Could McGregor actually win? How the hype shifted to get us all to ask the same question

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05: Conor McGregor of Ireland warms up backstage during the UFC 196 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

If you asked me to pinpoint the moment that I went from being mostly annoyed to at least slightly awed with the build-up to the Floyd Mayweathervs. Conor McGregor boxing match, I’d have to say that it was when my mom asked what size gloves they were going to fight in.

We hadn’t been talking about gloves. We hadn’t even been talking about the fight. She’s a 68-year-old woman who doesn’t follow combat sports apart from occasionally reading articles written by her son, and still she’d heard that there was some dispute about glove size and was curious how it had been resolved.

When I told her they’d decided on eight-ounce gloves, she replied: “Does that help McGregor?”

This, of course, is the question she was supposed to ask. That’s what the last few weeks have all been about. If you’ve been following the pre-fight headlines – and it would require a diligent, disciplined effort to avoid them – you might have noticed that there’s a recurring theme here.

The smaller gloves. The sparring footage. Mayweather’s admission that he’s “lost a step.” Mayweather’s claim that he’ll be “partying the entire week” leading up to the fight.

All the recent developments point in the same direction, and they’re all intended to get you to ask the same question: Could McGregor actually win this?

It’s a smart promotional strategy, but it also feels like a bit of a course-correction. Back in the time of the four-day world tour, which now feels like it was 15 years ago, the story was money, fame, and hate. At each stop the fighters told us how many millions they’d make, how important they were, and what a weak, no-account loser the other guy was.

Then someone realized that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to keep bragging about all that money, seeing as how it’s coming from us, the viewing public, and besides, you can only listen to two grown men call each other the same names for so long before you just feel embarrassed for both of them.

That was enough to grab a few headlines, especially when the material got more and more questionable, but it wasn’t going to be enough to sell us this fight. Not when the perceived skill gap was wide enough to drive a fleet of Mayweather’s Bentleys through. Not when people still remembered feeling fleeced by his expensive snoozefest against Manny Pacquiao in the last “fight of the century.”

To really sell this thing, they needed to convince us that McGregor has a chance – a good one, too, not just the lottery-ticket left hand with the odds stacked high against it. That’s a tough case to make when a guy who’s never had a boxing match goes up against one of the best to ever step through the ropes, and so making it requires a series of attacks on multiple fronts.

Convince us that the gloves favor McGregor. Convince us that he’s secretly a boxing genius behind closed doors. Convince us that Mayweather is too old and too arrogant to take it all seriously enough.

Sell us on a perfect storm of circumstances, the chance that the stars may align just a few days after the moon blocks out the sun. Get us to ask the question whose answer previously seemed too obvious to be interesting. At least it beats throwing money in the air and making fun of each other’s clothes.


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