Mayweather vs. McGregor: Sport or spectacle?

I can’t say that I remember a build to a fight that featured all the twists, turns and turbulence as there has been for this Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor duel.

First off, it seemed preposterous when initially mentioned that this fight could even happen. On the one hand, we have a historic champion, one who has never mentioned any sort of mixed martial arts intrigue or desire; one who has competed against the world’s greatest and most experienced boxers without so much as a single defeat.

On the other, there’s an incredibly talented fighter with fast and furious fists who has always had Ali-like confidence and charisma, but never a professional boxing match.

When the possibility was first whispered, I shook my head in disbelief. For as long as it took to get Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in the same ring, I couldn’t imagine how a guy in a different profession would be able to hold Mayweather’s feet to the fire in any sort of realistic manner.

Then when the fight was announced, I kept waiting for it to fall apart in the first few weeks. Once the initial excitement died down, how would the legitimate logistical issues be resolved? Did both fighters want the matchup enough to make it their full-time priority?

Apparently so, because here we are.

The pair will square off in about 72 hours. As surprised as I am that we’ve even gotten to this point, I think I’m more surprised at how many are giving McGregor a real chance to win.

People seem somewhat split in their opinion depending upon the sport with which they are more familiar. Those who consume a lot of the UFC products are giving McGregor more than just a puncher’s chance. They seem insistent that Mayweather has never faced someone like this in the opposing corner.

Those who are the more traditional fight fans can’t fathom how a guy without a single professional boxing match on his resume is going to stand in there and be able to dissect Mayweather’s previously impenetrable defensive tactics.

I am pretty securely locked into that second group. I’m much more of a boxing fan than MMA fan and even though I’m familiar with McGregor’s style and abilities, I have a really hard time seeing how he’ll do what nobody else has ever done.

When odds were first offered on the fight last November, someone had to put down $2,200 on Mayweather just to win $100. It was seen as a huge mismatch. But things have shifted mightily in that time, to where a person now needs to bet only about $400 to win $100 on the Mayweather side.

That’s such a remarkable change and shows how effective McGregor’s trash talk and bravado has been in at least selling his chances. How well it sells the fight still remains to be seen.

But I can’t believe the odds are as favorable as they have become. There are many professional boxers who have been perfecting the art since they were 10 years old who have been far bigger underdogs to Mayweather than where McGregor now finds himself. Is everyone betting just with their hearts, wanting to see the universally loathed Money Mayweather taken down a peg? Or do they honestly feel McGregor’s skills are enough to overpower Floyd’s shell defense?

To me, the match is much more of a spectacle than a real challenge. If he wants to be at his best, Mayweather can and should exit the ring with barely a scratch on his face. If he’s smart about remaining above McGregor’s instigation and somewhat dirty tactics — which Conor should certainly try to use to his advantage — then Floyd should be able to maintain the pacing and style rather easily. If he isn’t set on making this rivalry into a trilogy and cares about remaining undefeated, then Mayweather should move to 50-0.

I understand the desire to believe that any of those “ifs” are flimsy, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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