Is the idea of Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor good for boxing's image?
Stephen Espinoza, Lou DiBella & Eddie Hearn on the practicalities of turning fantasy into reality
By James Dielhenn
Last Updated: 16/02/17 5:51am
Smoke without fire? The rumblings of Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor have gathered pace. Sky Sports have asked some of boxing’s most powerful figures if this proposed fight is good for their beloved sport…
You can almost imagine Conor McGregor, the UFC champion, angrily pacing the streets of Las Vegas in his snakeskin loafers - 'Where's Floyd? Where's Floyd?'
Alas, it is not so simple to pick a fight, even if you stand undisputed at the pinnacle of your sport as both McGregor and his would-be dance partner Floyd Mayweather proudly do. Their tit for tat started as a tired debate - boxing vs MMA - but has flourished into one of sport's most compelling stories. But should the boxing world be excited or embarrassed by the idea of Mayweather vs McGregor?
"It makes such little sense on one side, but so much sense on the other side," Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn exclusively told Sky Sports. "To the man on the street, the non-educated boxing fan, it's the best fighter in the world against the best mixed martial arts guy in the world.
"To the educated boxing fan, it's a complete disaster. It's terrible, just terrible. But if they need a promoter, I'm here to do it."
To the educated boxing fan, it's a complete disaster. It's terrible, just terrible. But if they need a promoter, I'm here to do it.
And therein lies the intrigue, for most of us. It's theatre, but who doesn't enjoy pantomime season? For every lover of boxing, with all its quirks and imperfections, we also have those hardened by their old-school views. For those, the barefoot McGregor even speaking Mayweather's name is blasphemy.
"It would be irrelevant for the sport of boxing," scorned Lou DiBella, the New York-based promoter. "It's not a true, classic boxing match. It's more of an entertainment event, and a spectacle.
"I think the reason [UFC president] will make absolutely sure that it doesn't happen is because Floyd smacking McGregor all over the ring would be good for boxing, and bad for MMA.
If Floyd smacks McGregor all over the ring (which is my best guess as to what would happen) that doesn't hurt boxing.
"Let's face reality - Conor is a massive star in UFC. If Floyd smacks McGregor all over the ring (which is my best guess as to what would happen) that doesn't hurt boxing."
Mayweather's long-awaited clash with Manny Pacquiao in 2015 certainly didn't hurt boxing either, finally scratching an itch that was six years in the making. Instrumental in bringing the richest fight of all time into the ring was Stephen Espinoza, the Showtime boss, so it is intriguing that he believes Mayweather could break his own record alongside McGregor.
"Pure boxing against MMA is destined to happen because of the natural rivalry," Espinoza exclusively told Sky Sports.
"It is [good for boxing]. It is a match-up which fans are interested in, and answers a question which MMA was borne out of."
Back to McGregor prowling up and down the Vegas Strip, maniacally cackling at every mention of Mayweather's name, or so we imagine. Agreeing a fight of any magnitude, let alone an occasion that could break world records, cannot just rely on challenges issued via social media. It requires give and take, paperwork and complicated contracts.
"One of the interesting points about this fight is the internal dynamic of the UFC contract," points out Hearn, keeping a close eye on developments from this side of the pond.
"Whether McGregor is allowed to take this fight with or without the UFC's blessing. This goes beyond Dana White.
"McGregor is not as big as the UFC brand but he's certainly on his way. They need him in the UFC and I'm not sure what benefit the Mayweather fight brings to the UFC, unless it's somehow part of the UFC schedule, which would bring its own problems into negotiations.
"I wouldn't be keen, if I were in charge of the UFC, to let him move out of the circle and into a fight that he can't win."
It would take an unprecedented deal to make this happen. We've seen unprecedented deals that allowed mega-fights to happen before.
Espinoza, whose feather in the cap justly remains his role in Mayweather-Pacquiao, believes the cheque books may take another battering with McGregor and his contractual obligation to the UFC involved.
"It would take an unprecedented deal to make this happen," said the Showtime boss. "We've seen unprecedented deals that allowed mega-fights to happen before.
"It's an uphill battle, simply because it's never been done before. But we have two potential combatants who are interested and motivated in making it happen, plus tens of millions of people around the world who are eagerly anticipating the match.
Contract wrangling is guaranteed to extend beyond just the two fighters and their respective entourages - television deals and locations are just two obvious examples of parties that must be appeased, and agreed.
McGregor owns a boxing licence in California (which he has never used) but does not in Nevada (where Mayweather has exclusively boxed for 12 years). The plot thickens - this week, McGregor was summoned before the Nevada commission for indiscretions dating back to a UFC press conference last summer, so relations are not friendly.
One day, the boxing world will collectively wake up from this fantasy and wonder how it happened. But will Mayweather and McGregor have fought in the ring, or just on the Internet?