Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor is the Real-Life "The Great White Hype"
The Floyd Mayweather - Conor McGregor hype tour kicks off Tuesday, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as they get set to promote their highly-anticipated August boxing match set for August 26th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The media build-up to this bout between the retired five-division boxing world champion and the current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight titleholder will be unlike anything we have seen before.
Or have we?
For boxing nerds and B-movie comedy fans, one cannot help but draw parallels between this fight and the 1996 film "The Great White Hype."
“The Great White Hype;” directed by Reginald Hudlin and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Damon Wayans, and Peter Berg; tells the tale of undefeated boxing heavyweight world champion James "The Grim Reaper" Roper (Wayans), who is bored with his lack of competition after defeating his last opponent with great ease.
Roper's promoter, Reverend Fred Sultan (Jackson), concerned about his fighter’s sagging pay-per-view (PPV) buy numbers, concocts a scheme to stimulate interest in Roper’s next bout by finding a white opponent that casual boxing fans can get behind, hoping the racial dynamic would increase ticket and PPV sales.
Failing to find a suitable opponent for his champion, The Sultan sets out to create his own "Great White Hype," matching up Roper against Terry Conklin (Berg), the only man to ever beat Roper at the Golden Gloves amateur level. The fact that Conklin was retired from the fight game and was the lead singer of metal band Massive Head Wound was irrelevant to The Sultan. For The Sultan, whose character is clearly based on boxing promoter Don King, those were minor details.
First, The Sultan enticed Conklin out of retirement with a $10 million payday that the metal frontman could use for his progressive causes like solving American homelessness. Secondly, he hired Conklin a trainer to get him ready for the match against Roper. Lastly, The Sultan bribed the boxing governing body to pad the Top 10 rankings to justify Conklin “earning” a title shot despite having a professional record of 0-0 (not surprisingly, that is also McGregor’s professional boxing record, though he’s not looking for a title).
Hilarity ensues, as the movie critiques the business of boxing, particularly the success of The Sultan’s scheme of using over-the-top racial tropes in order to sell the fight to a bigger audience, including emphasizing Conklin's "Irishness" to push sales, despite the fact Conklin had zero Irish heritage (ironically, McGregor hails from Dublin, Ireland).
Using race to sell combat sports, particularly boxing, is as old as the fight game itself. The Sultan points that out to Roper when he first hatches his scheme, using the 1982 Gerry Cooney-Larry Holmes bout and the 1995 Mike Tyson-Peter McNeely fight as his examples of how race-baiting generates revenue.
We see this, historically, with Jack Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908, and did very well for himself leveraging America's sentiments against African-Americans into big bucks, earning him $65,000 ($1,618,078.35 in 2017) in his "Fight of the Century" bout against former champion James J. Jeffries. Joe Louis and Max Schmeling faced off twice, in 1936 and 1938, pitting Germany's Aryan hero against the American champion deemed inferior by fascist dictator Adolf Hitler.
It is inevitable, especially in these racially-charged times, that the Mayweather-McGregor fight will go down that path, whether the fighters like it or not. Add the fact that both Mayweather and McGregor are click-bait fodder, with fans and haters of each competitor so willing to click and critique every single article ever written about the two (yes, including this one), and the “Embrace Debate” era of sports television programming -- where the most ignorant hot takes always get the most attention, there is no way this does not degenerate into a heated and volatile discussion about race.
And it is not just the Clay Travis’s and Stephen A. Smith’s of the world who will fall into this trap. Expect political commentators, people not paid to cover boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA), and who at best are casual fans (at worst, never watched either sport), to give their two cents on the racial dynamic of the fight.
Don’t believe me, ask pundit Shaun King, who has already gotten the ball rolling on such articles.
By the end of next week’s press conference tour that will take Mayweather and McGregor to Los Angeles, Toronto, New York City and London, "The Notorious" and the man simply known as "Money" will have provided plenty of material for the political machine.
The media circus will certainly be entertaining and colorful. Considering both McGregor’s penchant to draw the ire of his opponents as well Mayweather reminding the world he is "Table A," not just in boxing negotiation tables but in all of combat sports, it will be a spectacle, much like the press conference shown in "The Great White Hype."
It just goes to show that the more things change in boxing, the more they stay same; and that the only color that matters to both McGregor and Mayweather is green, as they laugh all the way to the bank.