LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor has been kept pretty much under wraps ever since his fight with Floyd Mayweather was announced, emerging occasionally to trash Mayweather only to disappear again behind the closed doors of the UFC training center.
It’s not by accident. The biggest selling point of the spectacle that is Saturday night’s 154-pound fight is the unknown.
Is McGregor good enough to land a big punch on Mayweather? Did he acquire enough boxing skills in just a few short months to make what should be a lopsided fight competitive?
Inquiring minds want to know, and there are enough of them to make this the most watched fight in history. Some 50 million people in the U.S. alone are expected to gather with friends and family to see it all unfold.
“I will be the king of both sports,” McGregor crowed. “I’m already the king of fighting, I’ll soon be the king of boxing.”
Not so fast, said Mayweather, who comes from a boxing family and famously threw punches before he could walk.
“After 21 years I’ve been hit with everything and I’m still right here,” Mayweather said. “If you give it you must be able to take it.”
It’s a fight that really makes no sense other than millions of people want to watch it. But the economics of the fight wouldn’t make any sense, either, if people saw McGregor — the UFC star who has never boxed professionally — in action and decided he just wasn’t good enough to be in the ring with Mayweather.
No mystique, no 5 million buys on Showtime pay-per-view. That’s why there was never any chance of McGregor having a tuneup fight.
And that is why the only boxing anyone outside McGregor’s inner circle has seen was him hitting the heavy bag in a comical media day performance and a few seconds of a UFC clip purportedly showing him knocking down Showtime announcer and former fighter Paulie Malignaggi.
No worries, said McGregor.
“I’ve been lacing up the gloves my entire existence,” McGregor said. “Of course, we will come with a different approach than people are used to, we will paint many pictures inside the ring. It’s not going to end well for Floyd. It’s not going to end well for all the people who are doubting me and are so convinced that this is what it is.”
McGregor weighed in at 153 pounds Friday to 149½ for Mayweather. A crowd that nearly filled the T-Mobile arena — many waving Irish flags — cheered loudly for McGregor while booing Mayweather.
McGregor’s fan base is driving this fight, united in their fervent hope that the Irish UFC champion can muscle Mayweather around the ring and deliver punches to his head.
Sports books have taken so many longshot wagers on McGregor winning by a knockout early that they will suffer their worst loss ever should it actually happen. What should be a 100-1 fight began as 11-1 in Mayweather’s favor. Now it’s 5-1, though a lot of big money — including a few million dollar bets — has been wagered on Mayweather in recent days.
For the flamboyant McGregor the fight is a chance to make money he couldn’t dream of in the UFC and gain a fan base outside of mixed martial arts. Estimates vary, but he could take home $100 million.
He’s got youth on his side (he’s 29 and Mayweather is 40), and he’ll probably go in the ring much heavier than Mayweather after rehydrating following Friday’s weigh-in. He’s also got a reputation as a big puncher.
Other than that, everything favors Mayweather.
He’s unbeaten in 49 fights as a pro and has a chance to pass Rocky Marciano on the perfect record list with win No. 50.
The fight is expected to match or surpass the 4.6 million pay-per-views sold for Mayweather’s 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao at $99.95 a household.
Tickets in the arena haven’t done nearly as well. Ringside seats were $10,000 and nosebleed tickets started at $2,500, though prices have been dropping rapidly in recent days.
Tim Dahlberg is an Associated Press writer.
Who: Floyd Mayweather
vs. Conor McGregor
When: Coverage starts at 6 p.m. Saturday, but the main event will be later in the evening.
Where: Las Vegas
TV: Showtime Pay Per View and UFC Fight Pass PPV.
Cost: $90, or $100 for high definition.