The entertainment value of Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor was off the charts this past August. It was a boxer versus a martial artist, America versus Ireland, black versus white and old versus new all rolled into one overrated match. But as entertaining as the spectacle may have been, the fight was a lens into the ugliness and regressive sport that is boxing. Boxing continues to promote racial narratives during divisive times and has consciously condoned the violent behavior of the face of their sport.
To put it bluntly, the fact that Mayweather was still allowed to box is disgraceful. Mayweather has been charged with domestic violence six times and served two months in jail in 2012 for beating and abusing the mother of his three children in front of them. In defense of himself, Mayweather says he shouldn’t be compared to O.J Simpson or Chris Brown because there are “no pictures … just hearsay and allegations.” Except it’s not just “hearsay and allegations”; he has been convicted and has served jail time.
It would be reasonable to believe that the governing institutions would implement harsh restrictions on any violence outside of the ring. Yet, neither the World Boxing Federation nor the Nevada Athletics Commission have rules that punish boxers involved in domestic violence or sexual assault.
In comparison, the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the mixed martial arts organization that McGregor fights in — is much more strict with its athletes. The UFC Fighter Conduct Policy outlines how “domestic violence and other forms of sex abuse” will result in serious disciplinary action. Their strict rules were put to the test when Michael Graves, an undefeated welterweight fighter, was arrested for punching and elbowing his fiancee in a car. He was released by the UFC in 2017 for violating the conduct policy. The UFC is far from perfect, but at least they know where to draw the line if one of their athletes is involved in a serious crime.
The fact that the World Boxing Federation actively promotes Mayweather and proudly uses him as the face of its sport is appalling and displays their utter willingness to turn a blind eye to domestic violence and injustice.
On top of that, the institution of boxing actively promotes racial narratives to sell fights. The black versus white narrative is nothing new to the world of boxing. In 1910, Jack Johnson, the legendary black heavyweight champion, so completely dominated the league that many white fans called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and regain the belt. No challengers were successful.
It was clear that both promoters of the event had no interest in putting an end to the race-baiting. Dana White, the CEO of the UFC, and Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Productions, quietly approved of the back and forths, smiling and enjoying the spectacle while watching their respective fighters play up the racial narrative. There were never any denouncements — only denial — with Ellerbe claiming that “race isn’t a factor in any of this.”
Controversy is publicity, and publicity equals higher pay-per-view prices and ticket sales. It truly seemed scripted at times, pushing a new storyline at every press conference and stirring up the sports media cycle, all while the promoters sat idly by with dollar signs in their eyes.
They saw dollar signs indeed; it was estimated that Mayweather made $400 million and McGregor made $127 million with over $55 million coming from ticket sales alone. Mayweather will reportedly be retiring with over $1 billion in career earnings despite a career interspersed with domestic violence and misogyny. He served as the face of boxing for too long. Maybe, now that he hung up his gloves for good, boxing can undergo reform to become a more progressive institution.