Floyd Mayweather Jr. clearly spent more time on debate prep than Conor McGregor in advance of the first leg of this multi-continent hype tour.
The oddly subdued version of Mayweather that surfaced for most of the Manny Pacquiao fight buildup did not show up on Tuesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Mayweather brought quality ammunition to promote what is an intriguing event to some and a freak show to others.
McGregor played well to a crowd keen on seeing Mayweather lose (a key sect that has helped the polarizing boxer build his bankroll), but he’ll need to ratchet up the preparation for the next promotional event. He is more closely matched with Mayweather in this realm as opposed to a boxing ring. (This said, McGregor may be the most formidable press-conference opponent of Mayweather’s career.)
Mayweather fired salvos about McGregor’s UFC purses being a fraction of his boxing prizes, which is accurate. Its various governing bodies and lack of regulation help boxing produce payouts for its top draws that dwarf their MMA counterparts.
The 40-year-old five-division boxing champion also provided a glimpse of self-awareness by noting how far removed he is from his prime. Although this was surrounded by the usual Mayweather bravado and outrageous statements, one line worked.
“I’m not the same fighter I was 20 years ago. I’m not the same fighter I was 10 years ago. I’m not the same fighter I was five years ago. I’m not the same fighter I was two years ago, but I got enough to beat you,” Mayweather said.
That underscores the skepticism that should surround this fight.
A plus-550 underdog, McGregor is hopelessly outgunned. It’s hard to overstate how difficult a time the UFC lightweight champion will have functioning at one of sports’ most difficult disciplines… and doing so against one of the best defensive fighters ever.
With no tune-up fight, and with McGregor possessing nothing close to the precision Mayweather’s usual opponents have at this craft, his game plan likely will become similar to late-career Mike Tyson: Hope one big shot overcomes the drastic skill disparity.
McGregor showed Tuesday why he’s insanely popular with the MMA crowd. His ability to connect with fans and obvious Octagon talent also reveal why this is a genius decision by Mayweather, who wouldn’t dream of facing McGregor at what the 28-year-old Irishman does best.
McGregor agreeing to this — for a generational amount of money — is the crown jewel of Mayweather’s late-career marketing strategy. He has found a megastar in his prime from a wildly popular sport willing to accept a long-odds boxing proposition.
Floyd’s first 10 or so years featured dazzling skills, mostly dominant wins, and scant mainstream fanfare. Once he morphed into the “Money” character that’s basically a wrestling heel, he became a megastar, doing so despite providing fights that lacked the flashy aesthetics of his “Pretty Boy” days.
While it’s dumb to hear Mayweather say he’d beat McGregor in an octagon or never ducked a challenge — 2006 Shane Mosley, 2007 Miguel Cotto, or 2010 Manny Pacquiao would like a word — he has mastered boxing marketing.
Boxing diehards may not be happy Mayweather and his legion of truthers are back, but we saw Tuesday why this shtick works.
As much as Mayweather’s unbeaten record has been geared around avoiding opponents at their best, his acumen at the promotional part of the game is unrivaled.
McGregor will need to bring more ammo to match it.