Worlds will collide in Las Vegas on Aug. 26 when UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor makes his professional boxing debut against future Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a 12-round contest in Las Vegas.
The most talked-about fight in years was officially announced on Wednesday, with Mayweather and McGregor taking to social media to inform their fans while UFC President Dana White appeared on ESPN SportsCenter to discuss the particulars of the match, which will be contested with 10-ounce gloves at 154 pounds. A boxing undercard will be put together by Mayweather’s company, Mayweather Promotions.
“We've been in negotiations now for a while and to be honest, negotiations went smooth,” White said. “Floyd is surrounded by some smart people and we got this thing done. The impossible deal is now done.”
Originally thought to be strictly a fantasy matchup pitting a boxing icon against a mixed martial arts superstar, both Mayweather and McGregor were dead serious about making the fantasy fight a reality. Soon it became very real, with White opening the door for the 155-pound champion to make his move to the boxing ring.
“Conor McGregor is a guy who's done a lot of good things over the years for this sport and for this company, and he wanted this,” White said. “And obviously the fans wanted it too. At the end of the day, my job is to make fights that the fans want to see.”
Now those fans will get that fight, with the 40-year-old Mayweather returning to the ring for the first time since his September 2015 win over Andre Berto. Perfect as a professional at 49-0 with 26 knockouts, Grand Rapids, Michigan native Mayweather was a bronze medal winner in the 1996 Olympics before beginning his pro career later that year.
From there, Mayweather compiled a Hall of Fame-level resume, winning world titles in five weight classes while defeating the best of his era, including Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez, Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Genaro Hernandez, just to name a few. A three-time BWAA Fighter of the Year winner, “Money” Mayweather retired after defeating Berto, but the Las Vegas resident will return to battle McGregor this summer, and despite his track record, White points out that in a prizefight, anything can happen.
“I talked to Conor McGregor this morning and when you talk to this kid, it's fascinating,” he said. “He is absolutely, one hundred percent positive that he wins this fight, and I stopped doubting Conor McGregor a long time ago. When two men step into the ring or the Octagon, anything is possible. Floyd Mayweather is 40 years old, he's always had problems with southpaws. Conor McGregor is 28 years old, he is a southpaw, and whenever Conor hits people, they fall. So it's interesting.
"I'm not saying that Conor McGregor is gonna win, I'm not saying that Floyd Mayweather is gonna win, but I'll tell you this: The reason Conor McGregor is as big as he is is because he will fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. He will go after Floyd Mayweather and he will try to knock him out.”
The fighting pride of Dublin, Ireland, McGregor has gone from unknown to international superstar in the space of a little over four years in the UFC, and the reasons are simple: He is willing to fight anyone and when he does, the whole world is watching. An unorthodox striker who has ended seven of his nine Octagon victories by knockout, McGregor has defeated the best of the best during his stay in the UFC, including Max Holloway, Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier. In December 2015, he won the undisputed featherweight title with a 13-second knockout of the man widely considered to be the greatest 145-pound fighter ever, Jose Aldo.
Not one to sit on his laurels, McGregor then jumped up two weight classes to split a pair of welterweight fights with Nate Diaz and he ended his 2016 campaign by knocking out UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez to become the only fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two championship belts simultaneously. Now he will attempt to make history once more, but as White revealed, “The Notorious” one isn’t done with MMA yet.
“After he fights Floyd, he wants to turn around and fight again this year and that's one of the million reasons why people love Conor McGregor,” White said.
McGregor gave the people what they want. As did Mayweather. All that’s left is the fight.
“This is a fight that the fans demanded,” White said. “The fans wanted to see this fight, it's the most talked about fight on the planet right now and it will be the biggest fight ever in the history of two people punching each other.”
A RISK OR REWARD FOR MCGREGOR?
As the first fighter in UFC history to hold two divisional championships simultaneously, Conor McGregor’s combat sports legacy is secure. So will a move to the boxing world tarnish that legacy? Not according to UFC President Dana White, who said during a Wednesday media teleconference that win or lose, the Dubliner’s stock will go up.
“Conor is a mixed martial artist, he’s going into a boxing match with arguably the greatest boxer of all-time. I don’t think it damages the (UFC) brand or Conor McGregor at all,” White said. "I think it actually elevates Conor McGregor with the fact that this kid who has so much to lose is willing to step in and is absolutely confident that he will win this fight.”
White doesn’t discount the lightweight champion’s chances, either.
“Is he at the level of a Floyd Mayweather as far as boxing standards go? No. But the kid, first of all, is a southpaw, and if you ever want to say there’s ever been a kink in the armor with that kid (Mayweather), it’s with southpaws,” White said. "And Conor McGregor is an absolute knockout artist. When he hits you, you go. So it’s part of the fun of this fight. Is Conor McGregor, in a 12-round fight, gonna be able to touch Floyd Mayweather?”
McGregor believes he will.
“Conor told me this morning that the McGregor clan has been taking over villages for the last 300 years and Floyd’s village is next,” White said.
BOXING VS. MMA
Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President & General Manager of SHOWTIME Sports, which will televise Mayweather vs. McGregor, is currently seen as one of the top network executives in boxing but he’s no stranger to MMA, having taken the Strikeforce promotion to Showtime for a successful run. And while this fight pits a mixed martial artist against a boxer, he doesn’t see it as a clash that will prove one better than the other.
“I think the best analogy to use here is it’s NASCAR and Formula One,” Espinoza said during Wednesday’s teleconference. “NASCAR is not going to replace Formula One and Formula One is not going to replace NASCAR. You see some crossover, a driver from Formula One will try NASCAR and no one makes a big deal about it. They say, ‘Oh, that will be interesting to see how the skills transfer.’ I think that’s what we’re talking about here.”
Espinoza also believes the August bout will attract more than just fight fans.
“We’re not only drawing fans from the universe of boxing fans and the universe of MMA fans,” he said. “We’ve actually tapped into the audience that really doesn’t follow either sport. This is such an unprecedented event, such a spectacle, that all of a sudden people who have never really been interested in either MMA or boxing are interested in this event due to the nature of the competition and the nature of these two personalities.”
A DIFFERENT FEEL TO MAY-MAC FOR ELLERBE
As a friend and business associate of Floyd Mayweather for 21 years, Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe has seen it all when it comes to big fights. But Ellerbe admits nothing is quite like this upcoming bout with Conor McGregor.
“This has a different kind of feel,” he said. “With Conor McGregor not being a boxer, this is more of a mainstream global event. This is something that the fans want to see. He’s done a tremendous job with promoting himself. Dana has done a tremendous job with promoting him, and he’s the biggest star in their sport. So when you look on the other side, we all know what Floyd brings to the table. But it’s the fans that demanded this. So when the fans are demanding this fight, you gotta figure it out and get it done. This is a total different feel from the (Manny) Pacquiao fight because this is the unknown factor.”
But is “The Notorious” one a threat to “Money” Mayweather?
“His standup game, I’m very damn impressed with it,” Ellerbe said of McGregor. “He don’t even look like he throws his shots hard, but he’s so slick with it when he touches guys, even if he grazes them, it’s like, ‘Damn, he f**ked them up.’ The next thing you know, they’re stretched out and wobbling all around the ring. Man, he better not graze Floyd with one of them shots.”