Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
There’s plenty of MMA to watch this weekend if you want to watch fights. If you really care about legitimate news stories that intimately relate to the machinations of the sport, well, hey, Eddie Alvarez signed with One Championship -- the largest free agent signing that pan-Asia’s top MMA promotion has mustered so far in its existence. Are these ideas really what drove the majority of MMA discussion and web traffic this week? No, of course not. This is MMA, so people would rather argue about Floyd Mayweather calling out Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Surely you heard the story, however much or little you conversationally or emotionally invested in such a gossamer, pointless story. I know you heard about it, because it was all over my social media timelines and every MMA radio show I heard, even if the discussion was mostly eye rolling and tutting. My 58-year-old father texted me about it, simply because he read a fluff piece acknowledging Mayweather’s mouthiness on the ESPN.com front page.
“When I face Khabib, of course I am getting a nine-figure payday,” Mayweather boasted to TMZ. “We fighting. I’m my own boss, so I can’t say what’s going on at Khabib’s end, but at my end, we can make it happen. I’m Floyd Mayweather. I’m the A-side. You call me out, you come into my world.”
Yeah, OK. This by several metrics the “biggest” story of the MMA week despite, it being about (a) a boxing match and (b) utter bulls--- and lip service, but it’s not the only example of precisely this kind of annoying, hopeless discourse. Also ripped from the headlines -- and garnering web traffic, social media discussion and at least knee-jerk reaction from those that know -- we’ve got two other classic pieces of fool’s gold. However, I would submit that despite being intellectually insulting and disingenuous on their surface, these sorts of news stories may have some hidden value. Bear with me for a minute.
Speaking of Mayweather and Nurmagomdev, the man who has taken recent Ls from each of them in the ring and cage, Conor McGregor, was back in the media on Sunday, offering a swaggering pep talk to the Dallas Cowboys, inspiring them to a 40-7 crushing of the Jacksonville Jaguars, all while hobnobbing with Cowboys owner and typically lunatic dictator Jerry Jones. McGregor’s angle? He was talking to “Jerr-uh” about staging his next Ultimate Fighting Championship bout in Jones’ Death Star, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It is a spectacle, this place,” McGregor told the media. “That Octagon has got to be in the center one day. I’m going to make that happen, trust me, especially now after being here and seeing it. I know it was rumored many times. We never got there, but now is the time.”
Even the NFL itself used their interaction as classically vapid clickbait:
Now, maybe you weren’t an MMA fan eight years ago or so, but trust me when I say that the UFC and its stars -- Dana White included -- have pushed this laughable narrative for that long. Here’s White in 2010: “We're definitely, 100 percent, going to Cowboys Stadium, no doubt about it. With our sport, people will fly in from all over the world.”
Back then, Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen 2 was going to happen there. Then Silva-Georges St. Pierre. Then there was the asinine notion of Brock Lesnar-Fedor Emelianenko being held at “Jerry World.” Then it was Silva-Chris Weidman 2. In March 2014? “They want us. We want to be there,” White said about a trip to AT&T Stadium. Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao defeated both Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito there in 2010. Beyond that, there has never been a real fight in the venue. I’m literally leaving out several examples of White’s carnival barking, but “the UFC is going to Cowboys Stadium,” over an exhausting near-decade now, has become an amusingly sick, black comedy punchline that underscores both MMA fans’ simultaneous optimism and pessimism, guided by grandiose bloviating of the UFC figurehead.
Let’s stay on the boxing tip, as superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who was the primary force in generating approximately $94 million in revenue for his rematch win over Gennady Golovkin a month ago, just signed a record-setting 11-fight deal worth at least $365 million with fledgling over-the-top subscription platform DAZN. Did you also hear that the virtually non-existent “Zuffa Boxing” -- quotation marks in this are my own and a purposeful jab -- was apparently in the race for Alvarez’s services. Just like when it was allegedly going to fork over $500 million to unbeaten heavyweight star Anthony Joshua, despite White openly refuting it.
These were the stories that garnered crossover, widespread buzz and attention for MMA this week; poor Alvarez. This trio of duplicitous tales dominating headlines makes any thoughtful MMA fan lament this sport, laying bare how cynical and desperate its grassroots and mainstream media coverage can be. It’s even worse when the notions are the same every time: “Famous mixed martial artist is going to fight famous boxer … in the ring,” “The UFC is going to AT&T Stadium,” “Zuffa Boxing is actually a thing.” It drives you mental, because you want that kind of attention for the sport and its athletes, but you have enough knowledge to know how foolish it all is, which makes you wonder why we’re all actually here. As I said -- appreciate you sticking with me, here -- I think there is some low-key and oft-overlooked virtues in this kind of fruitless discourse.
