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Racial Conflict Draws Boxing Fans To Mayweather-McGregor Fight


Two summers ago, a mixed martial arts champion named Conor McGregor was doing an interview with Conan O'Brien.


CONAN O'BRIEN: What if you were in the ring with Floyd Mayweather? What do you think would happen? He's obviously an incredibly - one of the greatest boxers anyone's ever seen...

CONOR MCGREGOR: If you're asking would I like to fight Floyd, I mean, who would not like to dance around the ring for $180 million?

O'BRIEN: Yeah.


SIEGEL: And the trash talk has been going on ever since.


FLOYD MAYWEATHER: I'm not the same fighter I was 10 years ago. I'm not the same fighter I was five years ago. I'm not the same fighter I was two years ago. But I got enough to beat you.

SIEGEL: Well, now this spectacle of a matchup is actually happening. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor will box Saturday night in Las Vegas and on Showtime pay-per-view. As sports columnist Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post has written, the racial difference between the two has been a selling point for this fight. Are there any other selling points?

Adam Kilgore, thanks for joining us today.

ADAM KILGORE: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, tell us about the two fighters, starting with the 40-year-old Floyd Mayweather.

KILGORE: Floyd Mayweather is regarded as one of the greatest tactical fighters in boxing history. Outside of the ring he's known for controversy. He's twice been convicted of battery against women. And he has this sort of almost like pathological obsession with money. Is his nickname is Money. He has a lot of business interests outside of boxing, including a strip club in Las Vegas. So he's quite a, you know, only-in-boxing character.

SIEGEL: OK. And in the other corner 29-year-old Conor McGregor.

KILGORE: Conor McGregor comes from a poor part of Dublin, Ireland, called Crumlin. He's an incredible showman. He's got an incredible left hook that's taken him to the top of mixed martial arts in a promotion called UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship. He trained as a boxer as a teenager. But, you know, as far as the highest level of the sport is concerned, he's never boxed before. And no one really knows if he can box.

SIEGEL: Now, McGregor, as a mixed martial artist, can kick, grab, trip, wrestle. In a boxing match, all he's allowed to do is punch above the belt. Does he have a prayer against Mayweather?

KILGORE: Conor McGregor has the proverbial almost definition of a puncher's chance. There is a school of thought that if he comes out and just throws haymakers and is very aggressive early on, he has a prayer to connect and maybe knock Mayweather down. The problem is Mayweather's been knocked down once in his entire career. And most boxing analysts - and I would agree with these folks - think that he's not going to get a clean shot if he gets a shot at all.

SIEGEL: Now, you've written about the race angle in this fight. As the famed fight promoter Don King once said, if it's a fight between a white boxer and a black boxer, you can play the race card tremendously and get an overwhelming return. Is that what's selling this fight?

KILGORE: I think that's part of what's selling the fight. I do think that novelty is the primary selling point. But certainly the fighters have not shied away from using race as a selling point. In one of the first tour stops, McGregor twice told Floyd Mayweather...


MCGREGOR: Dance for me, boy. Dance for me, sir. Dance for me.

KILGORE: In a subsequent tour stop, after there had been, you know, a bit of an uproar about those comments, McGregor said that he could not be racist because he was half-black from the bellybutton down, implying exactly what you think he's implying there. Certainly boxing has a long tradition of promoting fights along racial lines, and both Mayweather and McGregor have sort of used that tactic.

SIEGEL: Adam Kilgore is a national sports columnist for The Washington Post. Thanks for talking with us.

KILGORE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.