Another Ultimate American Spectacle

Floyd and Conor onstage in London while on a promotional tour (photo by Matthew Lewis)

Floyd and Conor onstage in London while on a promotional tour (photo by Matthew Lewis)

By Josh Tribe

It was when I couldn’t find a single political pundit predicting Trump would win that I started to think Trump was gonna win – I feel much the same way about the upcoming “Money Fight” between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor. 

First off, congratulations to anyone reading this previously unaware of the upcoming prizefight between undefeated boxing savant Floyd Money Mayweather and gladiatorial UFC demigod, the Notorious Conor McGregor.  If you’ve escaped the wall-to-wall hype, I’m inferring some sort of equanimity upon your blissfully oblivious brain, and about to forever trounce whatever innocence you may possess.

So which is it: historic showdown or shameful freak show?  Both?

Quite obviously, it’s the perfect sporting event for this social media era of identity politics gone ballistic.  Though eerily similar to the election, this money fight is decidedly less embarrassing. Who cares if both pugilists are basically unlikable?

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice

— Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"

These guys love talking about it – the ring is their paradise.  The fight’s precise location: Paradise, Nevada, an oxymoron if ever there were one.  McGregor speaks of bouncing heads off the canvass.  Mayweather holds up hundred million dollar checks.  Perhaps it’s my idealization of Dylan’s projections onto Rubin Carter, but I still can’t decide which of these guys is more unlikable.  Here they are, re-contextualized…  

As you already likely know, it’s a classic binary battle: young vs. old, mixed martial artist vs. Queensbury roles boxer, and of course the least discussed, biggest draw: white guy vs. black dude. 

In the boxing corner: Mayweather: greatest defensive wizard in the history of boxing, equally famous for his financial prowess and accompanying flamboyance.  Born to a family of professional fighters, fast and pretty, young Floyd nevertheless grew up poor, became rich, and has forever since been obsessed with the one-word American mantra: more.  A far more chimerical character than he’s given credit for, Money Mayweather is waging an all-out war for more.  He speaks of controlling chessboards; discordantly invokes Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; claims to be fighting for all America, Black America and “the Spanish” specifically; endorsed Trump and stands by it; rejects the African-American taxonomy, reckoning he’s as American as the Mayflower, and more originally American than even Native Americans (who, he recently referred to as such, before apologizing and correcting himself, “the Indians, I mean.”) (Who can blame boxers for failing to keep up with preferred nomenclatures, especially one espousing black pride, American nationalism and faith in Donald, all in unison?)

In the upstart’s corner we find McGregor: a few years removed from Ireland’s welfare rolls, he’s become a new-age poster child for talking and willing reality into existence.  He’s like the Brad Pitt character from Snatch, imbued with sliver-tongued shit-talking skills, and he’s dominated the UFC world over the last few years, helping the sport all but eclipse boxing as the world’s most popular form of competitive violence.  They don’t make white men in this country like McGregor – a guy like this could only emerge from Ireland or Russia.  He oozes charisma, confidence, street fighting mojo.  There’s something decidedly boyish about him – despite the Tyler Durden darkness, the guy’s got his share of Mary Lou Retton too, the little leprechaun that could.  He is the severe underdog, far as the gaming odds go.

Most commentators, especially boxing purists and sports media establishment types, view McGregor’s chances for victory exactly the same way the mainstream media gauged Trump’s odds of becoming president.  Even within the unheard stepchild air carried by UFC loyalists, the confessionary consensus is that McGregor’s efforts will be considered successful if he “gives Floyd a good fight,” whatever that means.  Others say he’ll be lucky to land a single point-worthy blow.  Many of these MMA guys relish in their (dead-on) perception that Mayweather would have no shot whatsoever if he battled McGregor in the octagon.  UFC commentator (and new Oprah for stoners) Joe Rogan makes the point that while Mayweather may have all the confidence in the world, boxing-ability-wise, he’s never faced a man able to say to his face: “If this was a street fight, I’d fooking kill you.”  At some subconscious level, the esoteric Rogan ponders, that’s gotta rattle Floyd just a little bit.

