LAS VEGAS • It had all the trappings of a big-ticket prizefight: The glitzy Las Vegas backdrop, the arena-rock production values, the small fleet of celebrities and high rollers at ringside in well-cut suits and couture dresses.
But it was an illusion, one that evaporated before the eyes of the countless throngs who believed that mixed martial arts (MMA) star Conor McGregor had any chance in a 12-round professional boxing fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr, the undefeated five-division champion and finest boxer of his era.
Mayweather needed three rounds to take the two-division Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion's measure before spending the next seven walking him down, picking him apart and closing the show with a 10th-round technical knockout before a crowd of 14,623 at the T-Mobile Arena.
Afterwards, he announced his retirement with a record of 50 wins in 50 professional bouts with 27 by way of stoppage.
Not since a dubious points loss to Bulgaria's Serafim Todorov at the 1996 Olympics has a Mayweather fight ended without the American's hand raised.
"Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot his shots early and then take him out down the stretch," said the 40-year-old Mayweather.
Empty seats at the T-Arena. Official capacity given post-event was just 14,623 - well below the 20,000 capacity for boxing and MMA events.
"We know in MMA, he fights for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, he started to slow down. I guaranteed to everybody that this wouldn't go the distance."
McGregor acquitted himself nicely, landed a few early punches that raised some eyebrows and precluded the disgrace many pundits had expected, but it was still the mismatch augured from day one.
He did, however, land his punches well. The Irishman landed 111 of the 430 punches he threw, compared to Manny Pacquiao's 81 out of 429 when the Filipino fought Mayweather in 2015.
Early in the second round, McGregor was warned by referee Robert Byrd for hitting behind the head as Mayweather continued to sit back and take his measure.
Midway through the fifth, McGregor was showing signs of fatigue as Mayweather was speeding up, landing a hard body shot followed by a chopping left hand early in the frame that dazed him, and whose shots no longer had anything behind them.
By the sixth, McGregor was taking heavy breaths and Mayweather continued to march inside, landing three straight rights that brought the crowd to their feet.
The punishment persisted into the eighth as Mayweather bounced punches one after another off McGregor, snapping his neck back with an uppercut near the end of the frame.
The end came early in the 10th when Mayweather landed a right hand that sent McGregor reeling before following up with a more than dozen unanswered punches, prompting Byrd to intervene at the 1min 5sec mark.
"I thought it was a little early on the stoppage," said McGregor.
"I get a little wobbly when I'm tired. But get me in the corner and I'll recover and I'll come back. There's a lot on the line here - he should have let me keep going until I hit the floor. I was just a little fatigued.
"He was a lot more composed, especially in the later parts of the fight."
Of McGregor, Mayweather said: "He's a lot better than I thought he'd be.
"He's a tough competitor, but I was the better man tonight."
Afterwards, the fighters embraced in the centre of the ring surrounded by their handlers, smiles all around.
And why not? McGregor had earned a minimum of US$30 million (S$40 million), a tenfold increase of his previous career-high purse of US$3 million, a total that could exceed US$75 million once his share of the pay-per-view receipts, live gate numbers, closed-circuit revenues and foreign sales are tallied.
The numbers are even rosier for Mayweather, whose minimum purse of US$100 million matched the career-high guarantee he made for the Pacquiao fight.
That total is expected to swell past US$200 million once his share of the promotion is accounted for.
Mayweather has vowed that Saturday would be his final fight, while McGregor's future in boxing might be a little less certain.
The UFC star made no secret of his desire for more. Asked what he liked most about his boxing experience, he replied: "Money".
"The cheque is not bad," McGregor said with a laugh.
"People ask me what's next, I'm not quite sure. I've multiple titles in the UFC to think about.
"I have many options in mixed martial arts. I'm sure there'll be options in boxing."
THE GUARDIAN, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS