LOS ANGELES – One of the most heated and raucous sporting events of the year took place on Tuesday, filled with hype and passion, trash talking, cheered on by a blockbuster crowd. There were scalpers hovering around the statues in the shadow of the Staples Center, lines around the block, police and security guards keeping order.
All for a press conference.
You can think that Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor is a bad idea, a ludicrous concept, a hopeless mismatch, an insincere money grab and whatever other bits of shade you can throw upon it.
Yet after Tuesday no one can doubt that the cross-sport battle that will take place at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26 has already generated massive interest that is only likely to build over the coming weeks.
“It is unprecedented to think you could get that kind of turnout for an event that would normally take place in a room with a couple of hundred (media) people,” Showtime executive vice president Stephen Espinoza said, in reference to a crowd that approached 11,000. “We could have done the same thing in a half dozen more cities, but at this point in the training phase we couldn’t take the fighters out of camp for that long.”
Mayweather and McGregor performed various media obligations before and after taking the stage for the benefit of a noisy and engaged audience. Then the real fireworks began, verbal to-and-fro, taunts and snide remarks aimed at belittling the other.
McGregor is slick with his repartee and did a masterful job of selling himself as the fearless underdog prepared to accept any challenge. He chided Mayweather for insisting upon a rigid set of contractual stipulations, all designed to give the boxer even more of an advantage against the newcomer from the world of mixed martial arts.
“Floyd has fought people who have shied away from him,” McGregor said. “I am not afraid of this limited set of rules. If this was a true fight it wouldn’t even take one round.
“All these rules, all these restrictions, it doesn’t faze me, it amuses me. I am enjoying it, I don’t need rules, line me up and I will do it.”
McGregor can certainly fight, but to think the skills of MMA – stripped of the ability to kick and wrestle – can translate to the boxing ring is a monumental stretch. As a talker, however, he is unparalleled.
“I have never seen a mental warfare game like it,” UFC president Dana White said. “He knows how to take a situation and break it down and get into your head. You don’t compare people to Muhammad Ali, but he is like the Irish Ali. There is nothing like it.”
For Mayweather’s part, it is incumbent on him to at least make it seem like McGregor can compete on fight night. Otherwise, there may be a reluctance to cough up $99.95 for the privilege of witnessing a one-sided rout. Mayweather, White, Espinoza and other interested parties all extolled McGregor’s punching power, with his only loss in the UFC coming when he was submitted by Nate Diaz.
“The last time I checked he is still a pro fighter,” Mayweather said. “And he is a stand-up fighter. The only time he took a (loss) was when he was on the ground. He is a guy I know I can’t overlook. One shot can end your whole career.”
In reality, Mayweather is at the end of his career, coming out of retirement for one night, and one fight. Interestingly though, it was McGregor who was the crowd favorite, being cheered every time his face was plastered on the big screen. He strutted and swaggered and never missed an opportunity to chip at Mayweather, so much so that event organizers cut off the Irishman’s microphone.
There will be more of this in the coming days as the roadshow heads to Toronto, New York and then London. More intrigue and interest, more verbal vitriol, between two performers who are darn good at their jobs, but far better as salesmen.
Two hours before the event scalpers outside were charging $40 a pop, all for tickets that were distributed free on the internet and were snapped up quickly.
“Red hot baby, red hot,” said a scalper who gave his name as Jim, reaching into his bag for another swath of printed passes. “Better than for a hockey game here.”
Yet even those who shelled out did not appear to feel short-changed, such was the energy in the building.
“It was wild,” Tony Greise, a Los Angeles mechanic told USA TODAY Sports. “I am not going to be able to afford a ticket to the fight. This was the next best thing for me.”
All the words and taunts and sparkle didn’t change the fact that McGregor has still never boxed professionally, and will be going in against one of the best pugilists in the history of boxing.
It might be that this stuff, the hoopla and the noise, is as good as the event gets. Either way, it has made an electrifying start.
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