shin, staggering the boxer, who immediately grabs his leg in pain and in protest. The referee disqualifies McGregor, who instantly realizes what he’s done, drops his gloves, and expresses his frustration with himself for doing so. The crowd roars, some in outrage, some in delight, and some in pure amazement at the outcome. McGregor advances to Mayweather’s corner to apologize for his transgression, which sets off Floyd’s corner, and they rush in to intervene, leading to a skirmish between both camps, that gets physical, with a lot of pushing and shoving, ending with glares across the ring and nasty words exchanged.
In the post-fight interviews, Mayweather is still cocky, but plays the victim, accusing Conor of delberately trying to injure him because “he knew he was out of his league.” For his part, McGregor is contrite, and explains that he simply went into auto-pilot mode mentally, didn’t mean to cheat or to try to injure Floyd, and profusely apologizes to both him and the fans for what he did.
McGregor doesn’t lose any stock, since he didn’t get beaten and can brag about not getting put down by Mayweather. Meanwhile, Mayweather can brag that his boxing career is still perfect, and argue that McGregor knew he was going to lose, so he took the cheap way out.
Over the coming months, they can continue to exchange boasts, goading each other into another fight to settle this once and for all. The boxing commission refuses to sanction a rematch given the way the last one went down. But the MMA commission will. And so the second fight is done in the octagon, this time with the home-field advantage reversed. More hype and ballyhoo ensues over the next few months. This time, McGregor turns up the trash-talking even more, basically laughing off Mayweather and totally dismissing his chances.
Meanwhile, Mayweather makes a big production in “training” for his MMA debut, bringing in all sorts of major UFC stars for “lessons,” each of which is documented for the media, complete with photo ops and pressers. Again, all serving no purpose but for the angle itself, building hype for another staged battle that will once again result in killer box office.
In terms of the second match, like every good sequel, it builds off of the foundation laid in the first one. Mayweather tries to make it a stand-up boxing match, again, trying to use his footwork and his quick hands to keep distance from McGregor. About a minute in, McGregor shoots in, and grabs Mayweather’s leg — the same one he kicked in the first fight. He clamps on a leg submission, and Mayweather taps out. After the fight, both men pay mutual respect to one another during their post-match promos, and the show ends with them raising each other’s arm in symbolic victory.
In the end, Mayweather loses the match, but since that was expected, he doesn’t really lose any face. After the fight, he retires from boxing for good, his legacy unvarnished by this one-time foray into a new sport. McGregor’s babyface status grows even further, both by having redeemed his loss, but also for the class he showed to Mayweather afterwards, demonstrating a classiness and humility that is normally associated with MMA’s celebrated “good guys” like Randy Couture. He’ll also retire, saying he has nothing else to prove. Both of them will end up respected, renowned, and richer than beyond their wildest dreams. And not only will their respective companies/promotions have made a bundle on these two fights, but also the sheer number of new fans that these fights will have gained them will likely provide long-term dividends as well in terms of future PPV buys, etc.
In other words, win-win-win.
Sounds like the perfect ending to the ultimate work, no?
Bob Kapur wasn’t born yesterday, you know. E-mail him your conspiracy theories at [email protected].