Hype will collide with reality here Saturday as boxing legend Floyd Mayweather takes on mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor in a battle of combat sport kings tipped to be the richest fight in history.
A little over two months after the fight was confirmed in June, Mayweather and McGregor will touch gloves at Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena in a 12-round boxing contest which will be beamed to more than 200 countries and territories.
Fight promoters have breathlessly talked about the bout surpassing the $600 million (€508 million) generated by Mayweather’s 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao, insisting that interest has been off chart.
“This is the biggest event that has ever happened in combat sports,” said Dana White, the chief executive of MMA’s Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“This fight will reach over a billion homes worldwide.”
Ringside seats were being offered on secondary ticket markets for an eye-watering USD 100,250 apiece as of Thursday, even though some 1,700 seats in the 20,000-capacity venue remained unsold.
Millions of fans across the United States meanwhile are expected to shell out USD 99.95 to watch the fight on pay- per-view television, the most important economic engine of the spectacle.
The sense of anticipation has endured despite an unrelenting chorus of disparagement across the boxing world.
Farce. Freakshow. Circus. Mismatch. Rip-off. Bad for boxing.
It has been impossible to follow the build-up to the fight without being made aware of the near-universal tide of derision.
A cursory glance at the tale of the tape explains the cynicism.
Mayweather, 40, is one of the most skilled boxers of his generation, a master of ringcraft who retired in 2015 after a glittering 21-year career with a perfect 49-0 record.
McGregor, a two-time world champion in UFC, has never boxed professionally and has looked awkward and ungainly during training camp sparring sessions.
He has demonstrated punching power in the UFC, but has never faced an opponent as elusive as Mayweather.
Anything other than a convincing Mayweather win will be regarded as a surprise; a McGregor victory a monumental upset.
Yet the millions who will gladly part with their cash to watch the fight in the arena or on television do not appear to be bothered by the possibility that they may be taken for an expensive ride.
Stephen Espinoza, the head of cable network Showtime Sports which is selling the fight on pay-per-view in the US, said many would tune in on the off-chance of witnessing “something incredible.”
“We did some focus group testing, and the casual fans were absolutely adamant,” Espinoza said. “Their response almost universally was ‘We don’t care if it’s a mismatch. We don’t care if it’s non-competitive — if there’s a .01 chance that something incredible could happen, we need to watch it.’
“And that’s why they’re going to watch it.”
Irrespective of the outcome, the two men at the centre of the action will be laughing all the way to the bank.
If pay-per-view targets are met, Mayweather could earn as much as $200 million, pushing his career earnings towards $1 billion.
McGregor, who four years ago was living off unemployment benefit in Dublin before his emergence as a star of MMA, could pocket $100 million.
A gaudy “Money Belt” is also up for grabs to the winner, comprising 3,360 diamonds, 600 sapphires, 300 emeralds mounted in 1.5 kilos of solid gold and set in alligator leather.
Both fighters engaged in a global publicity tour to drum up interest in the fight last month that was marked by a series of lurid verbal exchanges, ranging from expletives and homophobic slurs to allegations of racism.
Yet a final press conference between the two fighters on Wednesday saw something close to an outbreak of civility, with both men refraining from the trash-talking in a strangely subdued showdown.
McGregor insists that he is ready to stun the sceptics by knocking out Mayweather inside two rounds.
“I will go forward and put the pressure on and break this old man,” McGregor said.
“I don’t see him lasting two rounds. I think I could end him in one round if I want. Everyone is going to eat their words on Saturday.”
A relaxed-looking Mayweather was unfazed by McGregor’s warnings of impending calamity, instead reminding the Irishman that he had faced plenty of explosive punchers through his career — and emerged victorious.
“We can both do a lot of talking, but it comes down to the skills,” said Mayweather, a 1/4 favourite with some bookmakers.
“After 21 years I’ve been hit with everything and I’m still right here. One thing you must know about combat sports, if you give it, you must be able to take it.
“I go out there and do what I do. I’ve been here before and fought many different fighters with different styles.
“There have been plenty of guys who talked a lot of trash, but when it’s all said and done, I came out victorious.”