A Roman Thumbs Down for Conor McGregor
We’re a day away.
With a poetry collection soon to come out, I’ve tried to find a non-cliché, a fresh metaphor, some original words to touch what the Mayweather/McGregor spectacle is, but I keep coming back to that overused car-wreck image—we may pretend we don’t want to see the horror, yet like the rest of those very-human onlookers slowing their vehicles, we look and look and look for as long as we can at the damage.
As I wrote in a previous piece, I won’t pay for this fight—because it’s not worth the price of admission. And I won’t see this fight—because it won’t be a good fight. But I’ve read a bunch of articles on the upcoming spectacle, and I’ve watched all four episodes of All Access, and I’ve spoken to boxing fans and non-boxing fans about tomorrow’s “fight.” The takeaways are pretty basic. Casual fans who know nothing about boxing, and Conor McGregor fans blinded by adulation, believe McGregor has a puncher’s chance. Boxing people know Floyd Mayweather Jr. will not only pitch a shutout but a no-hitter. I’ve suggested McGregor should take the fight to a place he knows where elbows and kicks and chokeholds reside, but this won’t happen—Pedro Armendariz astutely notes in this site’s Comments section that McGregor will “act shitty” during the fight’s preamble, but when the bell rings (when talking for play turns to fighting for pay), he’ll act like “a good little boy.”
The truth is, McGregor will act the little boy because if he doesn’t play nice, if he breaks the contract that stipulates Marquess of Queensberry rules only, he’ll lose his purse. McGregor will also be the little boy (without acting) because he just can’t box. When a great professional fights a mediocre professional, we talk about the master taking the apprentice to school. When the best professional fighter of this generation fights a man who has never fought a single professional fight in a boxing ring, the school we must talk about is pre-K at best.
In Thursday’s The New York Times, Joe DePaolo wrote an interesting piece on the real danger this fight presents. I’m glad he reminded me—seriously. The possibility of danger is something I’d forgotten when thinking about this particular fight, probably because of the glitter surrounding Saturday’s upcoming spectacle, the rehearsed or almost-rehearsed publicity tour, the glossy footage All Access presents, and the incessant focus on the cartoonish dimensions of Saturday’s two main characters. This fight has the sheen of the unreal. Mayweather with his backpacks full of cash (street cred aside, isn’t it easier to carry around a credit card?), and McGregor with his outlandish outfits (such sartorial splendor belongs on runways or WWF arenas) have been portrayed not so much as fighters, but as avatars of a fight game that is indeed a game. But it’s not.
As Joe DePaolo points out, the Association of Ring Doctors, comprised of more than 100 doctors who ply their trade in a triage unit surrounded by ring posts, has not sanctioned the Mayweather/McGregor fight. They’re shocked and dismayed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is allowing this fight to go on. DePaolo does the math—when all is said and done, the commission’s cut will be about 1.2 million dollars. My math says that’s enough to keep the commissioner and his posse in steaks and martinis for many moons. As a point of reference, DePaolo cites a fight Nevada’s Athletic Commission wouldn’t sanction between Andre Ward (the top pound-for-pounder on my list) with 18-1 Rohan Murdock. Expecting a blowout, a dangerous blowout, the NSAC said No.
In DePaolo’s article, Bob Bennett, the executive director of the commission, defends Nevada’s decision to sanction McGregor/Mayweather with these words: “Conor is the taller, longer, stronger, more powerful opponent. He’s also a southpaw, which makes it a little more difficult for a conventional fighter. He’s 12 years younger than Floyd.”
Really? Let’s drill down (to use a term drilled hollow by 24-hour news commentators) this statement.
First, let’s look at Ward/Murdock, the unsanctioned fight. BoxRec (which doesn’t tell the whole story but tells some of the story) shows Murdock being as tall as Ward, having a one-inch reach advantage over Ward, being eight years younger than Ward, and having beaten a number of fighters with undefeated and/or winning records, with Murdock’s last three opponents clocking in at a combined 45-4-1. Slouches all they may be, but Murdock is a professional boxer who has actually boxed. Would Ward have ruined him? Of course. That’s why the fight wasn’t sanctioned.
Are Mayweather and Ward in the same class? Easily. So Nevada saying No to Murdock doesn’t line up with saying Yes to McGregor. And Bob Bennett’s words about the charms of McGregor don’t hold up either.
According to BoxrRec, Mayweather is 5’8”. McGregor is 5’9”. As for reach, Mayweather’s 72-inch reach is two inches shorter than McGregor’s listed 74 inches. And McGregor is closer to eleven years Mayweather’s junior. Fair enough. But to say a southpaw will give Mayweather trouble is absurd. To say McGregor is the “more powerful opponent” is equally absurd. Perhaps McGregor is the stronger man in a parking-lot fight, but when it comes to concussive strength, Mayweather is feet (not inches) taller than McGregor. And with eight-ounce gloves Mayweather’s punches will crack even harder. If you’ve watched the very-limited (read censored) footage of McGregor hitting the heavy bag, you see how amateur and weak his shots truly are. Compare those feeble punches to Mayweather’s bag work. Mayweather, always relaxed in his gym, pops the heavy bag with the most casual punches. Again, masters and apprentices, college teachers and pre-K students come to mind.