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Convoluted analyses permeate the airways; variables are emphasized and deemphasized – here are the brass tacks, as they appear from afar:  Mayweather is 40, 5’8", and naturally carries between 135-155 pounds.  He is 49-0, but hasn’t knocked anyone out this century, save one poor schmuck who head-butted him, stopped in the middle of the fight to apologize for said head-butt, and was promptly dropped while dumbly looking at the referee – one of the myriad of events which have cast Mayweather as a villain.  He’s an artist, Mayweather, who still seems to have every marble, all of which he focuses on his monomaniacal goal – becoming as rich as fucking possible.  Aside from his mastery of the art of boxing, I find nothing likable about him, save perhaps his unapologetic narcissism. McGregor is 29, taller than 5’9", and naturally carries around 170 or so pounds.  That’s much younger and much bigger. 

The last organized pugilism I took part in was freshman year PE wrestling.  I was one of the bigger boys within the under 100-pound weight class and boy did I beat the shit out of those little fucks, many of whom were on the wrestling team, and whose skills far exceeded my own.  All I can authentically use to compare relative size advantages in athletics is basketball.  As a 5’8", 150 pound point guard, I feel especially sensitive to the difference between 5’8½" and 5’9½", 150 and 170 pounds.  McGregor will make weight, but by fight time, it will be obvious just how more significant he is, physically.  Even if I were in the best shape of my life, being 43, I cannot contemplate competing athletically against an insanely fit 28 year-old man or woman, let alone one bigger and more naturally athletic than myself.  I’m no expert, and no way to verify these things anyway, but from watching my share of each man’s battles, McGregor appears to my eyes as the vastly more athletic man – something the American media could never utter with a straight face, given the quiet racism that flipped sometime between Jack Johnson and Jackie Robinson, the presumption of Caucasian athletic inferiority – a theory which has silently worked to belittle black and white athletes alike… A white guy simply cannot play wide receiver, running back, compete in sprints, or beat black guys in boxing matches – the work ethic and intelligence of white athletes is (still) highlighted, while, black athletes are (still) largely seen as naturally gifted.

McGregor is hungrier, younger, bigger, stronger, completely unorthodox and superior athletically: I think he’s gonna bloody up Pretty Boy Floyd – I pray it doesn’t happen – I’m probably the only man on earth who believes McGregor will win and isn’t happy about it.  But I think it’s about to happen.  Conor McGregor’s gonna do exactly what he’s been telling everyone he’s gonna do.   

For a zillion reasons, I can’t help but root for Floyd.  But mostly it’s out of loathing for a few McGregor enthusiasts.  Bryan Callen, resident village idiot within Rogan World, said the other day he’ll move to Ireland to be Conor’s feet-washer, if the Irishman pulls the upset.  Skip Scrotum-Face Bayliss looks like he’s about to start jerking off on air as he tells Floyd Mayweather, Sr. how the uppity Irishman’s gonna put his son in the hospital.  From my vantage point, older, smaller Floyd’s the only one with a chance of getting hurt, so odds be damned, he’s the underdog.  If he’s to push his record past Rocky Marciano, it’ll be in typical fashion: ploddingly methodical, utterly unhittable, scoring points in tactful smatterings – though he claims he cannot allow it to be a defensive fight; that he must “go to” Conor, nobody thinks he’s serious.  Floyd is risking his mental marbles for gold ones – if McGregor gets him with one of those monster left hooks, I hope he goes down, swallows his pride, maintains the brains he was born with.  I pray that Mike Tyson and Max Kellerman are right and Mayweather’s gonna pick McGregor apart like MJ would Lavar Ball, if such basketball blasphemy ever came to fruition.  Call me sentimental, but I don’t wanna see the American black guy, the older, smaller guy, get his brains bashed in by an Aryan Irish madman destined to forever destroy the memory of Gentleman Jim, ‘Real Rocky’ Chuck Wepner, big galoot Gerry Coony and all other Mediocre White Hopes – the Great White Hope is fucking here; his name is Conor McGregor; and he’s about to be bigger than LeBron James.

