By Peter Edgar
Last Saturday, Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather duked it out in the ring. This is not news—for most Americans, this is common knowledge. However, in a society where violence is so abhorrent, and in which we condemn violence when it happens—at a protest, in our neighborhoods, in countries other than our own—why do we celebrate it in this space, the boxing ring? If we are so eager to separate ourselves from groups or individuals who commit violent acts, why is our society equally passionate about rooting for boxers and MMA fighters?
The main question for me is this: what justifies the brutal beating that the two men took Saturday night? There are several moral issues that we, as consumers of sports entertainment, must consider.
Firstly, neither Mr. McGregor and Mr. Mayweather are known for their good character. McGregor is notorious for trash talk and insensitive comments, chock-full of racial and sexual slurs and innuendo. Comments from the duo’s first press conference such as “I’m a f****** animal. If this was a real fight you’re dead already… twenty seconds and I’d smash you within an inch of your life” stand out. Is the talk really “all noise,” as McGregor has said?
Though pre-fight mental gaming through threats like “I’m gonna bounce your head off the canvas” are common in fighting, are they admirable? If a student athlete or a coach at Florida Southern College were to engage in the manner of taunting and jeering that both participants did throughout the build-up to the fight, repercussions would be taken for unsportsmanlike and unprofessional conduct, such as fines and public reprimands.
Mr. Mayweather is famous for another kind of abuse: not verbal, but physical. Mayweather was repeatedly charged for domestic abuse and battery between 2002 and 2011. More than a few celebrities in the past decade have lost social standing, contracts, and sponsorships for misdemeanors further in the past or of greater horror.
Does the amount of money on the table for these two men justify their fight? Forbes reported that the low estimates for the two men’s winnings in “The Money Fight” (as advertisers named the spectacle) at a hundred million dollars for Mayweather and upwards of thirty million for McGregor.
Maybe the money is enough for the men to justify getting beat up by each other—it is a staggering amount of money. These men make a conscious choice to put themselves in the ring and risk long-term damage (like CTE, a degenerative brain damage common to former NFL players that The Independent reported is similarly present in boxers). That is their choice—their decision.
Still, though, the winnings of the contenders in this match are paid for by the viewers—people who choose to be entertained by two men hitting each other for thirty-plus minutes. Is it responsible or wise, much less ethical, of us as consumers to pay almost one hundred dollars to witness such an event?
What justifies our fascination with the violence on display in the Mayweather v. McGregor fight?
For some, the argument will be that this is a symbolic fight. The Washington Post, in an article titled “Racial conflict sells boxing matches,” argues that this fight was a money ploy by sports networks to play into recent political and social sentiments. Sources including and outside the Post reported that (in response to comments by McGregor), Mayweather dedicated the fight to “all the blacks around the world,” citing an interview with ESPN SportsCenter reporter Stephen A. Smith.
The argument of symbolism betrays a dangerous sentiment, though: one where the viewer lives vicariously through who they believe should win. This could lead to (on one side) unsatisfied, angry defeat, and (on the other) hubris—or, at the least, insensible pride.
Furthermore, vicarious living through the fight suggests that one has a need to satisfy the desire to commit violent acts.
Perhaps the simplest argument I’ve heard for watching the McGregor-Mayweather fight is that it’s worth having a good time with one’s friends or community, with food and drinks accompanying.
Ultimately, though, it’s already happened. You’ve already made your choice. Your next choice is how to react.