That thing in a boxing ring Saturday night in Las Vegas turned out to be totally real. Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor was a genuine, honest-to-goodness fight.
Ok, so it wasn’t a knockdown, drag-out fight. No one got knocked down. No one got dragged out.
But no one demanded a refund. It lasted into the 10th round. (Some thought it might last 10 seconds.) Mayweather was declared the winner by a technical knockout. (Some thought McGregor might be declared DOA by CSI.)
The referee stopped the fight because McGregor looked to be wobbly, exhausted and nearly out on his feet. A minute or two after Mayweather’s arm was raised in triumph, he conceded that McGregor gave him a lot harder time than he had expected.
More than practically everybody had expected.
Everybody had a right to smell a rat. Mayweather was a boxing champion. McGregor wasn’t even a boxer. Mayweather was an athlete with fast fists. McGregor was from a sport where guys usually fought using their feet. Mayweather was out to become the greatest undefeated boxer since Rocky Marciano. McGregor was just about the biggest underdog since Rocky Balboa.
Promoters were paying millions to the opponents. Customers were paying thousands for tickets. TV viewers were shelling out $99.99 for pay-per-view. Bookmakers were laying odds that there was seriously no way Mayweather could lose. Physicians were issuing warnings that McGregor could get seriously hurt.
All were in for quite a surprise.
A boxer vs. a mixed martial artist really was a sort of sport after all. It wasn’t ludicrous like Michael Phelps swimming against a shark. It wasn’t gross like counting how many hot dogs Joey Chestnut can jam down his throat.
From the beginning, this appeared to be a preposterous promotion designed strictly to separate fools from their money. It looked like entertainment, not sport. Mayweather vs. McGregor was booked for T-Mobile Arena, where earlier this month the featured entertainers were Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga. A lot of boxing fans may have preferred to see any one of those three fight Mayweather than some mixed martial arts dude.
McGregor is a bearded, tattooed, 29-year-old Irishman with loose-limbed appendages attached to a weirdly erect posture. He moves like a human Stretch Armstrong. He spent several recent weeks in Mayweather’s face, talking the talk, hustling the fight, making the rounds and threatening him bodily harm.
Mayweather is a 40-year-old who hadn’t fought for two years. He came to the ring in a black hood and black face mask, looking not so much like Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” movies as like Dark Helmet from the “Spaceballs” one.
He came out of retirement for reasons that would lure almost anybody out — at least $100 million, maybe more, depending on what Floyd’s cut from the pay-per-view till will be. “Money” is this man’s nickname, the way Rocky was Marciano’s. If he ever spilled blood, it would probably be green.
There was a holdup to the start of the fight due to some kind of glitch related to the pay-per-view. The first minute of this fight was not to be missed because of the distinctly strong possibility that there would be no second minute.
Instead, the challenger, McGregor, took the fight to the champion, Mayweather. Some will tell you McGregor won all of the first three rounds. Some also will tell you McGregor punched his foe to the back of his head as frequently as he did to the front of his head. Which might be OK in martial arts, but not in professional pugilism.
Then Mayweather’s instincts kicked in, and his skill took over. He began winning round after round, dominating the proceedings, making few mistakes. If you were waiting to see him make the man from Dublin go down like a pint of Guinness, you are still waiting. But it became increasingly obvious that money wagered on Money Mayweather was a safe bet.
Was it an unforgettable fight? No. You’ll forget it by Monday. Would the whole world want a rematch? No. The whole world has far greater wants.
But did those who paid to see it get their money’s worth? Yes, they really, really did.