It’s boxing, perhaps the only institution shadier than politics, so anything might happen.  Example: Mike Tyson didn’t lose to Buster Douglass.  Any decent Tyson documentary will include the clip: Tyson knocking Douglass down, the ref taking 15 seconds to count to ten.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it comes out 50 years from now, that Floyd took a secret ten figure extra payday from the modern day mob to not only lose, but let Conor ritualistically humiliate him – I pray I’m wrong – but I think Conor might beat Floyd senseless, because it’s rigged, or because it isn’t.  Like the election, the whole fucking thing could be pure charade – no way to know.  Last aside: anyone who fights people to earn a living is a lunatic – brave perhaps, etc., ad infinitum, I’m not knocking them – but they are, by definition, insane individuals.

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken) 

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken) 

Back to the unending tantric foreplay which precedes any clusterfuck deemed important enough to dominate social media: McGregor’s detractors see it as absolutely preposterous: a man with no professional boxing experience taking on one of the sport’s all time-greats.  Boxing, however, is one element of mixed martial arts — and Conor McGregor, quite obviously, has been mashing motherfuckers’ faces since he could stand.  And as Mayweather deftly insists, McGregor’s specialty within his dominance of the UFC, has been his ability to knock people the fuck out, with his left fist. 

It’s likely to be incredibly uneventful, or an all-out bloodbath.  The two lunatics with three-syllable M-names have been touring the world, shouting at each other in televised press conferences that, unlike the fight itself, have had no trouble selling out.  Even sportscasters who cheerlead the trash-talking of Muhammad Ali, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan et al, cringed as the two lunatics berated one another – far as performance art goes, Conor has out Mayweather’ed Floyd – of course it’s his cockiness that’s made him so popular, the identical sort of cockiness that’s, for two decades now, made Mayweather unpopular.  The double standard isn’t lost on Floyd.  Fans of Mayweather, an accused wife-beater and general all-around asshole, are fans of greatness.  Unlike Trump supporters, who I think, all in all, are far more racist than they get credit for, Conor’s fans wouldn’t have rooted for Max Schmeling against Joe Louis – but all the racists are pulling for Conor in a way they probably still, despite the ascendance of Trump, feel unsafe expressing freely.  Unwittingly, McGregor’s about to become an Alt-Right icon.  

On that note, during the lowest-common-denominator press conferences, McGregor said things such as “dance for me, boy,” while Mayweather resorted to more generic insults, “pussy,” “faggot,” which seemed completely disingenuous, as if designed to rally the LGBTQ community to McGregor’s corner.  Years ago, Muhammad Ali implored Chuck Wepner to call him nigger at a press conference.  When Wepner refused, Ali claimed Wepner said it to him in the bathroom.  Muhammad Ali would have loved Conor McGregor, as Floyd Mayweather does.  He’s great for the old beloved bottom line.  Though nobody heard it, Mayweather now claims McGregor “called us monkeys,” and it should be noted that nobody within Conor’s inner-circle feels their boy’s a racist – insane how anyone thinks either of these guys capable of abstract thought, lucid political ideology, etc., but we love to project such traits on celebrities…

As McGregor comes off as spontaneously irrepressible as the crude wild-man, with his cauliflower ear, blond Nazi hairdo, menacing chest tattoo, fuck you pinstripes etc., enter Mayweather’s latest incarnation – in a recent ESPN interview, he sounds as shrewdly paradoxical as Louis Farrakhan – an ingenious conman, everything about him is clean… Over 40, a boxer, his skin as unblemished as his record, handsome face unscarred, bald head beautifully round, his teeth wedding gown white, his manner ultra calm, self-effacing, maniacally and self-admittedly calculated, a religious zealot on behalf of greed.  It’s a nuanced performance.  He looks like what he’s become: a cold, calculating mogul – whether he’s being tyrannically egomaniacal for the crowds or self-deprecating with Stephen A. Smith, he couldn’t be smoother, prettier.  Conor couldn’t be any more rugged – but they’re the same guy, from similar backgrounds, poor kids who cashed in dates with destiny.  It’s Horatio Alger Jr. vs. Horatio Alger Sr., though at this point, both are closer to Hearst than say, Booker T. Washington or the Irish immigrants involuntarily conscripted into the Union Army during the War Between the States. 

