August is here. And the fight event (not the fight) of this month, of this summer, probably of this year, happens on August 26th when TBE (not) Floyd Mayweather faces UFC champion Conor McGregor. Many boxing purists are mocking the upcoming bout, expressing their disdain for a fight that’s sure to disappoint the aficionados. Others proclaim boxing, a capitalist venture first, will not suffer and probably prosper from the massive cross-over attention this contest is garnering.
But when August 26th moves into August 27th and the long view of history for this particular fight begins, the Mayweather/McGregor match will quickly fade into the footnote it is, an asterisk next to Mayweather’s name, a Wikipedia line in McGregor’s entry. The contest isn’t even a con. Boxing fans and MMA fans and casual sports fans understand this is a spectacle, an event, not a fair fight, and whatever happens on August 26th will leave no significant mark on either combat sport—boxing or MMA.
This fight’s insignificance is one reason I won’t pay to view. The main reason I won’t watch Mayweather/McGregor is I’m just not that interested. There’s nothing fair about this upcoming fight, the rules are stacked in Mayweather’s favor, completely, and whatever grace I admire in boxing will be absent here. (One reason I rarely watch MMA fights is because they’re so graceless, so parking-lot sloppy—of course, the combatants are skilled fighters, but the grappling in their octagon looks ponderous next to, say, college or Olympic wrestling’s artful holds, and the punches, wide and sloppy, smack of the apprentice.) Because this fight will be fought under the Marquess of Queensbury rules, any potential conflict/tension/drama (the stuff of good stories and good fights) will be absent. It’s not a newsflash. Conor McGregor is going to lose. The contract these two fighters signed practically stipulates this inevitability. All we don’t know is how quickly Conor McGregror will lose and how badly.
I see Mayweather being Mayweather, safely hitting and moving until the non-boxer in front of him can’t take it anymore.
When Conor McGregor can’t take it anymore, when he realizes there’s zero chance he can compete with a master boxer (and I’m sure McGregor, no dummy, realizes this already, a minor wound to his ego, which will be soothed by millions of dollars), then and only then will the potential intrigue to this match emerge. It will be a quick moment’s worth of intrigue, but it’s the moment why, beyond wanting to see a spectacle, so many will buy into this fight—everyone wants to see how Conor McGregor chooses to lose.
He can go quietly and gently into this fight’s inevitable night, which means he can pretend he’s a boxer until the end when time runs out or the referee stops the bout.
Or he can go less gently by asserting his fighting self, by showing Floyd Mayweather that in an octagon, a place where not just fists are used to touch an opponent, or in the street, or in real life, he would have decimated Mayweather the way Mayweather is (will be) decimating him.
The way a man loses helps define that man. And I’m not talking about the polite take on this idea, about the measure of a man being defined by how he gets up after being knocked down, literally and metaphorically.
The way a man loses, and the moral implications attached to the way a man loses, is magnified in boxing (and, probably, all forms of fighting). Some fighters quit when they’ve had enough. Some fight until the end, going out on their proverbial shields, risking the humiliation of getting knocked out, of ending in a prone or supine position (the opposite of standing, upright victory), in front of a crowd. And some men choose to lose on their own terms.
When it comes to boxing, purists may admire men who fight to the finish obeying Queensbury rules. But non-purists, or those who think survival is more admirable than winning or even playing by the rules, may see this legitimized exit as a sucker’s game. I admit that while I admire the grace of boxing, and much of this grace is tied to playing by rules, I also admire (and am drawn to) the fight in the fights, the stripped-down, heart-of-darkness, kill-or-be-killed underpinning of what makes a real fight a real fight.
Think back to these two images of that most fearsome fighter, Mike Tyson.
Here’s the first image:
Mike is on the ground, on his knees, stumbling around the canvas, trying to put his mouthpiece back into his mouth, the thick padding of his glove too thick to finish the task, a task he’s focused upon with the same intensity as a drunk who has to do what he thinks he has to do when what he’s doing is futile, absurd even. Tyson’s eyes are gone. His legs are gone. Everything that made him Mike Tyson, the man who ended most of his fights standing while the other man lay prone or supine, all of that is gone. In this image, an image every boxing fan who witnessed this fight vividly remembers, Iron Mike Tyson is not a man to be feared. He’s a man to be pitied or, if cruel, a man to be mocked. That was Mike Tyson at the end of the Buster Douglas fight when he, Mike Tyson, fought by the rules.
Here’s the second image:
Mike is standing. The fight’s been stopped, but Mike is on his feet, his eyes still clear, his street-cred intact. The other man may have won the fight. But the other man is bleeding. He’s missing a chunk of his ear. In real-life fights, in battle, in war, where damage is assessed not by a ten-point-must system but by more primal scores, Mike Tyson has not lost. That was Mike Tyson against Evander Holyfield in their second meeting, after Tyson had played by the rules once, the first time, and ended up off his feet, a loser by both fight definitions.
For a fighter, for any man if he’s honest, I think it’s easier to live with the second image.
Back to that first image: If Mike Tyson could do it all over again, or if he’d recognized the long view of history during that rough night in Tokyo instead of getting punched senseless, I wonder if he might have bitten off Buster Douglas’s ear, a move that would have erased the memory of Tyson fumbling like a drunk, which will forever melt some of Iron Mike’s fearsome reputation.
Conor McGregor’s self-proclaimed nickname The Notorious suggests he has a sense of history. And this sense may be the key to what happens on August 26th—perhaps he’ll do what he needs to do to preserve his dignity as a fighter even as he loses the fight, even if he’s chastised by boxing purists (but complimented by those who believe winning a fight by any means is more important than winning a fight by prescribed means).
And part of me, the part that admires the fight part of fighting, the part that wants to see Money May earn his money in this farce of a boxing match, the part that wants to see the egotistical B and outrageous E tarnished in TBE, wants to read about (and see a few days later) how Conor McGregor took a play out of Tyson’s street-fighting book and hurt this man, Floyd Mayweather, who has seldom been hurt. Conor McGregor should kick Mayweather. He should take Mayweather down to the ground. He should put Mayweather in a chokehold. He should beat Mayweather even as he’s disqualified from the fight.
At the press conference following this spectacle, rules will be invoked, excuses will be made, and there will be laughter about the mega-million checks being cashed, but the asterisk next to Mayweather’s record (soon to be 50 and 0) and the line in McGregor’s Wikipedia entry (he lost a boxing match to Floyd Mayweather) will have an image attached we won’t forget. That, perhaps, will be the more important win, and that victory will belong to Conor McGregor if he does, fuck rules, what maybe he should do.
As a boxing fan, I will say this. Instead of fighting Conor McGregor, I wish Floyd Mayweather, a superlative, intelligent, pure boxer, would have signed to fight Terence Crawford or Errol Spence, both potentially superlative boxers. A fight like that would have been a fight to watch. A fight like that would have made a mark (not a footnote-scratch) on boxing history.
And now, 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 just started. 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 August 26th’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, including the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas A&M University Consortium Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize) and Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY and edits the litmag J Journal. His poetry collection, The Standing Eight, comes out this fall. For more, please visit adamberlin.com.