Buckley: Brash UFC throws its fist into the ring of big-time, big-money boxing

August 27, 2017 GMT

LAS VEGAS — The spectacle before the spectacle took place Friday afternoon, when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor arrived at the T-Mobile Arena for the official weigh-ins for last night’s “biggest fight in combat sports history.”

And, sure, it met the textbook definition of “weigh-in.”

There was a scale. There was an official from the Nevada Athletic Commission. There were two men standing around in their underwear.

And there were two weights: Mayweather came in at 1491/2 pounds, McGregor at 153 pounds. (I don’t doubt those numbers are accurate, though to the naked eye the meatier McGregor looked 10 pounds heavier than his opponent.)

But the weigh-in bit was, of course, just another platform to hype this crazy, contrived contest between the best all-around boxer in the world (Mayweather) and the best, and certainly loudest, fighter from the world of UFC (McGregor). It was also yet another reminder, as if we needed one, that the mixed-martial arts culture of UFC is simply the latest in a long, never-ending line of start-ups that were created to challenge the status quo.

Think about it. The original National Football League was the inspiration for the American Football League, and later the United States Football League and the XFL. The National Basketball Association inspired the American Basketball Association. The National Hockey League inspired the World Hockey Association.

And boxing is the playground that UFC was created to take over. Everyone knows this. But seeing the two sports kicking at each other — not literally, since that’s against the rules in boxing — at the weigh-in and at last night’s hyped-right-up-your-nostrils Mayweather-McGregor fight offers a splendid example of where we are in professional sports . . . and where we’re headed.

You’d think boxing culture was already sufficiently brash and cocky and unpredictable that it couldn’t possibly inspire a rival league, if you will. Boxers have been pushing the envelope of decorum for more than a century, with John L. Sullivan famously telling anyone who would listen that he could “lick any man in the bar.” And it’s been 53 years since Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, promised he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” in his first fight against Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title.

But then UFC came along, with its grappling, its submission holds, its kicking and, sure, its old-time punching. The old-fashioned square ring was deemed, well, square, and replaced by the octagon. And the fighters? Seemingly every one of them has the brashness of a Muhammad Ali on steroids. And the fans? Pretty much the same thing.

Did you happen to see McGregor jawin’ at Mayweather during the weigh-in? It was a rat-a-tat-tat verbal assault, and it makes no difference what the actual words were. It was all Hollywood, which is what these things are supposed to be, but McGregor’s UFC personality is over the top even by boxing standards.

Mayweather was roundly booed at the weigh-in. Part of that might be because people are disgusted by Mayweather’s litany of domestic-abuse accusations and convictions. But McGregor has had a huge and adoring congregation of fans from his native Ireland in town all week, and they’re impossible to miss. They sing, loudly. They wear the Irish flag, proudly. And they drink, roundly. They love Vegas, and Vegas loves them.

Next to UFC, the entire boxing community seems like a checkers tournament.

But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And who knows? Maybe the boxing world will steal some of UFC’s act. The NBA didn’t take on the ABA’s red, white and blue basketball, but, hey, it did add the 3-point shot popularized by the ABA.

There’s only so much boxing can do. After all, if it added grappling, submission holds and kicking, it would’t be boxing any more. But this won’t be the last time boxing and UFC climb into the ring (octagon) together — not just as competitors, but as business partners.

If this does turn out to be the biggest pay-per-view event in boxing history, it won’t go unnoticed that one of the fighters is a UFC icon who had never been in a professional boxing match until last night.