It appears that a team of marketing geniuses have just cooked up the most hyperbolic fight in the history of combat sports. A man who has never fought a professional boxing match in his life has managed to goad Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers of all time, out of retirement.
In one month from now, Mayweather, whose unbeaten record stands at 49-0, is stepping back into the ring to fight mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar Conor McGregor in Las Vegas. A few years back this would have been unimaginable. But a few years ago no one had heard of Conor McGregor, the gobby Irish wild child of MMA, who has helped transform it from a niche combat sport into the fastest growing sport in the world.
And now the PR-savvy 29-year-old is stepping out of the octagon and into the ring, fighting a boxing legend on his own terms, without the use of leg strikes or wrestling skills. With fight fans across the world enthralled, the event is set to generate a massive windfall for both camps.
So it’s all about the money
Anything involving the name Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather was always going to involve a lot of cash, but this is also a brand-building exercise too. Even if he loses, ‘challenger brand’ Conor McGregor can catapult his name into a new audience of sports fans. Meanwhile Mayweather can finally use this opportunity to cement his legacy with a record-breaking 50-0 boxing record.
Needless to say though, money is the driving force, with experts predicting the biggest pay-per-view audience in TV history. Together with sponsorship and merchandise deals, some sources have suggested that revenues could top a $1bn, with both fighters likely to pocket upwards of a hundred million dollars each.
And how exactly did this all come about?
Brilliant marketing, driven primarily by PR-genius Conor McGregor. You could argue that the pre-fight build up began years ago, when McGregor started hijacking press conferences to talk his way into bigger fights against higher-ranked MMA fighters. Then there was the interview with Conan O’Brien who first seeded the idea of a Mayweather match-up, way back in the summer of 2015.
Since then the hype machine has been chugging away in the background, driven in the main part by McGregor himself, whose quick-witted banter has the fight world hanging on his every comment. And not only is he the best trash-talker since Muhammad Ali, he’s also picked up an uncanny habit of predicting the outcome of his fights. Mystic Mac, as he has become known, likes to tell the press how he’ll dispatch of his opponents, then by and large goes on to execute his predictions in the octagon.
Before the show comes the content
With huge followings in social media, both fighters helped generate a rumour-frenzy in the months leading up to the announcement and, since the date has been set, a cleverly orchestrated campaign of social content has gone on to supercharge the pre-fight buzz. Alongside the torrent of peacocking on Instagram and Twitter, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the organisation for which McGregor fights, has capitalised on the hype with a bespoke McGregor versus Mayweather Youtube playlist that racked up over 16m organic views in the space of a week.
And where a single press conference would normally suffice, a four-day international press tour was held at venues across the US and Canada, culminating at Wembley Arena, London, where tickets to the expletive-laden 45 minute event were being sold on eBay for over £1000. For a press conference. All four legs of the press tour featured intricately-planned moments of on-stage confrontation, all live-streamed through social channels as they happened, with #MayMacWorldTour trending internationally on each occasion.
Even Dana White, chief executive officer of the UFC has been exploiting the build-up by pushing out content himself, with his own video blog of the press tour which racked up over 5m views in just five episodes. And McGregor, who comes second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of athlete popularity in social media, has helped bolster the content pool with his own branded health programme, FAST Conditioning, complete with behind the scenes combat training videos.
But after all this build-up, will it be a good fight?
Possibly. But unlikely. On this occasion Mystic Mac has predicted a victory by knockout in the fourth, but the odds are significantly stacked in the favour of Mayweather, whose defensive style has given him an unblemished record against some of the greatest boxers in recent memory. The thought of him being beaten by a cocky, loud-mouthed Irishman who has yet to throw a punch, professionally, in a boxing ring seems absurd.
However, absurd things have happened in the fight game before, like McGregor’s sensational defeat of UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. Aldo hadn’t been beaten for over 10 years. Before the fight McGregor said of the reigning champ “I will KO him inside one round”. He then shocked the crowd by stepping up and knocking him out with his first punch.
In a year without an Olympics or a World Cup, Paddy Hobbs, head of sport at PR firm Pretty Green, may well be justified in his assertion that this could be “the biggest sporting event of the year”. But for now the press circus has left town, and the fighters have returned to their training camps. Until August 26th, let’s just binge on the hype. Even without the fight, it’s all good entertaining content.
Christopher Godfree, head of entertainment marketing at Red Bee.