Say what you will regarding the onerously repulsive aspects to this multi-layered specter of violence, the alternating similarities and stark contrasts between these two men are so aesthetically glorious, so astatically juxtaposed, I find it hard to believe anyone with even the remotest interest in American sports or society will be able to turn away – like the election, you may be too disgusted to vote, but it takes a special sort of monasticism to ignore the outcome altogether.

Endless analogies have been offered up by pundits eager to make sense of the unprecedented shit show – which may not be a shit show at all, may turn out a farce of epic proportions, or just a typically boring Mayweather schooling of yet another fighter not named Floyd Mayweather Jr.  Standup comedian Bill Burr says the boxing rules format is like Jerry Rice competing against Tom Brady to determine who the best football player is, measuring only their ability to throw the football.  To him and countless others, it’s a mockery, of boxing and mixed martial arts, and these two insanely rich men slated to become evermore insanely rich men as a result of the billion dollar bout, which strangely or unsurprisingly, is finding difficulty selling out. 

Like the election, a relative handful of fanatics faithful to their affinity for one candidate’s perceived messianic or antichrist qualities, take it insanely seriously, while the rest of us sit back and wonder how anyone could be excited by the prospect of President Clinton part 2, or President Trump. I’m finding it easier to root for Mayweather than Hillary, but just barely. 

I hate this fight, which on one hand is nothing more than American race porn – and I love it, because it’s sport, and both men, in their own right, are underdogs… Boxing, which continues to reveal itself as less barbaric than American football, is the perfect prism from which to view the American love-hate relationship with hate.  We love when athletes are so direly competitive as to appear to harbor actual hatred for one another – when, that is, their hatred of their opponent is seen as pure, squarely within the ever-narrowing borders of political correctness – our hatreds now must be publicly approved.  How anyone could view either of these men as being about anything other than themselves is beyond me. Nevertheless, hatred’s popularity, as an emotion, is at an all-time high.

Stephen A. Smith asked Mayweather how he would feel if the paying audience at T-Mobile Arena end up rooting against him.  It was the only time I’ve seen a crack in Mayweather’s feathery veneer – it was as if he subconsciously processed a million things: Trump, who he supports; Colin Kaepernick who he hasn’t supported; plus the aforementioned reality that McGregor’s popularity is due in large part, with the white public’s tolerance for white cockiness, and its disdain for the same product wrapped in brown skin – it was as if he did some quick sociological algebra he’d yet to consider: figured the audience in attendance will be overwhelmingly rich, white, male – and the likelihood that despite his flag-waving and Trump supporting, these men are more likely to view Conor as one of their own – and this massive realization served to reinforce, validate and justify what he’s chosen as his sole purpose in life: accumulate material wealth.     

Last note: in a reckless effort to promote ticket sales, Mayweather has agreed to petition the boxing commission to allow he and McGregor to use eight-once gloves – still bigger than UFC gloves, but a technical switch highly advantageous to his opponent.  Perhaps he knows the boxing commission won’t sanction the smaller gloves, but if it does, I’m all the more convinced Mayweather’s in big fucking trouble.  I just don’t see him eclipsing Marciano’s untainted record.  Not this month.  Faulkner would have a field day with this – Dark Abyss in August.  The Age of Trump dictates the fulfillment of White Hope.  When that young white menace right out the Nordic sieve of Western Civ. comes back-flipping at Pretty Boy Floyd, this white man, squarely aligned with Team Five Foot Eight, will be screaming at the screen, “Easy work, Floyd!  Easy work!”, as if I were Floyd Mayweather, Sr.  I don’t think the Alt-Right will handle a McGregor victory well.  The last place I’d want to be come fight time, is at the fight.  The chances for a riot, because the fight lives up to expectation or doesn’t – between the gamblers, racialists, loyalists to fighting-formats, it does seem to be an event without much chance for redemption – for anyone, save perhaps, the Spanish.



