By Michael James
The Tribe Sports
When it was all said and done, Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor, the boxer against the mixed martial artist, the arguable best of all time in one sport against the best of right now in another sport, there were several undeniable lessons learned.
One of those lessons is that no one really knows what’s going to happen in a sporting event until it actually happens. Another is that there are enough similarities between boxing and MMA for a boxing novice to go almost 10 full rounds with one of the greatest ring tacticians in history. A third lesson is that sometimes what looks like a sham actually isn’t.
But the biggest takeaway of all from Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor was what came in the immediate aftermath of the contest at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, when the two fighters showered each other with mutual admiration and respect. That takeaway is this:
There was never a reason to promote this fight in the profane and often obscene manner that McGregor and Mayweather did – with Showtime and the mainstream media as accessories, broadcasting the whole sordid mess to the masses.
To paraphrase the now-elder statesman Charles Barkley, neither Floyd Mayweather or Conor McGregor want to be seen as a role model. But, the fact is, in this age of social media-driven incivility, men like these two are influencers in society. On a worldwide scale. Children, and those who seek to find some road to success and excess as have these two, are listening.
This is a bad thing for society.
Long before Mayweather and McGregor F-worded their way to one of the richest purses in history, sporting and entertainment events were promoted without the unconscionable tactics used to sell the so-called Biggest Fight of All Time. But not one has ever been promoted in the fashion that McGregor-Mayweather did to make a few hundred million more.
In just the pugilistic sport of boxing, with the first recorded event dating back to 1681 when Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle, arranged a showdown between his butcher and his butler, you can scarcely find any bout where such venom was publicly used to market it. As a matter of fact, to even come close, you have to go back to the days when Iron Mike Tyson was playing the role of super villain, threatening to eat the children of Lennox Lewis in the year 2000.
Incidentally, Lewis, who has four children, didn’t have his first child until 2004 – four years after Tyson went on his cruel rant. However, the two would meet in 2002, where Lewis knocked Tyson out in the eighth round.
For sure, there are untold legions of fans who have absolutely no problem with the invective-filled face-offs delivered by McGregor and Mayweather. For them, all’s fair when it comes to making another dollar and getting yours. But they are foolish to believe that such behavior – again, publicly condoned and facilitated by some of the largest corporations in America – has no effect on the moral fabric of at least a small segment of society.
The problem is that this small segment is the most impressionable. The most vulnerable. The most susceptible. And they heard and digested every bad word and intention served up by McGregor and Mayweather. And, along with being fed a steady diet of how both of these men rose from the depths of deprivation using only their street savvy and physicality to become members of the world’s one percent, they are the ones who internalize that this could be their blueprint to success.
The lesson of this behavior is a variation of the old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” only theirs is a bit more chilling: Get yours no matter what it takes, no matter who you disrespect, curse, humiliate or defame along the way.
It’s for this reason that I am happy to see the 40-year-old Mayweather retire, never to return. His credo to his legions of fans is that money is everything. Not education, not class, not intelligence. Just money. Lots of it – and the stuff it can buy. Including people.
Mayweather’s is not a message or influence that one would want for society’s young.
As for the 29-year-old McGregor, he’s going to be around for a while, so I can only hope that he changes the message he communicates through his stage persona. It can be argued that McGregor’s tactics forced Mayweather’s hand to play by those new rules just to keep up with the social-media conscious Irishman.
The sad thing about McGregor’s behavior is that he often shows himself – especially once the battle has been waged – to be an extremely thoughtful, humble, generous, intelligent and sensitive person. These are traits anyone can be proud of, but they’re hard to hear and see over all the other irreverent behavior he displays.
Before Floyd Mayweather ended this whole circus with a 10th round technical knockout of McGregor, their virulent message of money, materialism and power had been heard by hundreds of millions. I’d be willing to bet that those images will linger far longer than the parting message of mutual respect and reconciliation Mayweather and McGregor shared before fading from the limelight to count their additional riches.
Feel free to disagree and say that the behavior of sports idols and celebrities like McGregor and Mayweather is harmless. Believe that there is no lasting harm done by all the name-calling, cursing and threats they delivered to sell you the fight of a lifetime. Then, take a moment to go online and read the comments of their young acolytes, who wish nothing more than to be just like their heroes.
It’s not hard to find the thousands who hang on every Instagram post where Mayweather sits atop piles of cash and flashes $200,000 Hublot watches, spewing his twisted philosophy of the good life. It’s equally easy to find tens of thousands of McGregor worshippers who want to walk like him, talk like him, boast with abandon and threaten enemies both real and imagined.
What’s missing from both men is any sense of responsibility to society at large. The same society they used to enrich themselves.
You want to argue that behavior of those like Mayweather and McGregor has no real impact? Remember when Miley Cyrus was at the top of the world, twerking and dangling her tongue out the side of her mouth like a puppy dog? Do you recall how almost every teen and preteen girl in the country suddenly couldn’t take a cellphone snap without mimicking Miley’s move?
Or consider just about anything the Kardashian clan does, whether it’s using a dangerous technique to plump their lips, finding new ways to basically disrobe in public without quite breaking the law, or creating some other new and useless style that permeates through culture all around the world.
The bottom line is that what people like McGregor and Mayweather do and say matters. Especially in a fractured and divided country where ordinary citizens are now being moved by social media-driven issues and politics to take to the streets and fight one another.
I’m not against Mayweather and McGregor making millions by hitting each other in the head, but I am against the tactics they used to sell their little scrimmage. Millions of sporting events have been held all over the world since sports became an organized attraction and it was never necessary to sink to the depths that these two did to sell their fight.
My hope is that, instead of starting a trend, it never happens again.
The shame of it all is that in the end, Mayweather-McGregor actually turned out to be an interesting bit of fun and excitement that, just for a moment, helped us escape this screwed up and volatile world that we now live in.
Michael James has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a general assignment reporter with the Detroit News, an NBA beat writer for the New York Daily News and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.