By Cue Sibiya
Described as the fight the fans asked for by the executives who made it happen, Saturday’s clash between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was only ever about one thing – money.
Having beaten the Irish pretender with a 10th-round technical knockout, Mayweather can retire with a perfect 50-0 record and a payday said to be worth up to $300-million (R3.9-billion), and the American has promised never to return to the ring.
McGregor is a different story.
His $30-million purse for the fight is 10 times his previous best disclosed purse from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where, as he says, he endures “shinbones to the head” as he makes his living.
In the altogether more genteel surroundings of the boxing ring, he made a lot more money with a lot less damage, and his appetite has surely been whetted by the enormous riches on offer.
McGregor has made no secret of his desire for more.
Asked what he liked most about his boxing experience, “Money” Mayweather prompted UFC lightweight champion McGregor to say the cash.
“The cheque is all right. The cheque is not bad,” the Irishman laughed as he sipped his own “Notorius”-brand whiskey on the podium of the post-fight media conference.
“I’ve already been raising the MMA (mixed martial arts) cheques. I’m still going to be raising the MMA cheques when I go back there,” he added.
The 29-year-old has started his own website, a clothing line and a number of other businesses, and he was clearly delighted to see the logo of his latest venture, McGregor Sports and Entertainment, in the ring at Saturday’s fight.
The value of his brand, however, stems from what he does in the ring or the octagon and the brash personality he displays as he goes about his sporting business.
UFC president Dana White is keen for McGregor’s boxing experiment to end sooner rather than later, and said that he was in a position to offer McGregor similar riches for mixed martial arts bouts.
“If our fights do what the (pay-per-view) buys did here tonight, and the gate, we’ll all be good, trust me. Nobody will be bitching about anything,” White told reporters.
“It takes two very special people in the right place at the right time to do the freakish kind of numbers and the watercooler talk that these guys had. You’ve got to have the right people in the right place at the right time.”
With Mayweather, holder of a handful of the biggest pay-per-view sales of all time, vacating the stage at the age of 40, there is an opening for McGregor to take over as the biggest draw in combat sports.
The problem is that there are few prospective opponents for him in either boxing or MMA who can generate that kind of interest.
A bitter training-camp row between McGregor and boxer Paulie Malignaggi might provide the kind of intrigue that would get fans to part with their money to see them face each other in the ring, but McGregor is most likely to return to the octagon to fight Nate Diaz.
Diaz gave McGregor his first UFC defeat in a 170-pound matchup in 2016, which McGregor avenged months later with an epic five-round decision victory at the T-Mobile Arena, before going on to win the organisation’s lightweight title.
With the teak-tough Californian more than a match for McGregor in terms of trash talk, a trilogy fight to bring that rivalry to a close is about the only thing that would make sense — and the required amount of dollars — for McGregor at this point.