Can MMA and boxing fight out of the same corner?


The impact Sunday’s super bout between Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Conor McGregor will have on the fighters will soon be revealed once the spending of their millions begins.

Maybe a cheque for the tax man from the American from his estimated US$100 million minimum purse – if rumours of Mayweather’s woes with the IRS are true – while the Irishman apparently now has around $30 million (minimum!) to do with what he pleases, whether that be some more of those fancy suits from David August, or timepieces that might tug the arm off a lesser man than McGregor.

Or maybe the riches collected, the hype and the insane international audience that gather to watch proceedings might sway McGregor into following Mayweather and see him delve into the business of management and promotion.

The time is certainly ripe, as revealed by a story that went mostly hidden somewhere beneath all that hype streaming live out of Las Vegas over the past week. In the mainstream media, at least.

The Hollywood Reporter had the exclusive as veteran boxing impresario Bob Arum signed a four-year deal with the Disney-owned ESPN network to “create a direct-to-consumer boxing vertical with international reach … and ESPN will get a minimum of 16 fights a year to run on ESPN (or ABC in primetime), with a minimum of two additional direct-to-consumer live boxing cards exclusive to ESPN’s upcoming multisport digital service that’s set to launch in early 2018.”

This is a man who was smart enough back in the day to ditch his day job in the 1960s investigating professional sports for then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and quickly switch teams. Arum knows when he sees a good thing and quickly cut a deal with no less than Muhammed Ali and helping that man become The Greatest the world has seen.

LAS VEGAS, NV – AUGUST 26: (L-R) Conor McGregor throws a punch at Floyd Mayweather Jr. during their super welterweight boxing match on August 26, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Boxing has been battling for attention for a decade, at least, and the ESPN link up can be seen as a move by the 85-year-old Arum to ensure that it doesn’t fade from view – he’s in fact brought it back to primetime, opening to his cupboard to share the tapes of such classics as 1975’s “Thrilla in Manila” between Ali and Joe Frazier to a modern-day audience that may have missed them – and offering up live fight nights, too.

Mayweather-McGregor did the same, in terms of the primetime, capturing the world’s attention in a way the likes of Ali-Fraser once did (admit it, even if you labeled the event a circus). That the Top Rank-ESPN alliance was officially announced on the same day as that bout opens up all manner of possibilities, in terms of the future of combat sports in general.

As THR reported, Ari Emanuel of WME-IMG (owners of the UFC) had approached Arum last year looking to cut a similar sort of deal to one Top Rank signed with Disney. And UFC supremo Dana White had previously pondered the possibility of dabbling in promoting The Sweet Science, a notion he was quick to revisiting in the aftermath of Mayweather-McGregor.

So put to rest, for a moment, the thought that MMA’s rise has contributed to boxing’s demise and look to the crowds from both sides who found common ground at the weekend, united by the thrill of the spectacle, by Mayweather’s sheer boxing skill – even at 40 years old and two years removed from battle – and by the sheer balls McGregor had to taken on a Hall of Famer. Maybe they are as big as the Irishman often boasts.

More cross-over bouts must certainly be in the offing, given the crazy revenues collected. But maybe it’s time to stop seeing these ends of the combat sport spectrum as mutually exclusive. Perhaps they can promote – and feed – off each other. And fan experience around the world will be all the better for it.