Whatever its sporting merits, Floyd Mayweather Jr v Conor McGregor will dominate the back pages this summer.
Talks were an open secret for much of this year before the fight, which takes place in the square ring, not the octagon, was announced via co-ordinated social media posts by both combatants on June 14.
It was the differing reactions to those posts which prompted this article. Mayweather had the greater audience but McGregor dwarfed him in terms of engagement.
McGregor may have ridiculed Mayweather’s age in his announcement but the latter's' stellar success over two decades has given the 40-year-old a vast following, see graph.
A couple of weeks after Twitter was founded in 2006, he outpointed Zab Judah in Las Vegas to win the IBF/IBO welterweight title. It was his 15th world title fight and the fourth different weight in which he had taken a global crown.
That night, Mayweather was introduced by ring announcer Michael Buffer with the nickname he had carried since his amateur days – Pretty Boy. A few years later he would switch that to the word that has seemed central to his thinking in the latter part of his career – Money.
Let’s not be snobs. Mayweather is the best boxer of his generation, perhaps ever. It is the hardest sport going and he is entitled to his reward. He could argue he is simply honest and open about his motivations. Plenty of lesser fighters have hyped hollow bouts for exactly the same reason.
However the attitude of The Money Team pervades his social media and, while it is his ‘brand’, arguably it is killing his engagement levels. Understandably, he has promoted Gervonta Davis, one of the young fighters in his blossoming management company. However persistently pushing make-up artists and Gentleman’s clubs based in Las Vegas is just plain annoying to a global audience who may never experience The Strip.
Perhaps the generation gap is playing a part here, or maybe Team Money are unconcerned while they are raking it in. This could be Mayweather’s last payday and he has already built substantial capital. He made the point on Instagram by posting a clipping which showed his estimated value at $650m and McGregor’s ‘merely’ $2.5m. With his success and bank balance, he can say and do what he likes.
Both fighters portray the trapping of their success on social media with a flurry of flash cars, fur coats, private jets and chunky watches.
However, the difference is that, apart from the odd shot showing his love for his children, Mayweather is only telling the one story.
In contrast, McGregor’s narrative has greater layers. We have seen the 28-year-old relaying stories of his rapid ascent to top via shots of Christmas past when he was riddled in debt, returns to old haunts with old mates in Ireland and, crucially, interaction with fans. There is one post of a warmly smiling McGregor with a young girl captioned: “To the little lady who left her phone at home”. In a sport full of fakes and sharks, you have no reason to disbelieve he did favour for a young fan.
The announcement of his son’s birth performed almost as well the release about the Mayweather fight. Like every new dad, McGregor has been semi-obsessed with baby pictures every since.
In fact, according to his social media accounts at least, the only greater obsession is his training.
Barring one deal with the ubiquitous Beats headphones, sponsored posts are at a minimum. But there are plenty of him punching, posing and sweating.
Although there is no official title on the line on August 26th, McGregor is the challenger in this fighter. He has never competed in a professional boxing match. And on social media, he has acted in the way UFC schooled him - open, engaging and entertaining. In other words, the epitome of the challenger brand.
While he flaunts the trappings of his success, he constantly doffs his cap to the struggles of the recent past. His braggadocio style might deter some but you can see this story inspiring Gen C and Millennials. And personally, as a middle-aged curmudgeon, I’ll support anyone who suggests success can only be earned by arduous hours of sacrifice.
Of course, Mayweather’s backstory has similar hardship. Boxing success ran deep in his family but he has talked bitterly of a shattered, drug-ridden upbringing lacking in role models. He has used it as motivation and, despite the wide variation in ring craft, Mayweather is expected to be prepared and professional when he faces McGregor.
If he pulls off the expected victory his record will be an unprecedented 50 wins, 0 defeats. He has earned every one but, in his latter years, he has also pulled the puppet strings of sport to perfection. It does not make him less respected as a fighter but it has made him less loved. His social media might have tempered that perception but instead it has exacerbated it.
And, really, that is the difference. McGregor is a preening, potty-mouthed puncher but the way he tells his story on social media elicits only a “good-on-yer” response. Crucially, he possesses humour in his arsenal. He announced the fight by posting a picture of 64-year-old Floyd Mayweather senior, not his son, and has continued to joke about his opponent's age ever since.
In contrast, ‘Money’ offered $10,000 on Instagram for the best caption to footage of McGregor tapping out against Nate Diaz in UFC 196, his last defeat in the octagon. He could not pull off the humour so he tried to solve the problem with cash.
The Irishman’s humility and contrition that night probably won him a few more fans. It is something Mayweather has never had to handle.
It is impossible to make a case for that changing in Vegas in August. But before the first bell, we can enjoy fight-hype par excellence. Two of the best talkers in world sport will go head-to-head at numerous press conferences, events and stunts. It could rattle up the pay-per-view sales to unprecedented levels.
In recent years, Mayweather’s media events have been more entertaining than his fights but he can get away with most things because he is the best in the world with his fists.
However, his thumbs leave something to be desired.
In terms of social media, expect McGregor’s natural skills to outfox the somewhat staid, predictable efforts of the Money Team throughout the build-up. Mayweather might land a rare success but the Irishman will win because he is simply better equipped for this arena.
Of course, once the first bell rings and the real fight begins, the story will be exactly the opposite.
* Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below