Conor McGregor, right, taunted Floyd Mayweather Jr., during their joint news conference at Staples Center on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
(AP) – Boxing is a sport with a rich history of noble combat and heroic performances — and hype. On Aug. 26, Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undefeated legend of the ring, will box Conor McGregor, the brash, brilliant mixed martial artist. Interest is already high. But the hype machine to drive it even further is up and running.
On Tuesday, in front of more than 10,000 people at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the two fighters played their parts in the first of four news conferences scheduled to take place in four cities over four days.
After the pop star Aloe Blacc warmed up the crowd, the rivals each got turns behind the microphone. McGregor went into full-on insult mode, while Mayweather focused more on finances, befitting his nickname, Money.
The quips and jawing at the event followed the grand tradition of boxing promotions. They were also no surprise, as both men have a history of successfully hyping their fights. McGregor is one of the most quotable, and profane, athletes of his time. Mayweather has not shied away from belittling opponents.
But how did Tuesday’s event measure up to the all-time best of prefight hype?
MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR For a fight that seems to be largely about everyone making a whole lot of money, it was appropriate that one of the most memorable lines was McGregor’s promise that “I’ve got my own line of suits coming out.” Sure enough, he was wearing a pinstripe suit, with pinstripes that spelled out a vulgar phrase — a detail he took delight in pointing out to the crowd.
THE BENCHMARK The heavyweight champion Larry Holmes said before a 1982 fight with Gerry Cooney of his prefight rituals: “I always say a little prayer, which comes from the Bible, but probably comes more from my heart. Want to hear it? Lord, don’t let me kill this guy.”
Zing. Holmes knocked out Cooney in the 13th round, and did not kill him.
MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR McGregor took aim at Mayweather’s clothes (“He’s wearing a tracksuit! He can’t even afford a suit anymore”) and his punching power (“He hasn’t knocked anyone out in 20 years”). After a few ripostes to Mayweather’s speech, McGregor’s microphone was cut off. Afterward, he profanely scolded Showtime for that decision.
THE BENCHMARK It’s so, so high. After beating Lou Savarese in 38 seconds in 2000, Mike Tyson was already hyping a possible fight against Lennox Lewis that would happen two years later. Tyson warmed up with “I’m Alexander,” and “I’m Sonny Liston, I’m Jack Dempsey,” and “My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable.” He then moved on to the immortal gibe: “I want to eat his children.”
Just to repeat: Tyson vowed to eat Lennox Lewis’s children.
Lewis knocked Tyson out in the eighth round. No cannibalism occurred.
MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR McGregor predicted a quick victory: “I’m going to knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words. He’s fought people who have shied away from him.” Pointing out that the number of moves allowed in boxing is a fraction of the moves allowed in M.M.A., McGregor said: “The rules make this half a fight, a quarter of a fight. If this was a true fight, it wouldn’t even take one round.”
Mayweather scoffed, brandishing what he said was a $100 million check: “He looks good for a seven-figure fighter. He looks good for an eight-figure fighter. I’m a nine-figure fighter.”
McGregor responded, “That’s for the taxman,” alluding to Mayweather’s recent tax issues.
Mayweather also said he had not watched McGregor’s training videos because he was too busy running his gentlemen’s club.
THE BENCHMARK At the weigh-in for a 1962 fight, Benny Paret taunted Emile Griffith with a homosexual slur and suggestive gestures. (Griffith years later said he had had sex with men as well as women.) An incensed Griffith delivered a brutal beating at Madison Square Garden that culminated in a series of blows while Paret was pinned in a corner. Paret died 10 days later.
Gay-baiting is a disturbing theme in boxing: When Hasim Rahman used the word “gay” in front of Lewis in 2001, they tussled on television, destroying a table.
MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR The moment that fisticuffs seemed to be the closest was when Mayweather declared, “You can get it right now,” to which McGregor replied, “I’m here right now.” Mayweather asked the crowd rhetorically, “You all want me to give it to him right now?” For a moment, it seemed as if the news conference might break down. Despite the crowd’s encouragement, Mayweather stayed focused on the bottom line, saying, “No, we’re going to save that for the payday.”
THE BENCHMARK So many to choose from. We’ll give it to Tyson-Lewis again. Almost as soon as the two men were on stage together at a prefight event in 2002, Tyson crossed to Lewis and took a swing at a bodyguard, and a melee broke out. José Sulaimán, president of the World Boxing Council, was knocked unconscious in the tumult.
MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR Virtually none from McGregor. Mayweather did allow: “He’s a warrior. He’s a fighter.”
THE BENCHMARK In twin appearances in New York before their heavyweight championship fight in 1892, John L. Sullivan and James Corbett failed to play the modern hype game. “Fellow citizens, I thank you one and all for this hearty applause,” Sullivan said at the Clermont Avenue Rink in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. “I am not going to speak disparagingly of Mr. Corbett or anyone else.”
(For his part, Corbett, known as Gentleman Jim, got into a verbal altercation at his appearance at Madison Square Garden when another fighter, Dominick McCaffrey, challenged him. “Both men grew highly excited and swore at each other,” The New York Times wrote.)
Did you notice something missing from this article? We decided that Muhammad Ali, the master of hype, would not be eligible in any categories. From “float like a butterfly” to his nonpareil interviews with Howard Cosell, no one could sell a fight like Ali. It just wouldn’t be fair.
FINAL JUDGMENT Mayweather-McGregor on Tuesday didn’t match the best hype of old. Still, it was a good start, and there are three more prefight events to go.