Buckley: Undercard to Mayweather-McGregor may actually offer better boxing
LAS VEGAS — The best thing about being on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight is being on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight.
The worst thing?
There is no worst thing.
Put yourself in the fightin’ boots of the various Francisco Fonsecas and Steve “USS” Cunninghams who have chosen to run away and join the circus that is the Showtime pay-per-view event to be held tomorrow night at T-Mobile Arena.
Fonseca is a 23-year-old from Costa Rica who will be fighting Gervonta “Tank” Davis for the IBF world super featherweight title. Cunningham is 41, which makes him older than Tom Brady, ’cept he hasn’t bathed in Alex Guerrero’s magic elixir, which means he’s a mere mortal. He is thus an underdog in his match against Andrew Tabiti for the vacant cruiserweight title, with no Jimmy Garoppolo throwing on the sideline and poised to take over if things go bad.
But take away the ever-diminishing number of hardcore boxing fans in the world, especially in the United States, and how many people would know these guys if it were not for tomorrow’s Showtime event? It’s the casual observers — and I count myself here, having paid good money two years ago for Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao — who fill the cash drawers. It’s the casual observers who likely wouldn’t know the undercard fighters if they were fighting anywhere other than this undercard.
For these prelim guys, getting a chance to step into the ring tomorrow night is like the Football Championship Subdivision (the late, great I-AA and I really wish they’d go back to that) title game being played as an undercard to the Super Bowl. Only college grid purists know that James Madison is the reigning FCS champion, having emerged with a 28-14 victory over Youngstown State this past January in Frisco, Texas. But come on: Had the game been played at Houston’s NRG Stadium in February while Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and their respective teams were loosening up in the hallway, everyone would’ve known the outcome.
Yesterday’s undercard press conference was held at the David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand, and, like magic, a large media contingent turned out. (Unlike Copperfield, I can reveal the secret behind the magic: A free lunch was served. The mac and cheese was to die for.) But prior to the actual introductions, the staredown photo ops and other prefight accoutrements, some of the boxers were spread around the theater, kickin’ back in booths as they held court with various media folks.
The participants included Badou Jack, born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Gambian father but now living and training right here in Vegas. The Ripper, as he’s known, will be fighting defending WBA light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly of Great Britain. And though no stranger to boxing purists — he has been WBC super middleweight champion — he’s clearly loving this chance to say hello to casual observers and curiosity seekers.
“I’m gonna steal the show, maybe,” he said. “I got a great opponent in front of me, so I think we’re gonna give the fans a great fight.”
True, I think we’re gonna give the fans a great fight is so old that Gentleman Jim Corbett likely tossed it to the newspaper boys in the run-up to his 21-round marathon against John L. Sullivan in 1892. But this is different, for the simple reason that Badou Jack-Nathan Cleverly holds the promise of real boxing, as opposed to Mayweather-McGregor, which will only be “real boxing” in a technical sense.
“Floyd’s gonna crush that guy,” Jack said. “Maybe me too. I might crush (Cleverly) too. You never know. But on paper this is the best fight.”
One must consider the source when Jack predicts Mayweather is going to “crush” McGregor. See, Jack is a product of Mayweather Productions, which makes Floyd Jr. not just one of the fighters in Saturday’s main event but also Jack’s boss. But the quick, dismissive manner with which Jack made that comment, complete with a shake of the head, takes things beyond the script. Regardless of who signs his paycheck, Jack knows McGregor doesn’t know jack about how to beat Mayweather.
He didn’t come right out and say it, but Jack the Ripper’s message pretty much comes down to this: Watch Mayweather-McGregor for the spectacle, but watch Jack-Cleverly for the boxing.