We just had what might be the biggest fight of all time this past weekend. In one corner stood perhaps the best boxer ever, an undefeated (49-0) dominant fighter and champion who has a larger than life personality. In the other we had a charismatic mixed martial arts standout who is the current UFC Lightweight Champion. The two agreed to collide for what might have been the highest grossing pay-per-view event ever. Their names, of course, are Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor.
Why so much interest, particularly given Floyd Mayweather’s reputation of his relatively un-exciting in-ring style? It was transparent to many, including boxing greats like Oscar De La Hoya, that the Mayweather vs. McGregor match was more a circus than a fight. It was more performance than competition. More easy money than true passion, they all said. That didn’t stop the world from forking over their money and enjoying the festivity anyway. Floyd Mayweather is reported to have pursed at least $100,000,000 from this fight, while Conor McGregor made out with $30,000,000, and that probably isn’t including other revenue streams.
Not a bad night.
But why was there so much interest in the fight? Did it live up to the hype? Is there anything you can learn from it?
In what is perhaps a revealing aspect of human nature, people always love to talk about fights, especially fights that are unusual or haven’t happened. It was why Deadliest Warrior was such a hit show at the start of this decade. It’s why the Outskirts Battledome does so well, despite it being about mostly fictitious characters. It’s why people debate the outcomes of certain animals fighting each other – what if a Megalodon met a Giant Squid?
Basically, people love fights.
Mayweather vs. McGregor was a fight, and a unique one. Even though it was a boxing match, it had a fantasy element to it because the underlying theme was: “What happens when one of the best in boxing gets in the ring with one of the best in mixed martial arts?”
In a match of pure punches, does the boxer have the advantage (as you think he should)? Or does the reliance on strikes in MMA make the mixed martial artist competitive with the boxer? What about getting into a clinch?
All of these questions needed answering. The compare and contrast alone gave it attention.
The fantasy, cross-promotional nature of the fight guaranteed it some hype by itself, but that wouldn’t be enough on its own. There was another element that was chiefly responsible for making Mayweather vs. McGregor so huge.
Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather are both larger-than-life, charismatic personalities. Both competitors used that charisma to the hilt. In a promotional blitz that often resembled professional wrestling more than the type of thing you’d instinctively expect from boxing or MMA, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor seemed to be playing characters more than their true selves. It’s as if they were trying to tell a story going in – it would be the brash, upstart, trash-talking “good guy” Conor McGregor against the Hollywood villain, moneymaking, arrogant heel Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Indeed, Floyd Mayweather himself said that his “Money” persona was inspired by Hulk Hogan’s “Hollywood” nWo character, which made WCW such a success in 1996 and 1997.
Could the brash upstart do what no one else has ever done and defeat boxing’s final boss to prevent him from getting to a vaunted 50-0 record, or would Floyd Mayweather do what he does best and keep the system working as it’s supposed to?
This was the story arc going in, and Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather both played their characters to perfection.
The story was set. People wanted to see the fiery, foul-mouthed Irishman in Conor McGregor step up and defeat the Hollywood high rolling villain in Floyd Mayweather. The cross-promotional fight was the backdrop to the story and now that story had great characters and personalities that could suck people in.
At the end of the day, the characters and personalities sell more than any hard data or even a fight itself. As an example, despite its being a fight promoter, the UFC isn’t doing too hot this year, revenue wise, compared to last year, when it had Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar, and Ronda Rousey pull in boatloads of money because they’re all standout characters.
This was taken all the way to the limit, even in the fight itself, as before the first bell rung, Floyd Mayweather played up his villainous persona, with dismissive body language and facial expressions to the intensely focused Conor McGregor. It brought in just a bit more hype before they traded blows.
The lesson is clear: characters, personalities, and faces talk more than anything else. Both competitors seemed to be following Robert Greene’s 25th law of power: Recreate Yourself.
The fight was a typical Floyd Mayweather fight. That being, he took Conor McGregor into the “deep waters,” as the announcers called it, until Conor got gassed out. From there, Floyd proceeded to “drown Conor.” This was a remarkable strategy considering that the latter is 11 years younger than the former. It really is a testament to Floyd Mayweather’s skill and conditioning. He also had some smarts on his side, as he pulled out stunts we’ve often seen him do, turning his head downward or even his back to frustrate his opponent and avoid being pummeled on. Conor McGregor’s MMA instincts didn’t help with that, as repeat hammer blows met Floyd for his efforts, but this is an illegal strike in boxing. Whatever points Floyd Mayweather may have lost for turning, Conor McGregor wasn’t gaining back with his hammer fists.
That said, Mayweather vs. McGregor wasn’t entirely the circus that most people thought it was going to be. Conor made Floyd work for it. He acquitted himself in the fight far better than anybody expected him to and could have done better if the referee wasn’t as eager to break up clinches between the competitors. The first few rounds were all McGregor’s as Mayweather felt him out, but in the sixth round things started to reverse. Conor McGregor began to slow down while Floyd Mayweather got hot. He went in for the kill in the ninth, when Conor McGregor was on visibly wobbly legs. McGregor survived the ninth, but Mayweather inevitably triumphed in the 10th with a TKO.
The fight was rather enjoyable and it’s gotten much better reception than the fight with Manny Pacquiao did two years ago. The fact that the fight went better than people thought it would will leave a lasting memory as expectations were so low compared to what actually took place. That kind of contrast makes for persuasive gravitas.
Yet, it was promotion and characterization that made that fight as big as it became, not the fight itself. Don’t be fooled.
To get the most payoff in anything, you need to have a story to tell, and you need to make yourself into a character that fits that story. As Robert Greene says:
Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions—your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.
Become the character you want to be by learning from another master at this game. Grab hold of Stumped now.