Thirty months ago, I spoke to Conor McGregor about Floyd Mayweather. About thirty hours from now, the two fight.
The notion of this reality appeared ridiculous in early 2015—but not to Conor McGregor. That’s how amazing happens: a man dreams and then he does.
“I love boxing,” McGregor confessed to me in 2015 about the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout scheduled for that summer. “But boxing has this fight. Not everyone is making that money. That is a special fight.”
Backstage in Boston at an old vaudeville theater, McGregor spoke to me in the dark, where his eyes lit up brightly when I broached the subject of Floyd Mayweather making $300 million for a fight against Manny Paquiao versus the stated $3 million purse he looked to pocket against Jose Aldo. Long after the fans departed, and Jose Aldo headed out the backdoor, McGregor held court, talking to anyone who would talk to him about him. The klieg lights that now accompany him everywhere were nowhere backstage. Instead, he allowed me to shine my iPod’s light on his face as he spoke into my iPhone’s lens. Some shine so blindingly bright that they don’t need the spotlight for anyone around to realize that they look upon a star.
Didn’t the biggest name in boxing making 100 times more than the biggest name in mixed-martial arts indicate that a profound financial gap still existed between the two combat sports?
“I feel we will get to that stage,” McGregor insisted. “I certainly will—not everybody else. I most certainly will.”
I did not believe him. I did not believe him the year earlier at the UFC’s Boston gym, where he earnestly told me that the then-beltless him would become a two-weight UFC champion. I did not believe that could beat Jose Aldo. I did not believe that he would beat Eddie Alvarez.
Fans of McGregor should gleefully note that I do not believe that Conor McGregor can beat Floyd Mayweather.
But in speaking to McGregor for a few minutes here and there about a dozen times over the last three years, I do believe that Conor McGregor believes that he beats Floyd Mayweather Saturday night in Las Vegas, nay, I do know that Conor McGregor knows that he beats Floyd Mayweather on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Belief is more contagious than a cold. The heavy action laid on McGregor in the Las Vegas sports books proves this. Floyd boasts an experience and skills edge. Connor beats him in belief, which, although never appearing on a tale of the tape, ranks as a formidable attribute. Two-thousand miles and more than two years removed from Saturday night in Vegas, one could see the gears churn in McGregor’s mind, his eyes become moon pies, and his manner grow serious but excited at the mere sound of another athlete’s name.
I said “Floyd Mayweather.” He heard “Money.”
Maybe the light bulb went off above McGregor’s head long before the lights went off in that aging theater. But one could see him silently talking himself into this fight that night so long before he talked the public into demanding the fight and so long before he talked Floyd Mayweather out of retirement.
Nate Diaz does not put nine figures on your paycheck. Khabib Nurmagomedov does not push your personal GDP past Montserrat’s. Cowboy Cerrone does not elevate you near the top of the Forbes richest athletes list.
To make that kind of money, it helps to fight a man named Money. But in the ring as in life, money usually wins. Just don’t tell that to Conor McGregor. People holding such an overpowering belief in themselves just won’t believe you.