I think the Association of Ring Doctors would agree that sanctioning eight-ounce gloves when this junior middleweight bout should see the fighters wearing ten-ounce gloves is unconscionable. The NSAC is turning a blind eye to glaring danger. Mayweather may not be a knockout artist, but he can punch. Look what he did to Victor Ortiz when Ortiz wasn’t ready to absorb a shot. McGregor will be in that un-ready, wide open, chin-up position as soon as he throws his first amateur haymaker, which is about the only punch he can throw.
Back to that clichéd car-crash image.
We watch because everyone else is watching, an echo of “I was only following orders.” We watch because we’re fascinated by what’s out of the ordinary, a break from the monotony that most road trips really are. And we watch because we want to see something horrible and brutal—we’re all infected by the heart of darkness.
Boxing, of all sports, is founded on that darkness. And death fights, not cartoon deaths but real deaths, are an all-too common occurrence. Stripped to its basics and stripped of its beauty, boxing is about one man trying to concuss another man.
So strip away the sheen, strip away the pre-fight hype, strip away that glittery veil that’s been created to sell Mayweather vs. McGregor as an extravaganza, a spectacle, a circus meant to distract us from our humdrum day-to days, and you have a fight between two men who want to impose real hurt, real damage. And when the damage gets too real, when bruises turn to blood and when blood leaks into brains, comas and death often follow.
Will this fight become a death fight? Probably not. Perhaps these two men have already made an unwritten agreement (or will make one during the fight) not to fight as hard as they could. I’ve seen this before in prize fights, and for a lot less money on the line. Perhaps veteran referee Robert Byrd, recognizing that the fight in front of him is a ridiculous mismatch, will stop the bout before it gets too ugly, too dangerous.
But perhaps, just perhaps, Floyd will beat McGregor down. Some ugly things have been said during the build-up to this fight—sexist, and racist, and low-blow statements that could dent even the toughest Teflon coatings. So perhaps a fight, a real fight, a heart-of-darkness fight will break out. And if that happens, Floyd Mayweather has the ability to do what Muhammad Ali did at least twice when fighting overmatched opponents who got under his skin. He taunted Ernie Terrell with a chorus of “What’s my name?” (Terrell refused to call Ali Ali) as he beat the shit out of him. Against Floyd Patterson, who showed similar disrespect, Ali went further, carrying Patterson for eleven rounds so he could torture Patterson before finishing him in the 12th.
Here’s one particularly stinging criticism delivered by McGregor against Mayweather during their publicity tour: “What are you doing carrying a book bag on stage, you can’t even read?” Perhaps this taunt with its layered implications has stayed with Floyd, festering, softening the edges of Floyd’s usual cool, calm, controlled resolve. If it has, perhaps Mayweather has Ali-like plans for McGregor.
If you’ve ever seen a death fight, and I have, you’ll know that the most dangerous beatings don’t come in the form of spectacular one-punch knockouts. They come from beatings, from tapping that rock over and over and over and over until it cracks, permanently. Death fights are usually mesmerizing, but they’re rough to witness—I felt awful, sick, sad, when Juan Ramon Cruz beat (yes, beat) Isidro “Gino” Perez at the Felt Forum. I saw Gino crumple, then stand, then crumple again. I watched Gino’s body carried out on a stretcher, oxygen mask covering his face, carried right by me. And later, when the night’s fights had ended, I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital and stood in the Emergency Room and heard Gino’s mother screaming. Like most fighters who suffer severe brain bleeds, Isidro “Gino” Perez went into a coma and died a few days later.
But I bought a ticket to the next fight card at the Felt Forum.
Mayweather/McGregor is a modern-day circus, as in bread and circuses. And instead of the Coliseum, the masses will pack the T-Mobile Arena and fill many couches across the world, watching on pay-per-view. In those original circuses, men sometimes fought beasts and beasts, being beasts, being naturally more gifted in the art of killing, won. Mayweather is more dangerous still. He is a master—he is a thinker in the ring first, a protector of self, the best at hitting and not getting hit. But in this fight, against a non-professional boxer, he won’t have to worry about safety first. He’ll be able to let loose the way we’ve wanted him to let loose in so many of his other fights.
“I’ll kill him” is a refrain we often hear fighters say pre-fight. And in a sick, car-crash, Coliseum way, maybe that’s what the public pays for, a circus with the ultimate price. If these were Roman times, and gladiator Mayweather humiliated schoolboy McGregor, what would the masses do? Would they give McGregor thumbs up or thumbs down? The truth is, the nays would have it.
That’s who we all are, whether we admit it or not.
And now one final time, in the spirt of Norman Mailer, who himself wrote about the fights, I’m going to advertise myself. My first poetry collection will be published by Finishing Line Press and the pre-sale period is almost over. The title of the collection is The Standing Eight. The epigraph is from Waiting for Godot. The poems all touch boxing, at least tangentially. And the poems point beyond boxing and go to those between-round places where an eight count is both reprieve and curse.
For a quarter of the price of tomorrow’s pay-per-view, you’ll get a collection of poems that, I believe, touch the felt experience of boxing. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for the boxing fan or the poetry fan in your life. Help spread the word if you can. There’s poetry in the ring. I’ve tried to put some of what happens in the ring into poetry.
Here’s the link to the site:
Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, most recently the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY. For more, please visit adamberlin.com.