Sports

SIMMONS

McGregor the popular guy, Mayweather the aging villain

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather stood face-to-face — inches apart, both of them staring, both of them shouting insults at each other, neither of them flinching — as Dana White stood in the background, maybe 10 steps away, smiling the whole time.

It was like he was counting millions in his head — $50 million, $100 million, how many million? — one, two, three, four, and then he timed his walk to where McGregor and Mayweather were standing.

Still smiling, but now between them. We can’t have them throwing punches just yet. We just have to leave the impression they’re about to start fighting.

So instead, we got a show. The staging, the timing, the acting, the script: Everything seemed just right on the Toronto night of the great sales pitch, the night McGregor and Mayweather and all those involved with this mega-money fight played to a loud and almost sold-out house at the Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place, a news conference of theatrical proportions, little of which has anything to do with either a news conference or their fight on Aug. 26. But all of it seemed fun, fascinating, funny.

If the 12-round bout in Las Vegas in six weeks’ time is half as entertaining as Wednesday night’s tour stop in Toronto, then no one paying their hundred bucks of pay-per-view will be disappointed.

The odds are, that isn’t possible. The odds are, Mayweather will do to McGregor the non-boxer what he has done to boxers of a much higher calibre.

But here in Toronto, where boxing has gone to die, where the UFC has almost disappeared in recent years, not only did a full house of screaming, yelling, chanting, enthused McGregor fans show up with flags and voice, it was almost as though they were part of the show, as well. Their constant chanting of “Pay your taxes,” to Mayweather was among the highlights. There were others that we can’t repeat here that were equally amusing.

This was a pro-McGregor, pro-UFC crowd, with a smattering of local boxing people. Some of the best Toronto fighters we’ve ever seen, Donovan Boucher, Egerton Marcus and Troy Ross, were there. Why? Because it was a scene. Because this community rarely gets a chance to gather. Because, great as they may have been at any time in their amateur or professional careers, they’ve never seen anything like this or been part of anything like this before.

McGregor won’t win the fight on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas, but he did win the news conference, for as much of a news conference this was. This was more The James Corden Show, with more yelling, more chanting, more staged humour, more noise, more bits, more McGregor strutting.

The beautifully dressed McGregor can’t seem to complete a sentence without an F-bomb in it, and so he screamed “F the Mayweathers,” calling the best fighter of his generation, maybe any generation, “an effing b----.”

He then referenced the fact that Mayweather owns a high-end strip club in Las Vegas and then shouted about all the “stripping b------s on his payroll.”

High brow stuff this wasn’t.

“You’re effing crazy if you think this man has a chance,” said McGregor, pointing at Mayweather, who clearly seems content to play second fiddle. For business, this is the way it has to go.

The sell will continue this way, with McGregor playing the part of the popular guy, with Mayweather the aging villain, with the verbal bullying seemingly one-sided, because this sells.

The McGregor fans will buy this fight. The boxing fans will buy this fight, as they have always bought Mayweather fights, however uninteresting they seem to be. It’s the other people, those who may not be interested, those who aren’t sure, the undecided voters, this was aimed to attract. And if you went last night not sure whether you were buying in, you left ready to put your money down, even if that means suspending belief.

“Nothing I’ve ever been involved with compares to this,” said McGregor’s promoter, Dana White, the man who took the UFC from nothing to something, before the stage show began. He figures this is the largest event he’ll ever be part of. And whatever role he has played in pulling this off, from the four-city tour to the approach, to the comedy, to the passion involved, on Wednesday night, everything worked.

Mayweather didn’t say much, but in this show, he’s the other guy. Best supporting actor. He doesn’t dress up, doesn’t strut around, doesn’t get too personal, doesn’t get the good lines. All Mayweather tends to do is win, handily and usually without questions.

The fans didn’t seem to care about that on Wednesday, though.

“The effing fans can’t fight for you,” Mayweather said directly to McGregor.

He then looked at the stands.

“Shut your effing mouths,” he said to the fans, playing the villain to perfection.

And then he said: “Toronto, I like you guys, I’m out.”

And he was. The only thing missing at the end was a curtain call and maybe an encore.

ssimmons@postmedia.com