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Borges: Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor will benefit boxing not besmirch it

July 16, 2017

There are many reasons to look down on the Aug. 26 showdown between unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC champion Conor McGregor, but one of them is not that this circus act somehow is an insult to boxing. Quite to the contrary.

The truth is for all the talk of boxing’s demise and UFC’s rise, for McGregor to get paid he had to beg Mayweather for a fight in which everything is stacked against him. The rules, the ring, the gloves, the pay, everything. About the only thing the Irishman won so far is an ill-fitting suit.

Despite the UFC’s growth, boxing remains the undisputed pay-per-view champion of combat sports. McGregor is the UFC’s biggest PPV draw, with four of his five fights ranking as the biggest in sales and money paid in UFC history. Yet his numbers pale in comparison to Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield.

In 13 of the last 16 years, boxing has staged the bigger PPV extravaganzas not the UFC. The mixed martial arts organization may be the combat sport of the future, but the future is not now. McGregor’s rematch with Nick Diaz was UFC’s biggest PPV seller of all-time at 1.65 million buys. That’s not even close to Mayweather’s best.

If you combine McGregor’s top three pay-per-view shows (totaling 4.49 million buys and $240.5 million), the three best in UFC’s history, they don’t surpass what Mayweather-Pacquiao did two years ago (4.6 million buys, $410 million dollars). Even with reduced pricing for McGregor-Diaz II from the record-setting $99.95 charged for Mayweather-Pacquiao, Mayweather swamped the best UFC has ever done.

So the economics of this allegedly “dying” sport fly in the face of UFC’s numbers. As for attendance, only a few months ago Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua put more than 90,000 boxing fans into Wembley Stadium. Last year, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez attracted more than 51,000 to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to watch him fight little known challenger named Liam Smith.

So how can what is expected to be a record-breaking PPV audience for Mayweather-McGregor hurt boxing? Unless Mayweather turns suddenly vastly older than his 40 years and vastly slower than he’s ever looked before and gets himself KO’d, it can’t.

While there has been a coarse, freak show atmosphere to this promotion, these guys are attracting huge crowds just to watch them verbally spar. When the sparring really begins? Mayweather makes clear that no UFC fighter belongs in a boxing ring.

That’s all good for boxing even if the fight turns out to be a one-sided lesson given to a guy with a big mouth and big MMA skills but limited boxing ability. People may complain after the fact that Mayweather refused to stand in front of McGregor and be a punching bag but everyone knows his game is defense, angles and potshots. When you buy a Mayweather fight you know what you’re getting, which is to say mastery of the manly art of self-defense.

You want a brawl in which feet, elbows, holding, choking and jumping on someone is allowed, go with the Octagon. Of course, it’s also where quitting is allowed and where you don’t make the kind of money guys who box Mayweather make.

Lomachenko next up

ESPN plans to follow its highly successful Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight (3.2 million-plus viewers on July 2) with an Aug. 5 show headlining arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Vasyl Lomachenko.

The junior lightweight champion has lost only twice in his life. He went 396-1 as an amateur but avenged that loss a number of times on the way to winning two Olympic gold medals and then challenging for a world title in his second professional fight three years ago. Lomachenko lost a foul-fest to Orlando Salido that night, although Salido failed to make weight and was stripped of his featherweight title the day before the match.

Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs) has gone on to win two world titles, the first in only his third pro fight and the second in his seventh, but has desperately wanted to avenge the Salido loss. He thought that chance would be coming next month but Salido thought better of it.

So instead of a grudge match, he’ll instead face Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs), who is getting his second title shot in four months. Marriaga lost a close decision in an action-packed fight to Oscar Valdez on April 22 but acquitted himself so well it was easy to justify paying him for the honor of likely being undressed by Lomachenko, who can box, punch, defend and methodically cut you to ribbons.

That fight fans will get to see Lomachenko on ESPN and not PPV is another boon to boxing provided by a deal promoter Bob Arum cut with the cable network to offer them big-time boxing fare in exchange for a decent rights fee. That’s as good a way to grow the sport again as asking Mayweather to beat up a UFC star..