People are crazy and times are strange
I used to care, but things have changed

— Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"

A few things happened.  First, I watched as McGregor responded to Mayweather’s accusations of monkey-calling.  It was the most genuine bit of footage I’ve seen from either lunatic.    McGregor isn’t a white supremacist.  Mayweather isn’t a black supremacist.  McGregor is a McGregorist and Mayweather’s a Mayweatherist.  They’re genius self-promoters, finely tuned athletes who’ve dedicated the requisite ten thousand hours for mastery.  After watching the apocalyptic shit show in Charlottesville, I no longer give a Frenchman’s fuck who beats who in the billion dollar sideshow.  Call it sporting history, call it Queensbury heresy – it doesn’t mater.     

I keep calling the fighters lunatics – yet, within their madness, they’re actually the sanest people involved.  McGregor stands to make upwards of 150 million dollars; Mayweather, perhaps twice that.  People the world over are being assaulted, bombed, starved, raped, pillaged, and not receiving one cent in compensation.  Assuming the fight itself is on the up and up, it’s a more honest symptom of the human disease than nearly anything else miscalled Western civilization’s pumping out.  The gall of this country, that’s on a trajectory to be selling out stadiums to watch Muslims get fed to wild boars and wildebeests by decade’s end… The NFL (!) with its weekly circle-jerk to the war planes, players’ with mashed potatoes for brains cruelly criminalized for partaking of cannabis, talk about freakish embarrassments to American sports, look no further than the plantation reactionaries unwilling to let Kaepernick sling their pigskin.  Sixteen touchdown passes and four picks – blackballed by one of the many malevolent American sports institutions with a PR budget big enough to push all scrutiny aside.  Doesn’t everyone know by now, what goes on at/in Guantanamo?  Does not everyone remember the images to surface from the American Military Inferno known as Abu Ghraib?  Have you not, and I mean today, seen another unarmed human being murdered by the police in broad daylight?  A pervert is President; we’re 16 years into a nebulous crusade to genocide anyone with good reason not to like us; Trump or no Trump, we insist on calling human beings within our boundaries illegal aliens; and the fight game, monopolized by hallowed boxing until the synchronous, separate ascendances of Mayweather Jr. and the UFC, is a broken record of shameful exploitation – has there ever been a famous boxer not to have been screwed out of most of his fortune?  Well, I can think of one: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.  The Notorious One (McGregor), who’s as famous for being less than five years removed from the Irish welfare rolls as Money Mayweather is for his Rolls Royces, has been wise to plagiarize Floyd’s business plan.  What we’re seeing with Mayweather-McGregor is two athletes asserting unprecedented control over their careers.  The middlemen are fading – they remain, but the days of the Don King stranglehold on prizefighters’ purse strings are done.     

Oh the bullshit being slung around: that Mayweather must win because boxing, the more traditional, elegant fight-game, must defeat this renegade UFC barbarism.  What a vacuous, vicarious culture! that’ll never ever forgive Roberto Duran for saying “no mas.”  You trying fighting Sugar Ray Leonard!  We want to see these guys kill each other, then get all up and arms when they kill each other, when they quit, when they lose, when they win with disappointing titillation quotients. 

The world over which lavishes competition, encourages conquering urges – the urge to conquer and the conquering of urges deemed unnatural.  Who’s anybody kidding?

Here’s the thing: this, this prizefight, combat sports, ought to be the pinnacle of violence within human existence.  That it isn’t – that’s the embarrassment.

To Floyd and Conor, all I can say is good luck lads, I hope you make it – I’m rooting for the both of you.

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)