The Biggest Fight in History Threatens to K.O. Two Combat Sports in One Night

AP Photo
The Associated Press

August’s megafight between boxing great Floyd Mayweather and mixed-martial-arts (MMA) sensation Conor McGregor may generate more money than any bout in history. And it may hurt both boxing and MMA in the process.

Two events this past weekend indicate as much.

A light-heavyweight rematch between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward pitted a Russian knockout artist against the American who arguably inherited the pound-for-pound crown after Mayweather’s retirement. After a controversial decision victory in the first bout, anticipation built for the return engagement. And the fighters delivered, with Kovalev boxing competitively until Ward knocked him out in the eighth.

But people weren’t talking about this fight before or after. Instead, the public fixates on a lopsided, circus-like matchup between a man with zero experience in the ring who struggles in sparring against unknown boxers and an all-time great who fought, and won, 49 times.

The heavy breathing over a retired boxer fighting a sweet-science dilettante-debutante leaves little oxygen left for even great scraps. With Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin, a matchup even more anticipated than Ward-Kovalev II, coming just three weeks after Mayweather-McGregor, a distracted pay-per-view-buying public likely averts its gaze from another marquee matchup that, in any other year, automatically becomes the fight to watch. But how many will watch.

The second weekend event portends an even more ominous result for MMA. Tim Hague, a decent journeyman cage fighter who notched a win over Pat Barry in his UFC debut before dropping four straight, got knocked out by Adam Braidwood on Friday night. He died on Sunday.

Braidwood, a former Canadian Football League defensive end, boasts an 8-1 boxing record. But nobody mistakes him for the second coming of Muhammad Ali. His fights all came in the boxing backwater of the Great White North. And Hague, unlike King Conor, competed in three fights before his tragic fourth bout. A 1-2 fighter, a victim of knockouts in eight of his MMA bouts and in one of his previous boxing losses, had no business entering the ring against a guy with six knockouts in his seven previous wins. But on paper it looked like a far more competitive fight than 0-0 versus 49-0.

McGregor, entering the ring with less boxing experience than Hague and fighting an opponent considerably higher on the pecking order than Braidwood, runs the risk of serious injury against Floyd Mayweather. Sure, Pretty Boy Floyd does not wield the heaviest hands in boxing. But he stopped tough-as-nails Arturo Gatti, patty-cake punched his way to an attrition beatdown of Ricky Hatton, and knocked out Victor Ortiz with tactics that perhaps ran afoul of the Marquess of Queensberry in response to tactics that surely ran afoul of the Marquess of Queensberry. Like Wade Boggs and home runs, singles-puncher Mayweather can knock out opponents when he sets his mind to it.

Money makes peoplefighters, promoters, athletic commissioners, cable-network executivesdo reckless things. This fight is a reckless endeavor staged not for the benefit of showcasing a competition but solely to add millions to already fat bank accounts. The referee should stop it now.

Should the unlikely though not impossible death of Conor McGregor at the hands of Floyd Mayweather not occur, a second, far more pleasant scenario sees the UFC’s top draw survive to stuff his $100 million in the top draw and smartly retire from combat sports forever. This likelier outcome, the ride-off-into-the-golden-sunset scenario that McGregor deserves, hurts MMA, too.

The last boxing bestseller, Mayweather-Pacquiao, harmed the sport by roping in casual fans to see an injured, aging fighter try to hit a skilled dancer content to potshot without any desire to close the show. With boxing enjoying its biggest stage, it delivered a snoozefest. Undoubtedly, this spectacle rivals, if not beats, the box office and subscriptions of that last megafight. It differs in that instead of delivering a beatdown of one sport, it could knock down two to the canvass.

Whether that beatdown comes through unwatchable boredom or unwatchable brutality, you’ll need to pay your $99 like everyone else to find out.