Thursday, 24 August 2017

Ultimate fight weekend arrives as world watches Mayweather vs McGregor

Mixed Martial Arts or the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] is brutal. If first impressions last longest mines was horror. A mixture of boxing, wrestling and jujitsu UFC fighters can punch, elbow, knee, kick, choke, cripple and thump opponents senseless even when they are down and unconscious until the referee intervenes. One can only imagine what the sport is like at lower levels away from the prying eyes of TV cameras and pundits. My teenage son introduced it to me one Saturday morning at 3am last year as it was broadcast live on BT Sports. It woke me with a jolt I can tell you. There is no way I’d ever want him to do it.

UFC fighters meet in a cage or ‘octagon’ and the showtime pzazz surrounding it, like the carnage, is incessant. Needless to say contestants are mainly black, hispanic, eastern European or poor whites as is the case with the sports undisputed star and two category World Champion Irishman Conor McGregor. They all come from poor, working class backgrounds. McGregor, from the tough, impoverished Dublin housing scheme of Crumlin, is no exception.

Boxing is of course no different in its recruitment demographic. Floyd Mayweather, his opponent in Saturday nights ‘megafight’ under the Marquis of Queensberry's rules is black, and although now reputedly worth $250m after an unblemished 49-0 professional record, he emerged from poor neighbourhoods in Michigan and New Jersey.

The fight in Las Vegas this weekend will bring both fighters [and their huge entourages] $100m a piece as a worldwide audience hands over an estimated $500m to watch via pay per view or ringside in the massive T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas where, such has been the demand for tickets that a $1,000 ringside seat was this week being exchanged for $100,000!

Although now 40 years of age [and 12 years older than his opponent] with a shorter reach and a defensive style Mayweather is nonetheless considered the hot favourite. Tempted out of retirement by the staggering purse his compensatory advantage is the fact he is fighting under the rules of his sport and not McGregor’s. Incredible as it may seem McGregor has never had a single professional fight under boxing rules. And although boxing is his speciality in UFC bouts he has never fought an opponent in a 12 round purely boxing contest before. What a debut then!

For boxing purists this makes a mockery of their sport. They consider it a vulgar and greedy mismatch. Worse, they fear a victory for McGregor [however unlikely] will render boxing ridiculous and plunge it into even greater doldrums than it presently inhabits. They hope and expect McGregor to get ‘whupped’. But their first preference would probably be for another undoubted showman like him to emerge and take their sport forward with such pzazz as the Irishman has exhibited in the UFC.  Mayweather simply cannot match the Irishman for braggadocio and bullish one liners. Comparisons with the young Cassius Clay/Muhamad Ali are glib and over the top, but McGregor has certainly copied ‘the greatest’ in his pre-fight hype. Win or lose he and his UFC people have succeeded in putting their sport centre stage as far as the world’s attention is concerned this weekend. I'll certainly be watching to see if McGregor can possibly defy all the odds.