Floyd Mayweather Jr. grabbed headlines early in the New Year thanks to a controversial interview which he had given to FightHype amidst the embers of 2015.
Asked by his interviewer to speak on the current state of boxing, the former pound for pound king launched into a bizarre tirade about racism within the sport, it’s media, and seemingly society as a whole. Towards the end of the diatribe Floyd switched his focus to another combat sport, MMA, but the broader theme of racial bias remained. In fact, the change in direction seemed to have been made for the sole purpose of providing a perceived example of such bias.
It was in this instance that the subject of Conor McGregor first arose.
“I don’t really know the McGregor guy; never seen him fight. I heard his name actually from one of the runners that works for our company; a little kid named Ken Hopkins, he’s a runner and takes care of a lot of the daily business. Whatever we need, he takes care of. He’s a cool little kid, I like him, and he does MMA. He told me about the guy McGregor. They say he talk a lot of trash and people praise him for it, but when I did it, they say I’m cocky and arrogant. So biased! Like I said before, all I’m saying is this, I ain’t racist at all, but I’m telling you racism still exists”.
Inevitably Floyd’s suggestion that McGregor’s growing fame and popularity illustrated the persistence of racism in the modern world became a viral news story within a few days.
As did McGregor’s response, which came a little over a week later.
In an open letter that he published on social media, “The Notorious” one addressed various media outlets that had bestowed awards upon him for his manifold achievements in 2015, apologized to the Irish police force, An Garda Siochana, for a minor incident involving the display of an air-soft gun in public, and briefly mentioned his next bout.
In the middle of all that, though, there was also a strongly worded and confrontational rebuttal to Mayweather’s charge.
“Floyd Mayweather, don’t ever bring race into my success again. I am an Irishman. My people have been oppressed our entire existence. And still very much are. I understand the feeling of prejudice. It is a feeling that is deep in my blood.
In my family’s long history of warfare there was a time where just having the name ‘McGregor’ was punishable by death.
Do not ever put me in a bracket like this again.
If you want we can organise a fight no problem.
I will give you a fair 80/20 split purse in my favour seen as your last fight bombed at every area of revenue.
At 27 years of age I now hold the key to this game.
The game answers to me now.”
The retaliation was classic McGregor.
As sensational as it was, however, the Dubliner’s post was somewhat unnecessary. For he had already authored the perfect response to Mayweather’s theory, and it had made it’s first appearance in the media just hours beforehand.
Jeremy Botter of the Bleacher Report was the first one to break the news that McGregor would next step into the octagon on March 5th at UFC 197. His opponent, according to Botter’s sources, would be none other than lightweight beast/champion Rafael dos Anjos.
It was this revelation that highlighted the real reason why McGregor’s motor-mouth routine has drawn a different reaction to what Floyd’s did – the Dubliner’s words have substance.
McGregor had long talked of becoming a two-weight world champion, but that talk became even more audacious in the run up to his battle with Jose Aldo at UFC 194. In a media conference call the week before the event, Conor stated that his plan was to move straight into a lightweight title fight once he had solidified his claim to featherweight supremacy.
“I will KO Jose Aldo and I will face the winner of the lightweight belt[Rafael dos Anjos or Donald Cerrone] which takes place a week after,” said McGregor.
Those comments caused quite a stir.
There were hints, however, of hesitance in some of what McGregor would say later. Regardless of how concrete Conor’s plans sounded in that moment, in the next he would talk about options and not making a decision until he had assessed every possible scenario.
Speaking to Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting shortly after his lauded left-hand had accounted for Aldo’s consciousness, McGregor said that he wanted to sit back and wait to see how things unfolded before identifying his next opponent.
“I’ll sit and I’ll wait, I’m not going to jump into nothing. There’s options, and I make the decisions on this, I feel. I feel I’ve earned the right to make decisions on this. So I will see what way it forms. I’ll see how that fight plays out next week, see what the fans reaction is. You know, I’ll listen to all angles and then I’ll make a decision”.
Many speculated that this was a signal that McGregor’s interest in the 155lb gold was dependent upon who was in possession of it after the December 19th tussle between Dos Anjos and Cerrone.
This would have been an understandable stance to take. After all, while “Cowboy” would present a favourable match-up and act as an ideal co-conspirator in the selling of the fight, “RDA” was a stylistic nightmare who would be less of a promotional aid to the fast-talking featherweight champion.
Perhaps the brash certainty of the fighter within McGregor was being somewhat tempered by the calculated logic of the ever evolving businessman.
When Dos Anjos produced a terrifying display of utter savagery to see-off Cerrone after just sixty-six seconds in Orlando, most people assumed that Conor had seen all he needed to see and that he would opt to remain at 145lbs for the time being.
Less than a month later, however, McGregor vs Dos Anjos is a pending reality.
It seems that McGregor has moved on from the biggest challenge of his career, by immediately seeking out an even more daunting assignment. One in which he has opened a betting underdog. Most astoundingly of all, perhaps, the fight will happen just three months after his annihilation of Aldo.
Conor spoke about what he planned to do, and he has legitimately endeavoured to get it done, regardless of the risk involved. In the process he has proved that for all his talk about “good business” the fighter within him is still steering this ship.
Boxing fans have become so used to seeing businessmen masquerading as fighters that the idea of any big name taking a risk akin to McGregor’s would seem completely outlandish. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has played a huge role in this.
While Mayweather is undoubtedly one of the most talented purveyors of pugilistic poetry that has ever set foot in the ring, he has never backed up his claims that he is “The Best Ever” with a jaw-dropping display of confidence, courage and ambition such as Conor’s.
Can you imagine Mayweather jumping at the chance to fight somebody who had just turned in as convincing a performance as Dos Anjos did against Cerrone?
His performances may have been gloriously artistic, but Floyd has always seemed satisfied to talk about being “TBE” rather than attempting to remove all doubt by taking risks and accepting the most dangerous of challenges. McGregor on the other hand is constantly trying to prove his greatness through his actions.
The aversion to risk often apparent in Floyd’s matchmaking is also reflected in his approach between the ropes, where he is known for his masterful defensive prowess. Unfortunately, such displays don’t seem appropriate in the aftermath of pre-fight proceedings that have been brimming with bravado.
In this sense, Floyd once again fails to do his words justice, while McGregor is going in and blasting people out in a way that fits perfectly with his boastful, trash-talking persona.
It is perhaps a horrible cliche to end this argument with, but it seems painfully apt in this case. The reason that Conor is receiving more praise than Floyd, despite their many similarities, has nothing to do with racism. It comes down to the fact that while Mayweather was always happy to simply talk the talk, McGregor seems fiercely determined to back up his verbose antics by walking the walk.
And why, Floyd, wouldn’t we praise that?