I can’t escape the creeping sensation that, in a profound and inexorable way, something essential has been broken. Not just the government agencies that have been left to wither and rot, a planet that will be razed until it burns, or the hope that objective and collective truths can withstand the near-constant ravaging by snake oil salesmen and hucksters, all of which make every day an exhausting proposition, one wracked with grim panic and grinding fear for anyone not possessing the wealth and power to be able unplug and escape the grid entirely, but something deeper. Something that we can’t ever fix or get back.
I think about this a lot—and maybe too much—but I’m definitely reminded how damaged everything feels whenever a mention of Saturday night’s fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor comes burbling out of the muck. It really is the perfect sporting event for this stupid and ugly moment in time.
No one actually seemed to want it, save for the awful people and corporate behemoths that will be getting rich(er), and to promote this ugliness, the fighters themselves appealed to the worst instincts in everyone. Of course, the cameras kept rolling and many words were spilled because in the end, no one goes broke by appealing to those very same rank and base desires. If you’d like to compare that series of events with the current president and how he ascended to power, go right ahead.
While I’d like to think that the only reason this fight is finally happening on Saturday is some valuable safeguard or kill switch has to have succumbed to entropy or simple lack of use, and that in a different timeline it would have been put a stop to long ago (assuming someone was still at the tiller), that too may be so much blinkered and equally dumb optimism.
And yet, for the worst of us, all of this is functioning exactly as planned. The UFC will score a much-needed cash infusion; Showtime will lure eyeballs to gawk at the screen; Mayweather will earn hundreds of millions and McGregor a somewhat smaller fortune; gambling houses will separate the rubes from their wallets; and the state of Nevada will make out like a bandit.
One way that boxing—or any combat sport—hooks people is its ability to boil down sports to its essence. You can pick a side and maybe you’ll witness something beautiful or unexpected, to be sure, but you’re guaranteed that unnamed and often named other will finally get punished. That too is not working here. There are no heroes to be found or even a muscle-bound avatar that scans as anything other than repellent.
Which side would you feel comfortable attaching yourself to? Is it the man who, during one of four pre-match press conferences—and they all started to blend together like the perma-kegger that serves as the backdrop to Richard Kelly’s apocalyptic film Southland Tales—hand-waved away any accusations of racism with the tired rationale used by racists everywhere: “I’m a multicultural individual,” McGregor said. “I don’t even see color.”
This bit of empty sophistry was offered after McGregor was told that, yes, musing about whether Rocky III was “the one with the dancing monkeys or not,” referencing a montage in which Stallone trained in a predominantly African-American gym, was patently offensive. In his retort, the color-blind McGregor also added that he’s “Half-black… from the belly button down.”
During another presser McGregor, who in 2015 told Jose Aldo, a Brazilian MMA fighter, that were we living in a different era, “I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work,” and said Nate Diaz reminded him of “a little cholo gangster from the ‘hood,” barked at Mayweather, “Dance for me, boy,” while Mayweather was shadowboxing.
A little over a week later, McGregor was spotted walking around in a JC.J. Watson Golden State Warriors jersey, a reference to Mayweather’s brutal assault of the mother of his child, which was allegedly spurred after Mayweather discovered text messages she’d received from Watson.
Can you see any part of yourself in Mayweather, an unrepentant misogynist and domestic abuser, who called McGregor a “faggot” and a “bitch,” threw a wad of cash into the air despite reportedly owing the IRS $22 million in unpaid 2015 taxes, and has done so for years? This is a man who still, tax problems notwithstanding, retains enough power and wealth and celebrity to stay out of jail, and gave himself the nickname, “Money,” lest anyone remain confused about where his priorities lie.
But after a week in which Mayweather and McGregor leaned into their worst selves, a strange kind of normalcy took over. After all, six weeks were still left on the calendar during the normally-dead sports months of late July and August, and something had to be published or put on air. And so both participants were covered endlessly, as though this were anything but a crass, exploitative shell game.
Showtime produced a series of mini-docs following their every move that managed to avoid all of the unpleasant realities. Experts picked apart McGregor’s chances of pulling out an improbable upset victory, his learning curve was assessed (unless he screwed himself by resorting to any of his MMA moves, that is) as was Mayweather’s aging skill set. The celebrities who’d attend were tracked, while celebrity friendships were scuttled. McGregor’s sparring sessions were leaked, followed hard upon by allegations that they’d been staged to make McGregor look good.
A well-regarded longform journalist was even dispatched to wax poetic about McGregor’s Irish upbringing and hometown, even if the locals said his article was “a load of rubbish.” Mayweather bragged that smaller, eight ounce gloves were chosen in spite of the concerns raised by medical professionals because “fans want to see blood,” and chummily yakked with Jimmy Kimmel about the post-fight party to be held at his strip club in Las Vegas, “Girl Collection.” Like Kimmel, James Corden whitewashed the entirety of Mayweather’s history, pumping out a sketch in which he auditioned to become his hype man, and on and on.
Maybe, when faced with something so inexorably wrong, the only way to cope is to pretend it isn’t so, and all of the people enabling and turning a blind eye to what’s clearly wrong here should be treated with a measure of understanding, if not actual empathy.
Luckily, you, the potential target for this scam, have a choice. If you’re not a boxing or MMA fan—or hell, even a casual consumer of entertainment—hopefully it’s not even a question of whether or not to participate, and have missed out on the firehose of awful behavior, the rank bigotry, and the shameless stunts. But this is sports, and, while I’d be the last person to dismiss the importance of a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, there’s no real reason to give it any of your time or so much as pause at the side of the road to see how bad the bodies will be mangled by this trainwreck.
There will be no reward for anyone who does plunk down $100 in pay-per-view fees. I’m asking you not to fork over your cash to stare at this flabby and dull spectacle at home or split the costs with a gaggle of friends. Don’t go to a packed bar with a ridiculous cover fee and stare dumbly at Mayweather lazily fending off McGregor’s blows until the latter eventually wears himself out. I will be watching because it’s my job, and if that makes all of the above or any of the other words I’ve already written about the fight sound like so much self-serving hypocrisy, I’ll take that hit.
It won’t fix any of the things both large and small that have been broken—possibly beyond repair—but if nothing else, lousy ratings might convince all the parties involved not to drum up a rematch and repeat this entire brutish cycle when Mayweather eventually loses all his money again.
Do not watch this fight.