After more than a half century of watching legendary champions fight each other, and reading about the fistic exploits of ancient titleholders, I, the average wimpy fan, am disturbed that Conor McGregor, a guy with no professional boxing experience, nary a single fight, is going to potentially earn a hundred million to debut against one of history’s finest pugilists, Floyd Mayweather, who though age forty, Conor’s senior by more than a decade, and two years retired will require nothing more than a routine sparring session to earn perhaps a quarter of a billion. What would Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis think? How would Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier feel? You damn well know they’d be outraged.
I’m certainly not going to pay to watch this fight. I may read about what’s happening, and in fact have been doing so, but only a little. Conor McGregor’s a champion in mixed martial arts but tires in big fights and should not be in the ring with an undefeated former boxing champion. I don’t care it’s the afternoon of fight night. I’ve got writing to do. I just don’t feel like typing about The Donald today. No need to. He starts several big fights every day. I guess it’ll be okay to watch some boxing interviews online and read a few articles. Most fighters think this is a mismatch. Why are so many people aroused? They probably wonder how the slaughter will unfold. Really, I should go to a good movie instead of getting worked up about a rookie boxer. Besides, I don’t have the cable box necessary to order pay per view for a hundred bucks. I don’t watch enough TV to need that item. I call a cineplex that’s showing the fight at forty per ticket but concede I can’t really afford eighty bucks right now.
My stomach’s grinding and I wish I’d simply turn off the computer and escape the hype, but I can’t. Like an addict I phone a nightclub recommended by the lady at the theater. Sure, the guy says, only fifteen apiece and that includes dinner. Not bad. But I’m still not interested. I’m taking a nap and waking up when this is over. I can’t sleep, though. People are right, this may not be boxing heaven but it’s an event. No matter how you feel about him, Floyd Mayweather has charisma: he didn’t become Money because he’s a particularly exciting fighter; he’s a defensive stylist who’d rather waltz than slug. And McGregor? He’s witty and dynamic but delusional getting into the ring at this level without any pro experience. What’s that make the Nevada Athletic Commission?
I’ll just call the nightclub, which had been “filling up” an hour before the first fight at six p.m. Now it’ll be full and I can forget about this.
“There’s still standing room and dinner,” says the guy on the phone.
I thank him and say to my wife, “Get dressed. We’re going to the Mayweather-McGregor fight.”
“Great,” she replies, a Filipina fan of Manny Pacquiao and evidently unworried about the imminent mismatch. She feels the energy.
We drive over and the ticket taker tells me, “We don’t accept credit cards at the door.”
“The guy on the phone said you did.”
“There’s an ATM inside. Just leave your license here while you go get the money.”
That’s what I do. It’s been a hundred five in foul-aired Bakersfield today, and must still be a hundred at seven-thirty and almost as hot inside where if there’s air conditioning it’s pretty damn weak. Ceiling fans provide some relief.
“Where should we stand?” I ask an armed security guard.
“That’s a matter of personal discretion,” he says.
“I just want your professional opinion.”
He scans the packed place, rows of tables leading to a large bar, and says, “Stand close to the bar.”
That’s good advice. We stand out of the way, by inches, as waiters from the kitchen shout, “Make a hole, make a hole,” and charge through, carrying paper plates of chili verde, fried rice, beans, and two tortillas.
“How do we get our food?” I ask.
“Give me your tickets,” says the bartender, one of several serving large beers and mixed drinks. I’m thankful I have twenty years sober. The man hands me number ninety-four, and I hold it until a waiter, plate in each hand, asks if we’re only two and hands off dinner that’s pretty good. The chili’s hot but I dare not guzzle water and risk multiple trips to the john. The fight should be ready to start. It’s about eight-fifteen, and I’d read that’s about when the big show would start. Instead, the screens go blank, eliciting boos and condemnations. Several seconds later the image reappears. Al Bernstein, the aging Prince of Pugilism behind the mike, stands on screen along with another guy and Paulie Malignaggi, an ex-champ who may have been decked by McGregor while sparring. Paulie’s probably telling viewers what really happened but we can’t hear. The audio system’s as weak as the AC. That doesn’t matter. I simply want the fight to start. Oh, Jesus, they’re feeding us another preliminary fight, a twelve rounder, at eight-thirty. What about the poor folks on the East Coast who may be tired at eleven-thirty? Thankfully, there’s a technical knockout in round eight, when I’m away, and the stoppage moves up the main event a little. I remind myself that Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao would demolish Conor McGregor, and Mayweather handled both. Another question: does a black champion in mixed martial arts get this boxing opportunity in his debut?
