The Two Faces of Floyd Mayweather

Mayweather the boxer should have little trouble in the ring with Conor McGregor. Mayweather the promoter wants to con you into thinking otherwise.

DURING the third leg of the Mayweather-McGregor press tour, a profane and ugly stop in Brooklyn, Floyd Mayweather was up to his usual tricks. Performing for the crowd as McGregor sat silently in an absurd mink coat, Mayweather began throwing bills (ones, mostly) in the air and watching as they rained down on his Irish foe, who he labeled a stripper.

But as Floyd continued to rattle off insults, there was one that rang with such irony that it’s hard to believe he didn’t recognize it himself.

“He’s a con artist. He’s a quitter, real fighters don’t quit,” Mayweather shouted, making a reference to McGregor’s 2016 submission loss to Nate Diaz. That was clearly the wound Floyd aimed to reopen, so it may have been unwise for him to add the throwaway preface: He’s a con artist.

Following the four-stop world tour, which turned from hilarious and spectacular to vile and monotonous midway through, the 40-year-old Mayweather stepped out of the spotlight to begin preparing for his 50th professional bout.

The handful of times Mayweather has spoken publicly since then, his words haven’t carried the confidence that his extravagant exterior would suggest. He’s older now, he says. He isn’t the fighter he used to be. Conor McGregor is younger, taller, stronger. 50-0 is no sure thing.

To a viewer only moderately familiar with Mayweather, this all sounds quite convincing. McGregor does have knockout power…he is bigger…maybe he has a chance.

Therein lies the brilliance of Mayweather the promoter, a figure every bit as calculated and cunning as Mayweather the boxer. When he officially came out of retirement, and the circus-show fight with UFC superstar Conor McGregor became a signed and sealed reality, Mayweather had seemingly completed his greatest magic trick yet. Break Rocky Marciano’s record and go 50-0…against a guy with zero boxing bouts on his record? And make his biggest paycheck yet in the process? For all of his faults, many of which are morally reprehensible, Floyd Mayweather may have a better understanding of risk and reward than any athlete on the planet.

So when Mayweather is speaking to a room of reporters, or sitting across from Stephen A. Smith, it’s not the journalists he’s talking to. It’s certainly not the boxing purists that have seen him run this same long con before. It’s the casual audience, the general fans that exist outside of the combat sports bubble. It is their money he wants.

And even as he is deep in physical preparation for the August 26 event, Mayweather’s checking all the right boxes. First, promise the public that McGregor’s a legitimate threat to his undefeated record. Make sure they hear that while the Irishman is working hard, he’s partying at his strip club. Let them know that the disappointment they felt after his Pacquiao superfight failed to deliver any meaningful action will not be duplicated: this time he’s going to fight against type and “go right at” McGregor.

Even Floyd’s request for the glove size to be changed from 10 to 8 ounces (a request that was puzzlingly granted by the Nevada commission last week) is part of his elaborate quest to make uneducated fans buy into McGregor’s puncher’s chance. The timing of the glove change amidst rumors of underwhelming ticket sales is certainly no coincidence.

There is no shame in being excited for Mayweather-McGregor, or even in believing in McGregor’s chances. The Irishman clearly believes in himself; listen to him talk about the fight for five minutes and you’ll realize that however ludicrous his prediction is, he’s not selling you a lie. Conor McGregor believes he is going to knock Floyd Mayweather unconscious, and he’s a compelling enough character that we’ll pay to see him try.

It’s Mayweather that’s the salesman, and if the fight ends up being as uncompetitive in reality as it is on paper, it’s Mayweather who will rightfully shoulder the brunt of the criticism.

In his sitdown with Stephen A. Smith, Mayweather spoke at length about his decline as a fighter and how he will be a shade of his former self when he steps into the ring with McGregor. All of these statements are hollow, misleading bits of promotional material aimed at the general public. But he did offer one bit of genuine insight into his approach as a promoter:

“It’s all about chess. And it’s not really about being on the chess board anymore. It’s about controlling the chessboard.”

Every detail that has been examined at length over the past month — the 8 oz. gloves, the “I’m old now” narrative, the claims of pre-fight partying — they’re all chess pieces on Floyd’s board. And in McGregor, he’s found his prettiest pawn yet: a slick, brash, beloved mega-celebrity with a self-confidence that borders on delusion and the conviction to make millions believe in him…with zero pro boxing experience.

Floyd Mayweather is one of the greatest boxers of all time. But at he leaves the ring on Saturday night, likely with more zeroes on his paycheck than marks on his face, he’ll have reminded us all that he’s an ever better chess player.

“He’s a con artist,” he yelled at McGregor back in Brooklyn. It was meant as an insult. Perhaps on Saturday night he’ll smile as he utters the same words in the mirror.

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