Billions will watch blockbuster

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr (far left) and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor pose during a media press conference at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr (far left) and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor pose during a media press conference at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Despite talk that fight is a circus, many expected to tune in with hope of an upset

LAS VEGAS • Hype will collide with reality today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) as boxing legend Floyd Mayweather takes on mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar Conor McGregor in a battle tipped to be the richest fight in history.

A little over two months after the fight was confirmed in June, Mayweather and McGregor will touch gloves at Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena in a boxing contest which will be beamed to more than 200 countries and territories.

Fight promoters have breathlessly talked about the bout surpassing the US$600 million (S$816.27 million) generated by Mayweather's 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao, insisting that interest has been off the charts.

"This is the biggest event that has ever happened in combat sports," said Dana White, the chief executive of MMA's Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"This fight will reach over a billion homes worldwide."

Ringside seats were being offered on secondary ticket markets for an eye-watering US$100,250 apiece on Thursday, even though some 1,700 seats in the 20,000-capacity venue remained unsold.

Millions of fans across the United States are expected to shell out US$99.95 to watch the fight on pay-per-view television, the most important economic engine of the spectacle.

The sense of anticipation has endured despite an unrelenting chorus of disparagement across the boxing world.

Farce. Freakshow. Circus. Mismatch. Rip-off. Bad for boxing.

It has been impossible to follow the build-up to the fight without being made aware of the near-universal tide of derision.

A cursory glance at the tale of the tape explains the cynicism.

American Mayweather, 40, is one of the most skilled boxers of his generation, a master of ringcraft who retired in 2015 after a glittering 21-year career with a perfect 49-0 record.

McGregor, a two-weight world champion in UFC, has never boxed professionally and has looked awkward and ungainly during training camp sparring sessions. He has demonstrated punching power in the UFC, but has never faced an opponent as elusive as Mayweather.

Anything other than a convincing Mayweather win will be regarded as a surprise; a McGregor victory a monumental upset.

Yet, the millions who will gladly part with their cash to watch the fight in the arena or on television do not appear to be bothered by the possibility that they may be taken for an expensive ride.

Stephen Espinoza, the head of cable network Showtime Sports which is selling the fight on pay-per-view in the US, said many would tune in on the off-chance of witnessing "something incredible".

"We did some focus group testing, and the casual fans were absolutely adamant," he said. "Their response almost universally was 'We don't care if it's a mismatch. We don't care if it's non-competitive - if there's a .01 chance that something incredible could happen, we need to watch it.'"

Whatever the outcome, the two men at the centre of the action will be laughing all the way to the bank.

If pay-per-view targets are met, Mayweather could earn as much as US$200 million, pushing his career earnings toward US$1 billion.

Irishman McGregor, who four years ago was living off unemployment benefit in Dublin, could pocket US$100 million.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Stay clear of the circus sideshow that is Mayweather-McGregor

MAYWEATHER JR V MCGREGOR

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Billions will watch blockbuster'. Print Edition | Subscribe