It is a constant gripe from combat sports fans that major fights only get attention when it’s the biggest, grandest event of the year, featuring stars like a Mayweather or McGregor. In general, boxers and MMA fighters enjoy less time in the limelight because, unlike traditional stick-and-ball sports, they’re not plying their trade multiple times a week or every Sunday afternoon. Prizefighters show up, perform a grueling physical task and then largely disappear from mainstream eyes for between four months and a year, if not longer. However, one aspect I’ve seen develop over the last decade is that star power begets more star power. Mayweather himself was one of the first to figure this out. I won’t say his domestic-abuse issues, which are truly horrific, were an example of “all publicity is good publicity,” but during long periods of inactivity, Mayweather’s antisocial exploits always made him a darling for major media outlets. While the man may legitimately have an addictive issue with high-money sports betting, the extent to which the unbeaten legend accrued constant media play for dropping seven figures on college basketball games always ensured that a wider journalistic public that largely didn’t care about fights would report on his cringe-inducing Instagram posts. Similarly, U.S., British and Irish sports media and general tabloids now turn to McGregor’s rotgut whiskey launch, destroying hotels with his friends or giving inspirational speeches to an American football team.
I can’t put on rose-colored glasses and act as though there is a profound trickle-down effect to mainstream coverage of folks like Mayweather and McGregor and their publicity stunts. However, for those who are fighting those stars, it matters immeasurably. In the case of the UFC, I think it’s even more profound, because it reminds the most casual of viewers -- ultimately, those people responsible for the biggest gates, buy rates and revenues -- that this promotion exists and it has a dozen fight cards coming up this month. Ask yourself: How many more people have been introduced to Nurmagomedov in the last two to four weeks? In turn, an anticipated showdown between the UFC lightweight champ and Tony Ferguson can only be bolstered, even if it won’t come close to a million pay-per-view buys, let alone two million. However, when major prizefights succeed in seducing a layman public’s hearts, minds and wallets, there are legitimate beneficiaries who enter a new level of consciousness, bargaining power and earning potential.
Now, let’s say you’re the kind of long-term, hardcore fan that generally invests in most UFC or Bellator MMA cards, even if they have an occasional tendency to be a drain on your time and psyche. There’s still something that this vacuous content can still offer you and give rise to provocative conversations. Even if you’re one of the aforementioned folks who sees this kind of garbage coming a mile away and realizes it has no purchase, when considering that it’s so effective in creating said attention and weighing the way in which fighters and promoters seek to posture in this media environment, what can we say about prizefighting’s place in the world, its culture and where it’s headed? Was Zuffa Boxing ever going to sign “Canelo”? Lord no, but what kind of atmosphere permits a culture where that idea flies? What does such a groundbreaking deal for Alvarez say about the future of over-the-top platforms versus cable and network television or pay-per-view? Even if UFC brass from Endeavor went from 330,000 UFC Fight Pass subscribers in 2015 to now hitting an estimated 450,000, is an undiversified platform like Fight Pass equipped to deal with the weight and capital that DAZN is throwing around? Does anything about trash reporting and the reaction to it give us insights as to what the UFC’s future might be on ESPN and, more importantly, on pay-per-view at a time when the biggest boxers in the world are being shifted away from these platforms globally?
These are all intriguing and important ideas. Yet strange as it might seem, they can effortlessly flow into obviously disposable, pointless premises. It doesn’t matter if you’re the dyed-in-the-wool prizefighting fan snarking at a McGregor-come-lately fan on Twitter, a journalist or analyst considering the future of these sports or maybe even an active fighter yourself trying to figure out how the worm is turning and how you can get paid as much as you can to fight. I think we’ve all had communications, whether they take place in a classroom, a workplace or in a dive bar, that are initially predicated on a stupid argument. Yet the discussion branches into something more worthwhile and edifying. Even if we’re initially annoyed, by the end of it, we feel somehow enriched, whether it’s because we’ve turned our conversational partner on to new ideas or we simply ended up contemplating an intriguing angle about a concept we hadn’t previously considered.
Undoubtedly, there is chagrin to be had about such base and ineffectual conversations, especially when every round of miserable media-making plays on the same idiotic archetypes. In that way, it is essentially just something to generate clicks and conversation; it’s some trash to talk about. However, if we’re careful and thoughtful in how we react and digest transparent tripe, it’s some ish that can offer all of us something to really, truly think about.