As the fighters march toward the ring, many in the majority Latino and Anglo crowd cheer MacGregor and boo Mayweather. A few fans, in this gathering of primarily young adults, extend single-finger salutes and pump them. A sprinkling of African Americans encourage Floyd and insult Conor. There are exceptions, but most rooters align their emotions by race in an otherwise congenial atmosphere.
McGregor enters the battleground in a nondescript outfit while Mayweather soon steps in wearing a black mask and gold TBE across his cap under a hood and cape glistening in gold. No way Floyd’s “the best ever” in a sport that’s deployed guys his size named Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Tommy Hearns. They had nuclear punching power. Floyd does not. During final instructions by Robert Ryan, the referee, not the late actor, McGregor glares at a relaxed and at times smiling Money.
At the opening bell McGregor, as promised, comes out aggressively, and on my notepad I write, “I can see him tiring in a few rounds.” Mayweather meanwhile rope-a-dopes a little. There’s limited action but I write, “Conor so far looks like a fighter. He lands a left uppercut.” Round one for the Irishman.
Mayweather starts the second round in the corner. McGregor ducks a right, another move worthy of a veteran boxer. Money’s measuring his man who still takes another round. In the third Floyd again briefly retreats to the corner. McGregor’s reluctant to enter the energy-sapping trap. Mayweather lands a right to the body. The pace is still slow. I write, “Floyd’s probably waiting to pounce in a future round. He’s moving ahead now but not much (leather is) landing… I look for Floyd to keep moving forward.” The rookie southpaw may lead three rounds to nothing.
The start of the fourth again shows Floyd back on the ropes before sliding away. I write, “Floyd’s moving forward. Floyd’s missing.” But his aggression probably wins the round, making it three to one. In the fifth McGregor grabs his opponent behind the head, trying to manhandle him. “Floyd’s missing, rusty after layoff (of) two years. Conor’s good on defense.” He does little on offense but probably leads three to two.
In round six Professor Mayweather starts getting tough on his student. He misses a right but keeps attacking and starts scoring, though I note “Conor’s still pretty good.” I don’t write that in the seventh, instead noting, “Floyd’s aggressive, Conor counters, Floyd a right, a right, a right.” The master in short order has unleashed three right crosses to MacGregor’s face and I ominously scrawl, “Floyd’s finding range.” The exertions must tire him because he doesn’t continue to attack in the eighth round but does more than McGregor and I have him up five rounds to three.
At the bell to start the ninth, tiring McGregor launches a kamikaze attack that Mayweather meets with a “right, another right, Floyd aggressive, a right, Floyd landing, right, more punches, big round for Floyd.” Mathematically Mayweather goes up six to three but it’s clear this bout isn’t going the distance. In the tenth I write, “Floyd combos to head, Conor staggering, Conor bounces off ropes, target practice as he staggers around ring, about nine punches knock him against the ropes” where the referee stops the contest. “Good call.” McGregor’s comfortable in Robert Ryan’s embrace.
The doors open, letting hotter air in, and those who won’t be staying for the band pour out. On the way home I turn on talk radio and hear a well-known macho barker say the damn referee should’ve let the fight go on. He should’ve let Conor McGregor be knocked out. Maybe the professional blabbermouth would like to be battered when he’s already hurt and defenseless, and then knocked out. McGregor, despite what he says in the dressing room, should always have referee Robert Ryan on his Christmas list.
Notes: Floyd Mayweather tells the young guys not to bother calling him, he’s going back into retirement. And I hope Conor McGregor, despite his creditable performance as a boxer, will return to his world of mixed martial arts, knowing that a rusty boxer of forty dominated him after the fifth round.