Exhibition or Competition? – The reasoning behind the Mayweather v McGregor fight

Samandeep Chouhan

Posted: June 18, 2017

Echoing in his traditional fight announcement routine on America’s prime time television, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Dana White declared “the fans got what the fans wanted”; no not the traditional mixed martial arts (MMA) exhibition we’re so used to seeing, but that of the Mayweather versus McGregor boxing match being held at the 20,000 seater T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas in August. This cross-sporting match-up has been in the works since MMA and boxing fans have been in disagreement over which sport reigns.

Changing his stage name from ‘pretty boy Floyd’ to ‘money Mayweather’ gives you an impression of Floyd Mayweather’s economic success, the first within his discipline to bank a nine-figure cheque on four different occasions. Of which the majority coming from being a brash, outspoken and sociably exciting persona that enabled him to sever his ties with GoldenBoy promotions in 2007 to become what he calls “his own boss” – a position rarely seen in the sporting world. He prides himself on being unbeaten and describes his opponents as “easy work”. On the other hand, Conor McGregor is seen to be the figurehead for MMA and its astronomical success in recent times. Coming from a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in Ireland where labour-intensive work was the only path to securing an income, he quickly learnt the trade of fighting and termed himself ‘Mystic Mac’ after being able to charismatically predict not only the round but also the shot and technique in which his opponent would fall.

Is this really happening – one of Boxing’s greats and a Boxing novice?

It’s relative to supply and demand. Demand means dollars – when it makes dollars it makes sense. Or in this case, when it makes $800million-$1billion it definitely makes sense. The changing landscape of sport means now more than ever, households are actively including sport within their quarterly expenditure projections; expenditure which was routinely taken up by bills, mortgage payments and supermarket runs. We sell sports the way we understand people, through narrative and story. Stories are only as interesting as the characters are compelling. This is why boxing has excelled throughout history and why MMA is equalling other elite sports in terms of participation and engagement levels (Statista, 2016). In most cases fans are enthralled by an individual because they are not corporate puppets, rather they are independent entities which are allowed to say and do anything, as controversy equals PPV sales. Further, both Mayweather and McGregor have mastered the art of psychologically outwitting their opponents.

How this got the go-ahead

Unlike a conventional boxing contest where two separate teams come together and agree with the boxing and state commission to hold a bout, this clash is far more complex and had to be signed off by multiple associations. First, the UFC; McGregor’s parent company had to allow the Irishman to box as he’s still under contract with the organisation. Secondly, team Mayweather had to agree percentages and terms with team McGregor. Thirdly, the Nevada Athletic Commission had to give their blessings; a sticky position as McGregor was recently fined in excess of $150,000 for throwing energy drinks at a press conference. Fourthly, the date and place had to be confirmed. Finally, a negotiation in understanding who will broadcast and promote the event. Nevertheless, amongst the boxing fraternity, this fight is unwarranted as McGregor is yet to lace up a pair of boxing gloves.

Boxing routinely pays out millions to its fighters. In recent times we’ve had the Mayweather versus Pacquiao bout which grossed in excess of $650million. Mayweather pocketed $250million and Pacquiao $125million. This clash is expected to hit 6 million plus PPV buys; 1.6million more than what Mayweather and Pacquiao sold. Projections see 6 million PPV buys at $100 (estimation) each, generating $600million. Team McGregor is predicted to pocket at least £85million and Mayweather in excess of $250million depending on how the PPV percentages are dispersed. Other beneficiaries include; UFC; Al Haymon (team Mayweather advisor), Showtime Sports and Sky Sports. It’s worth noting that in previous bouts Mayweather has received both fighters’ share of PPV revenue. ESPN analysts predict a gate of $60.5million; again surpassing that of Mayweather and Pacquiao. To put that in perspective, UFC 209 in March at the T-Mobile Arena drew in $2.4million in ticket sales. Las Vegas is regarded as the boxing capital of the world with tourist revenue routinely increasing by 10-15% every time a bout is held there. Before the fight was announced, the average three-night stay in a Las Vegas hotel from August 24th-26th would cost $133 a night. By 11am Thursday, the average cost per night jumped to $233 – a rise of 79% (ESPN, 2017).

Picking a suitable date was going to be difficult. They lost the Mexican Independence day (September 16th) to Gennady Golovkin versus Canelo Alvarez at the T-Mobile Arena – a date which Mayweather has previously coined his own. GoldenBoy Promotions who will be promoting that fight asked for a clause to be installed – no other boxing event can take place at the Arena within a 3-week period. Asking for this is an indication GoldenBoy Promotions feel threatened by Mayweather versus McGregor, knowing the public cannot account for spending $200+ on two PPV buys. Those that are in that unfortunate position will have to choose between one of boxing’s highly anticipated bouts, or what the majority seem to believe will be a boxing exhibition.

Technological advancements allow us to have a personal relationship with our favourite athletes. However, boxing has been innovatively inefficient compared to other elite sports. Showtime Sports created a 360 degree training camera for the Keith Thurman versus Danny Garcia title fight on Facebook, but views only hit a mere 40,000. In the wake of the fight announcement, Mayweather recently offered the #MayweatherChallenge to his fans, telling them to showcase their true worth on social media, rather than fabricate their earnings. This became an instant hit and gained 5 million views within the first 24 hours of it being posted. McGregor also stirred up a social media buzz by announcing the fight with a clever post by boasting Mayweather is too old to compete. Combined, the post gained 3.5 million likes across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Sponsors will be clamouring at the chance to have their name plastered across the canvas; especially as it’s expected to reach wider socio-demographic groups combat sport has yet to reach. What is to be expected is an occasion which is far more than a 36 minute bout.

Unquestionably, the motivation behind this match-up is the bottom line. All parties involved are expected to benefit substantially. The fighter fit is perfect. They each have a massive following; they both like indulging in what they call an ‘unhealthy spending addiction’ and most importantly, they are arguably two of the most searched celebrities in 2017. Having already seen combat sports cross-over when Ali fought Inoki in 1976, the dynamism of MMA and boxing is still in its infancy. If McGregor’s ‘punchers chance’ does come off, where does boxing stand? And will the UFC really be happy?

IStatista [2016] Number of People Participating in Mixed Martial Arts in England from 2007/2008 to 2015/2016 <[Link] [online] [16/06/2017]

IIESPN [2017] Las Vegas Hotel Prices Skyrocket for the Mayweather v McGregor Fight <[Link] [online] [16/06/2017]

About Samandeep Chouhan

Samandeep graduated from Coventry University with a Bachelor of Honours Sport Management degree. Following his passion, he has amassed a wealth of experience from the grassroots to the corporate level of sport and is currently undertaking his PhD, focusing on the misrepresentation of British Asians in English Football. Within the sporting realm, Samandeep has a particular interest in strategy, history and its social benefits. He can be reached via Twitter – https://twitter.com/samchouhan1991