By: Rich Bergeron
Fight News Unlimited is well aware of the term “MMA vs. Boxing Debate.” We had a whole radio show series on the subject, culminating with a full-fledged argument between Iceman John Scully (A Former Pro Boxer and Current Boxing Trainer) and Ken Shamrock (A Pro Wrestler, UFC Fighter and MMA trainer). The tipping point then was females in boxing and MMA. Shamrock supported their efforts while Scully took the argument that he did not want to see a woman get punched in the face.
This evening we are about to experience the largest corssover fight in the history of combat sports. A young, hungry, rabid MMA-fighting walk-on from the mean streets of Ireland faces a brash American coming out of retirement after a professional boxing career for the ages. The experience favors the expert at his craft, the most talented defensive fighter in the modern era of boxing. Floyd should cruise to victory, and the knockout he predicts is something many fans and speculators are placing in the 6th to 7th round range.
McGregor can win in any scenario where he sees the final bell, whether the decision favors him or not. All he has to do is entertain, push Floyd to points he’s never been pushed before, and get under Floyd’s skin. Even if it’s in a losing effort, Conor has to be a character that can sell another fight. Floyd repeatedly said in press tour events that he would fight Conor in the Octagon next. This is clearly Mayweather just trying to think about the big picture, but a one sided beating of McGregor won’t get fans talking too much about an Octagon faceoff. Some speculators insist Floyd will purposely let off the gas and let McGregor have his 12 rounds of action. The more Floyd makes Conor look like a clown, though, this approach could do neither fighter any good in the long run.
Conor could certainly pull off his own knockout of Floyd Mayweather in the first four rounds, as he predicted. It is within the realm of possibility. Yet the big knockout either way the fight goes will be how Conor handles his business after this bout.
McGregor Sports and Entertainment became a brand even Dana White represented with a branded shirt the other night at the final press conference. I initially felt let down that White didn’t place any other UFC fighters on the undercard of this mega boxing event. The more I thought about the approach, though, the more I imagined White is looking to do more of that down the road, but only if McGregor can shock the world or at least upset the apple cart of boxing in some small way.
Multiple boxers are clamoring for a chance to face an MMA fighter in crossover fights at every major division now that May/Mac set the table. David Haye and Anthony Joshua are just two heavyweights expressing interest in boxing MMA fighters. Joshua would even enter the cage if no submissionswere allowed. Tony Bellew wants a fight with Michael Bisping. Roy Jones Jr. wants to fight Anderson Silva and has been angling for that opportunity for years now.
The real crossover Conor could tap into is one I fear he will fail to capitalize on, though. There is tremendous potential in getting the kind of money pro boxers make to make the crossover to MMA fighter contracts. There’s been much speculation as to how White can get away with having the UFC co-promote a boxing match when the UFC’s management tactics do not meet the standards outlined in the Ali Act, which mandates certain crucial protections must be afforded to professional boxers.
Rather than come back to the sport of MMA after this fight and claim all the cash and prizes for himself, Conor should be the rising tide that lifs all boats. A true hero of his sport would see to it that he’s not the only one making money because he helped put MMA on the real world stage with his performance tonight. He could be an incredible mouthpiece for changing the way all fighters do business. The UFC and Dana White are notoriously greedy when it comes to controlling interests in their fistfighting employees. This is what makes the ongoing Anti-Trust lawsuit against the company so complicated.
As certain fighters who don’t like the UFC’s contract offers jump ship for Bellator, White and the UFC responded with the Instant Ultimate Fighter concept: The Contender Series. Every week a new fighter gets a contract. The army is always growing is their obvious approach here. McGregor could lead the charge of larger than life fighters who say no to the UFC and fight back against the company’s urge to give fighters so little in return for such great efforts.
Tonight’s fight may determine whether or not White and the UFC ever promote another crossover fight. Each time they do, though, it will likely be headlined by just one MMA fighter vs. a boxer and not a stacked card. That way they can make each occurence a major event, even if it turns out to be a joke as many predict tonight will turn out to be.
It is all about how McGregor handles the aftermath in my eyes. Will he step up and speak out for the other fighters getting shafted on their UFC contracts? Will he be able to get that boxing money on the table for himself and his fellow fighters in the UFC and across the MMA landscape? His options will surely increase even in a competitive loss, which makes going down by KO, DQ or lopsided beating the only ways he doesn’t come out smelling like roses. No matter what happens, he has to use the attention constructively to improve both sports.
The debate can be solved, but I believe the future holds a chance for a new tournament format. First there is a boxing match, then an MMA fight. Six weeks apart, both fighters have six months to train before the first fight. It’s the next logical step, and there will be a boxer who takes the challenge.
Mayweather can impress the purists with either a demolition over 12 rounds or a KO within the distance. McGregor only has to survive valiantly to turn more heads and gain more popularity. If he wins he chooses his own destiny and makes a ton of pundits and critics eat their words. The question is what happens next? Will the debate be solved whatever happens at the end of the night?
McGregor can have a big hand in whatever shakes out next for the crossover market. Will it be attractive and lucrative in the months and years to come, or will this fight go down as a fad that left most fans bitterly disappointed? If it makes McGregor more famous than he already is, it’s a win, so I would love to see him make that win mean something. If he can find a way to help all of the fighters on the UFC roster get more of the money on the table, I’m in his corner.