Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor are marketing geniuses

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS – It was cool for a mid-afternoon in August by the standards of this gambling mecca, where temperatures can often soar well past 100 degrees.

It was only 99 degrees on Tuesday when a group of fans, maybe 200, had gathered at noon awaiting the official start of the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight week ceremonies.

What promoters referred to as “The Grand Arrival” was scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. at Toshiba Plaza in front of the entrance to T-Mobile Arena, where on Saturday, the 49-0 Mayweather will fight for the last time against McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, in a bout that is expected to smash all existing financial records for a boxing match.

“They’re not just the biggest stars in combat sports, they’re huge superstars in sports, period,” UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports.

Nothing attracts a crowd like celebrity, and for the fight game, Mayweather and McGregor are as big as it gets. Jason Deale of Boston and his girlfriend, Toni, flew to Las Vegas to be around the fight though they don’t have tickets and can’t afford them.

“Hopefully, we’ll find a bar where we can see it for free,” Deale said. “If not, there are worse places to be for a week than Vegas.”

They both wore shirts with the Irish flag on them, a tribute to McGregor’s home country, and eagerly admitted they were rooting for McGregor to knock out Mayweather.

“I don’t like that guy,” said Toni, who declined to give her last name. “He’s arrogant.”

There were many who expressed similar feelings. But given that the fight is expected to sell more than four million and perhaps as many as five million buys on pay-per-view, there are a lot of people eager to see it despite the fact that most experts give McGregor next-to-no chance of winning.

“C’mon, man,” undisputed super lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford said when asked for a prediction on Mayweather-McGregor. “You don’t think [McGregor’s] going to win do you?”

Pressed for a pick, Crawford provided a stern glare. Any chance for McGregor, he was asked? “None,” Crawford said. “Not at all.”

And while Crawford’s stance may have been extreme, it reflects the view of the vast majority of boxing experts who give McGregor no chance of winning.

McGregor relishes his underdog status and has repeatedly pointed out how he has won when so-called experts said he has no chance. He called himself “the new God of boxing.”

Experts scoff at such a notion, and even the fans who braved the heat on Tuesday to catch a brief glimpse of the fighters weren’t expecting anything other than another dominant Mayweather victory. And yet, none could explain the appeal to them of a bout that most see as one-sided and non-competitive.

“I don’t know,” Deale said. “It’s just … it’s different. It’s fun.”

Both Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are indefatigable when it comes to promoting themselves or their bouts. (AP)

There is little doubt that the two are the biggest stars in the sport. Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions and the fight’s lead promoter, attributed their success to work they’ve done for years prior.

Mayweather noted at his media day workout that he consciously made a shift from “Pretty Boy” Floyd as he was known in his youthful days to “Money May.” He grew a goatee, added the bling and relentlessly promoted himself as the richest athlete in the world until it came true.

With the $250 million or so – give or take a few million – he’s expected to earn from Saturday’s bout, Mayweather will inch closer to $1 billion in career earnings. If he makes $250 million Saturday, he’ll have made $550 million for his last three bouts alone, against Manny Pacquiao, Andre Berto and McGregor.

Billionaire Athletes infographic

Mayweather burst into prominence in 2007, in the build-up to his fight with Oscar De La Hoya. His picture wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with De La Hoya’s on the May 7, 2007, issue with the phrase, “The Fight to Save Boxing.”

It must have saved it, because Mayweather has gone on to earn more money than any athlete who ever lived since that issue hit newsstands, and he’s still going.

De La Hoya-Mayweather set a record at the time for most pay-per-view sales (2.48 million) along with most gross revenue. Mayweather went on to sell more than two million pay-per-views in a 2013 bout with Canelo Alvarez and 4.6 million for his 2015 bout with Pacquiao.

“These fighters today, they think it should just all come to them without them putting the time in,” Ellerbe told Yahoo Sports. “You want Floyd money? Get out there and do what Floyd did. And do what he does. What they don’t know is how much work he put in. He’s a genius in that he has so many ideas, so many ways of doing things and reaching people. But he gets out there and does the work. He’s been doing it for years. He goes to all of these small towns and he goes to places where most athletes of his stature won’t go, and he basically seeded these towns and built support. And now, he’s got that grassroots base that is with him and with everything he does now, he’s just adding to it.”

He’s spending much of this week in his Las Vegas strip club, Girl Collection, doing interviews in the wee hours of the morning promoting the bout.

It’s much the same story with McGregor, who went from a down-and-out fighter who collected a welfare check a week or so before his first UFC bout in 2013 to a guy who lives the lavish lifestyle and has already earned enough money from his fight career to be set for life even without the $100 million or more he’ll make by fighting Mayweather.

Both fighters are indefatigable when it comes to promoting themselves or their bouts. They’re both outrageous and over-the-top – Mayweather with his “Money May” and “The Best Ever,” personas and McGregor as the witty, brash trash talker who calls his fights so accurately he’s dubbed “Mystic Mac” – but there is one other thing they have in common.

Vision.

It’s the kind of marketing they’ll teach in graduate school courses.

“Conor has a great understanding of how to move the needle,” his manager, Audie Attar said.

Mayweather is the same way. He knows that doing an interview at 2:47 a.m. in a strip joint goes against everything in the book, and that it’s going to be news and keep his name in the headlines.

The appeal of the Mayweather-McGregor bout isn’t then so much that fans expect to see another Hagler-Hearns or Ali-Frazier III or Lawler-McDonald or Henderson-Rua or any of a dozen other great boxing or MMA fights, but rather the culmination of years of work from two of the most ingenious promoters who ever lived.

You might hate Mayweather; he knows it, and if you hate him, he wants you to hate him even more. He knows that you’ll buy the pay-per-view hoping to see McGregor knock the smirk off his face.

You may love McGregor; he knows it, and if you love him, he wants you to love him even more. Because he knows you’ll buy the pay-per-view hoping to see him give Mayweather his comeuppance once-and-for-all.

At its core, that’s what this is.

They’re selling a dream, a hope, and a fun night of entertainment.

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