As promised, the clash of Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor on 26th August last year was the showdown of a generation. This was more than just a fight – this was one man putting his entire reputation as a combatant on the line.
Though Mayweather managed to stop McGregor and break Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 unbeaten record, it was the MMA fighter who emerged with greater credibility, in comparison to how he stood in the global eye before the fight.
Prior to that monumental night, the very idea of an MMA fighter making only a temporary defection to boxing, rather than as part of a long-term career change, was ludicrous. McGregor is now one of the most marketable and beloved athletes in the world. While the Dubliner’s hardline approach to the scene gives him the individuality required to be globally popular, the numbers surrounding his fight with Mayweather are also impressive.
This is where it all began. Seen here in turquoise trunks, Conor McGregor makes light work of his first MMA opponent in his native Dublin back in February 2007.
Anybody who has supported McGregor’s career from the off will recall that the Dubliner’s MMA career did not truly take off until his victorious UFC debut in April 2013. Within four years, his MMA record would stand at 21-3 but, with eighteen of those wins coming by way of knockout (punches) and his three defeats being via submission, his move to boxing was not entirely without justification.
Mayweather’s record stood at 49-0 prior to #MayMac, making him an odds-on favourite but he was already at 37-0 and preparing to face Oscar De La Hoya by the time future opponent McGregor entered a theatre of conflict for the very first time.
They were worlds apart and, even with all his purported self-confidence, McGregor could not possibly have envisaged fighting Mayweather at any time in this plane of existence.
Many of those unfamiliar with McGregor’s more distant past prior to #MayMac were surprised to learn that the Irishman’s early MMA career was blemished by false starts. By the end of the 2000s, McGregor had lost 33% of his professional fights. Although long unbeaten runs in MMA are not yet as indicative of imminent stardom as they are in boxing, it is, in hindsight, impressive that McGregor was eventually able to face Mayweather at all, with Mayweather’s impeccable start to professional life contrasting greatly with McGregor’s.
As It Stood
Prior to #MayMac, Floyd Mayweather was a massive favourite by virtue of his 49-0 record, which equalled that of the legendary Rocky Marciano.
PPV Buy Rates
The numerical gulf also extended to viewing numbers, and McGregor still has light years to travel if he ever wants to equal the total PPV buy rate for events headlined by Mayweather. While it is obvious that millions will buy a viewing pass for a glittering clash of champions, rather than a low-key slugfest at a thoroughly nondescript venue in Dublin, the real shock value lies in just how long it took McGregor to get significant pay-per-view draw.
By July 2015, Mayweather had already broken eight figures – and all records – in terms of PPV buys. By that time, McGregor was preparing for his first PPV bout, having just begun his eighth full year of professional combat. The event itself drew in around $300,000.
Though it represented good personal progress for McGregor, he was still to Mayweather what Pluto is to the Sun. Nonetheless, there is some shock value in the rate at which McGregor acquired what is still an ever-growing slew of acolytes on both sides of the Atlantic, gaining the momentum necessary to be considered alongside Mayweather in a major PPV headline within just two years of his first significant PPV draw.
With his first televised appearance coming in 2013, that year would prove to be a watershed one for McGregor, as shown by the above video.
Although McGregor’s proverbial ‘blue touch paper’ had been lit, his wait to become a seven-figure generating headliner would continue until July 2015, and his UFC 189 bout with Chad Mendes. His victory over Mendes in that event was a major catalyst for the return of striking culture, after years of MMA being somewhat monopolised by grapplers.
In the aftermath of #MayMac, it was reported that Mayweather had become the first boxer to smash the $1bn barrier – utterly dwarfing the estimated $27m that McGregor had earned prior to #MayMac. Given that boxing was a global institution long before the UFC began gradually codifying MMA in the 1990s, McGregor will need a miracle to get anywhere near the amount Mayweather earned in his career. That is, unless, a nearly 30-year- old McGregor permanently turns his attention to professional boxing, and enjoys an impossible, Rocky- esque degree of success in a five-year spell thereafter.
There is, however, one department in which McGregor is on course to outdo his former nemesis.
The idea of a dystopian computerised world in which social media interactions are currency may be fantasy for now. Nonetheless, relationships between athletes and their followers are now becoming increasingly relevant when it comes to combat sports corporates making key decisions.
These days, the ‘Tale of the Tape’ is accompanied by the ‘Shtick of the Click’. If nothing else, McGregor is on course to beat Mayweather in the overall popularity stakes on social media (correct as of March 2018).
Though McGregor trails in the overall popularity stakes, the 18-35 demographic now turning to Instagram, the scores have the potential to change seismically. McGregor’s account already has 22.6 million followers, which is 2.5 more than the account of Mayweather. This is because, within his channel, he presents himself as more than a fighter, although he is not averse to calling out other leading pop culture figures, such as 50 Cent.
With his eclectic approach to fashion, characterised by a particular penchant for tweed suits and designer shirts, his appeal extends to those even with no interest in combat sport.
Ultimately, this can only have a knock-on effect, where his other mainstream social media accounts are concerned, thereby increasing his chances of reducing the social ‘gap’ elsewhere.