“My goal is to be the best fighter in the world,” Lomachenko said recently. “Being on ESPN means many more people are going to see this fight and to see what I am all about.”

Seeing Lomachenko fight for free should somewhat soften the blow of having to shell out likely $100 to watch Alvarez square off against undefeated Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) on pay-per-view in Las Vegas on Sept. 16. The middleweight title fight the boxing world has longed for is already sold out and closed circuit locations in Vegas are being set up to satisfy the overflow. All things considered, that’s a pretty good five weeks for a “dead” sport.

Super seeds planted

The top four seeds in the planned $50 million World Boxing Super Series in the 168-pound super middleweight and 200-pound cruiserweight divisions have selected their opponents in the 16-man tournament that begins in September with dates and sites to be announced.

Whether it actually happens remains to be seen but the four cruiserweight champions have all signed on. No. 1 seed Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs) selected former world champion Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs) as his first opponent. No. 2 seed Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs) must face his mandatory challenger, two-time world champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs). No. 3 seed Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs), who won his cruiserweight title by outpointing Huck three months ago, picked slimmed down ex-heavyweight contender Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs). Perez had not fought in 25 months before dropping 42 pounds to win his first cruiserweight fight June 10.

The final cruiserweight pairing: No. 4 seed Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs) vs. Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs).

As for the super middleweights, No. 1 seeded WBA champion George Groves (26-3, 19 KOs) faces English countryman Jamie Cox (23-0, 13 KOs); British 168-pound champion Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs), the No. 2 seed, fights Sweden’s Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs); No. 4 Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOs), the ex-light heavyweight champion from Germany, faces the only American in the tournament, Minnesotan Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KOs). The No. 3 seed was to be decided last night when England’s Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KO) faced former multi-time world champion Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KOs). Because this is boxing, both sides allowed Eubanks’ father, a former world champion himself, to select Turkey’s Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KOs) as the winner’s opponent.

Short jabs

ESPN has another outstanding main event Aug. 19 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., showcasing boxer’s fastest-rising star, Nebraska native Terence Crawford, vs. well-traveled unified junior welterweight champion Julius Indongo of Namibia. Indongo went to Moscow last December to win the title in spectacular fashion when he KO’d Russian Eduard Troyanovsky in the first round. He outpointed Ricky Burns in Burns’ hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, in April to unify the WBA, IBF and IBO versions of the 140-pound title. All five 140-pound championships will be at stake Aug. 19 with Crawford holding the WBC and WBO versions. . . .

Richard Schaefer’s new promotional company, in partnership with former cruiserweight champion David Haye’s group, signed four British amateurs, including Olympic silver medalist Joe Joyce. They plan to turn them all pro this fall on a card in London. Always planning for the future, Schaefer also signed Tony Yoka, the French Olympian who was awarded a questionable decision over Joyce in the gold medal fight in Rio last summer. At 31, Joyce is advanced in years for a heavyweight making his pro debut so expect Schaefer to lose little time trying to move him along with an eye to a Olympic “rematch” with Yoda before long.

At 6-foot-6, Joyce certainly fits today’s size requirements for a heavyweight contender. Now the question is can he fight well enough to overcome his late start? . . .

Boxing often makes for strange bedfellows. So it is with Paulie Malignaggi, who has agreed to be McGregor’s chief sparring partner. The former two-time world champion had been highly critical of this whole idea in general and McGregor in particular on social media when the fight was being made, but now he’s agreed to spar with him in Las Vegas to help prepare McGregor for Mayweather’s quickness and ring intelligence. Since those were Malignaggi’s strong suits, you have to hand it to McGregor. Smart move.

As for Malignaggi, hey, it’s a business even after you retire, as Paulie did after being knocked out March 6 in England by Sam Eggington. Ever the showman, Malignaggi retired on the 19th anniversary of his first amateur fight, which was two days after his last defeat. Malignaggi has a growing career as a boxing analyst but sparring with McGregor won’t affect that.

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