Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor: A Cautionary Tale

I don’t follow sports. I don’t like pop culture, and I don’t approve of normalizing violence. So you’d think I wouldn’t watch The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). However, I do value setting goals, pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible, physical fitness and the spirit of competition. For those reasons, the UFC is the only sport I watch.

If I were a dictator, I would replace all high school sports with chess and mixed martial arts competitions. This would replace the “us vs. them” indoctrination of the youth with a “me vs. my best” mentality. Plus, it would teach students a useful skill: how to defend themselves.

This would be useful to every individual, and it would create a nation-wide atmosphere of mutually assured destruction, which sounds sinister on the surface, but if you knew everyone has been trained in hand-to-hand combat, you’d think twice about abusing others.

I don’t believe systemic martial arts training would encourage violence because the core philosophy of martial arts is personal responsibility, not wanton destruction. Granted, the UFC does reward cinematic violence, but the motivating philosophy behind martial arts is inherently more profound than any ball-centric sport.

So even though my first reaction to the UFC many years ago was negative, I quickly came to appreciate the change it could bring to professional sports. Now I hate to say it, but my opinion of the UFC took a major hit in the past month because of how the UFC is promoting the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, which will take place on August 26, 2017.

Before I get into that, I’ll explain the backstory on the fight. Floyd Mayweather is a retired, forty-year-old American boxing champion, who has never fought in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Conor McGregor is a twenty nine-year-old Irish MMA champion who has never fought in a professional boxing competition. McGregor is going to fight Mayweather in a boxing match, which makes the conflict complicated since it’s one champion past his prime fighting a younger opponent outside of his element.

The whole competition is an unapologetic promotional stunt for the UFC, but I’m reluctantly fine with that if it draws people away from vapid ball-centric sports to mixed martial arts. However, the UFC has been hosting promotional events where Mayweather and McGregor talk juvenile shit to each other in front of hysterical fans. And their trash talking is bad. It’s really bad.

I know neither competitor really believes what they’re saying. They’re trying to psyche each other out to gain an advantage in the fight, and with tens of millions of dollars on the line, they both have legitimate motive to take their pre-game fight to the highest level.

I also know that both fighters are brands, trying to sell their product to the public audience. From the cosmic perspective, there’s no reason for customers to care about their rivalry.  So they have to create human interest. The Olympics does the exact same thing when they produce segments about the athletes’ life stories before events. They’re mind-fucking you into caring about the outcome of people doing pointless shit.

I’m convinced the organizers of the Olympics were inspired to do that by watching professional wrestling, which invented the art of using story-telling techniques to get their audience emotionally invested in a meaningless competition between two people they don’t know.

Think about your favorite movie. The hero isn’t even real, but you connect with him/her so much that you feel their pain, fear, hope, and joy so vividly you’ll pay money to experience those emotions over and over again. Why? Because watching a human go through the stages of accomplishing a goal, excites the same regions of your brain that are stimulated when you achieve a goal in real life. On some physical level, you truly live vicariously through Luke Skywalker as he fights Darth Vader and saves the galaxy.

Since Mayweather and McGregor’s fight is utterly unimportant in comparison to all the real wars going on in the world right now, they have to get inside their audience’s minds and take them on “the hero’s journey” to make them care enough about them to pay to see how their story ends.

The more Mayweather and McGregor offend each other, and hype themselves up, the more it raises the stakes in their story. Therefore, it raises the tension. Therefore, it feels more real and important to the audience, even if it’s just flickers on a screen. If Mayweather and McGregor do their job right, people will be jumping out of their seats and crumpling to the floor at the end of the fight, even though the outcome has no real-world significance.

I grew up in a consumer culture. I understand the need to promote the product you’re selling, but the UFC used to promote their fighters more like the Olympics than the WWE. Granted, McGregor isn’t the first UFC fighter to earn a reputation acting over-dramatic and playing the emotionally magnetic villain card, but Mayweather vs. McGregor took the shtick to a whole lower level. They abandoned all the dignity of self-restraint, respect for your opponent and appreciation for life that is the hallmark of martial arts.

To take things to an even lower level, their juvenile behavior wasn’t done in spite of the UFC’s standards of conduct. The CEO, Dana White, has encouraged cinematic aggression in the participants of his TV show, The Ultimate Fighter, for years.

I know Dana White is a fight promoter. He’s the Michael Bay of professional sports, which is why he was able to grow MMA fighting from a disrespected basement league to a mainstream professional sport. That’s admirable, but in a world dying from stupidity, I hoped the UFC would legitimize mixed martial arts as a higher art form than G.L.O.W., but Dana White abandoned any pretense of that with the Mayweather/McGregor fight.

Truthfully, I shouldn’t have expected Dana White to bring any more integrity to MMA than Michael Bay brought to the Transformers brand, but Mayweather vs. McGregor has already done to MMA, what Michael Bay did to Transformers.

The moral of the story is, I hate watching my culture die, and I just saw another rerun. #FML


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