A.J. Liebling, one the great journalists of the 20th century, was a big boxing fan. He fought some as a youth and continued to spar into his late 30s, when he was punched by an elderly former fighter named Jack O’Brien. That caused him to write the following:
“It is through Jack O’Brien…that I trace my rapport with the historic past through the laying-on of hands. He hit me, for pedagogical example, and had been hit by the great Bob Fitzsimmons, from whom he won the light-heavyweight title in 1906. Jack had a scar to show for it.
“Fitzsimmon had been hit by Corbett, Corbett by John L. Sullivan, he by Paddy Ryan, with the bare knuckles, and Ryan by Joe Goss, his predecessor, who as a young man had felt the fist of the great Jem Mace. It is a great thrill to feel that all that separates you from the early Victorians is a series of punches on the nose…The Sweet Science is joined onto the past like a man’s arm to his shoulder.”
Liebling covered the sport for The New Yorker magazine when he wasn’t writing about a dozen other topics, and several of those pieces were compiled into a book, “The Sweet Science,” that is considered by many to be one of the best sports books ever.
Liebling wrote about Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, and other great boxers when they were in their prime, and the manly art of self-defense was still a major sport in America. I can just image the contempt the great journalist, who died in 1963, would show for the clown show being staged in Las Vegas Saturday between Floyd “Money” Mayweather and UFC champion Connor McGregor.
Nobody gives McGregor a chance to win the fight–in most sports books, you have to risk $550 on Mayweather to win $100–mainly because McGregor has never fought in a boxing match before and he is facing one of the most skilled practitioners in the last 30 years. McGregor was watched punching a heavy bag during a recent work-out, and most observers concluded the bag won.
McGregor’s strength is in something called mixed martial arts, which resembles what my brother and I used to do in the backyard when he was 9 and I was 10. Unfortunately for McGregor, kicking, gouging, headlocks, drop kicks and similar WWE maneuvers won’t be allowed in Saturday’s “bout.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which has actually blessed this fight, decided to allow the fighters to wear 8-ounce gloves instead of 10-ounce gloves normally used for the 154-pound weight class. This is said to work to McGregor’s advantage since he’s used to fighting with 4-ounce gloves, but the reality is it will just give Mayweather’s blows greater impact when he hits his foe.
Since this spectacle is being held in (where else?) Las Vegas, the hype machine is going full blast. Both fighters have made a series of threats to each other, and since Mayweather is black and McGregor is white, the race card has been dealt just to see if the promoters can stoke animosity, and more ticket and pay-per-view sales. If McGregor is the next Great White Hope, the white race is hopeless.
Regardless of the outcome, both participants should do well financially. It has been said that Mayweather agreed to come out of retirement because he owes the IRS a bundle, and this figures to be the biggest payday in McGregor’s life.
As for the fans? Well, they figure to get fleeced by the “fight” before the casinos get a shot at them later in the evening. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last 30 years, it’s that boxing fans never learn.