It is no coincidence the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor promotional tour was scheduled during the MLB all-star break and a week after NHL and NBA free agency opened. During the typically-slow period, the sports world has been taken over by the string of press conferences. The second leg of the four-city, three-country media tour and travelling circus came to Toronto on Wednesday. The event and the fans did not disappoint.
(Warning: This recap references some of the strong language from Wednesday’s press conference. Some readers may find it offensive.)
Here are my takeaways on one of the most dynamic sporting spectacles I’ve been a part of — even though it wasn’t even a sporting event.
Canada stepped up
Canada, really Irish Canadians, showed up in droves. The crowd was rowdy and overwhelmingly in favour of McGregor.
The fight is still six weeks away but there was a palpable fight-night tension in the air at the Budweiser Stage. The culture around the event was part concert, part comedy show (or roast of Floyd) and part title fight. What it did not feel like and resemble was a press conference. There were skirmishes in the stands. There was a performance by newly signed OVO artist and Torontonian, Baka Not Nice. Even the “6 God” himself, Drake came out to intro the event.
The next stop of New York is not even in a different time zone but still many locals in the Toronto crowd are making the drive to NYC. It will be hard to live up to the mayhem that was the Canadian stop that blew the LA proceedings out of the water. Not only was the event sold out (unlike the event at Staples Center the day before), but scalpers were selling single lawns seats for $60 and floor seats for $100 two hours before the event started. That type of demand is exactly why Dana White fought for a Canadian stop on the tour.
“I love Canada. Toronto is the New York of Canada. This is where all the media is,” the UFC boss said. “I pushed hard for these guys to come to Canada. They just don’t understand because in boxing they don’t come up here, they don’t understand the fan base up here. I do.”
The Toronto event was initially slated for the Sony Centre but later moved to the Budweiser Stage. Promoters could have put it in the Rogers Centre and it would have still sold out. If this crowd was any indication, the $99 price point for the PPV that was a hot button topic in the USA will not be an issue north of the border.
“Pay your taxes”
The chant of “pay your taxes” was a common refrain from the pro-McGregor audience. The chant is in reference to the fact that Mayweather allegedly owes more than $20 million to the IRS in back taxes, a claim the champ has (not surprisingly) refuted.
There was no “F— You” pinstripe suit in Toronto, but McGregor once again looked dapper in another tailored blue three piece.
Instead Conor led off with a “(Expletive) the Mayweathers” chant. McGregor has a House of Cards, Frank Underwood element to his persona where he can be a hilarious jerk but it comes across as charming. That was in full effect on Wednesday night.
“Dance for me, boy”
McGregor was criticized for taunting at Mayweather by saying “Dance for me, boy.” For some, that was racially insensitive; for others, outright racist. Mayweather tried to clarify that he didn’t perceive them as racist.
Either way, McGregor was oblivious or unconcerned with the backlash because he went to the refrain again multiple times. The two contingents of fans, although not nearly the same in size, did signal a racial divide. The “Dance for me, boy” line didn’t land well with many in attendance in multicultural Canada.
Mayweather mistakenly referenced the “Toronto flag” when he meant to seek applause for wearing a Maple Leaf signifying the Canadian flag.
“Oh, and I love what I got on. I’m wearing that Toronto flag. I look good in that Toronto gear,” he said.
Boxing vs. MMA
The division of the two fanbases makes this bigger than Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Many of the arguments in the crowd were about boxing versus mixed martial arts. Both sides are seemingly stuck with no room to budge on their views. It’s a passionate debate about which is the true art form of fighting: the sweet science or MMA. This is a circus and a money grab, but it’s genius in that it’s a conversation starter and could very well end up being be a debate ender. The euphoria for whoever wins won’t just be felt by lovers of the last fighter standing, but an entire sport discipline.
The UFC crowd in attendance was predictably bigger, but more importantly was considerably younger. On the contrary, many in attendance in Toronto who were giving impassioned speeches about the legitimacy of boxing had grey hair. The UFC fighter is the underdog in the ring, but based on the demographics of the crowd, the health of boxing in comparison to the UFC is the true long shot.
McGregor lands laughs
In his pre-press conference media availability (yes there was press time before the press conference) Stephen Espinoza of Showtime scored the first event a draw between the two fighters.
“We are used to talking about adjustments during fights. It will be interesting to see how these guys adjust tonight,” said the man who was the butt of McGregor’s jokes.
I didn’t have the first stop on the tour as a draw, but it was clear to everyone the second round was a knockout for the Irishman.
“He has the ability to say something outrageous without absolute confidence,” Espinoza said. “The Rock had it. Some of the best WWE wrestlers have it.”
It’s fitting he compared the two-division UFC world champ to wrestlers. If Vince McMahon was watching McGregor work the mic and the crowd he’d be salivating to bring him over to the scripted version of ring entertainment. Unlike LaVar Ball, McGregor packs a punch with his lines because they all have an element of truth in them.
Here are some highlights of the cracks McGregor made at Floyd’s expense that would make roast master Jeff Ross and comedian Kevin Hart equally jealous.
Next Up: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Thursday and London’s SSE Arena on Friday. You can find the action streamed live on Sportsnet. Can’t wait.