The buzz is getting louder, and the reality of another major boxing-MMA crossover event seems more likely by the day.
But who will be involved? Could it be a rematch between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, which was an incredibly successful venture the first time it happened, in 2017? They've certainly been talking about it for a while. There has also been a lot of chatter about a fight between McGregor and Manny Pacquiao, with both fighters seemingly game to make it happen. Khabib Nurmagomedov's name has also been dropped into the mix as a potential opponent for Mayweather.
Amid all of those conversations, we decided to do a crossover of our own, putting together a panel of ESPN's MMA and boxing efforts to drill down on the most pressing questions. Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim, Nick Parkinson, Steve Kim and Ben Baby checked in to give the clearest picture of all things having to do with McGregor, Pacquiao, Mayweather and Nurmagomedov.
Real or not: The UFC will let McGregor box again
Raimondi: I believe, under the right set of circumstances, the UFC would. McGregor in a blockbuster boxing match only helps the UFC's bottom line, ultimately. When McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather in 2017, it helped lead the UFC to one of the best revenue years the promotion has ever had. After all, the UFC wouldn't just be "letting" McGregor box; the UFC would be co-promoting the event and taking home a ton of profit with very little overhead.
Pacquiao vs. McGregor would not be as big as Mayweather vs. McGregor. That much is clear. It would still be a massive event, arguably bigger than any fight the UFC would have for McGregor with the possible exception of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Pacquiao's international appeal does, in some regions, exceed Mayweather's drawing power.
But it's not 100% a given. While it would be a massive fight, if it doesn't draw as much revenue as Mayweather did and the UFC has other plans for McGregor -- one that includes taking a bulk of the revenue for itself -- it might just not make sense for the promotion.
Does McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje do as well on pay-per-view as Pac-Mac? Surely not, but the UFC is in position to pocket a greater share of revenue for that fight. Then there's the question of who would broadcast Pac vs. Mac. The UFC obviously has obligations with ESPN, but technically this wouldn't be a full UFC production nor MMA. It's sticky. The UFC could certainly let McGregor do the match and it would benefit the promotion on some levels. But there are several obstacles in the way, different ones than what existed prior to Mayweather vs. McGregor getting made, including the unknowns of how a high-cost, pay-per-view fight like that would do during a global pandemic.
Real or not: Pacquiao will finish McGregor earlier than Mayweather
McGregor opens up about potentially boxing Pacquiao
Conor McGregor says there have been talks to box Manny Pacquiao and proclaims he'll win a boxing world title. Order UFC 246 here on ESPN https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
Parkinson: Pacquiao might be 41 (and he'll be 42 in December), but he is still capable of beating elite-level welterweights -- and McGregor is nowhere near an elite-level boxer. Pacquiao has had his setbacks -- getting KO'd by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 being one of them -- and he was below his usual high standards when he lost a disputed points decision to Jeff Horn in July 2017. However, since then, Pacquiao has beaten three opponents better than Horn and shown in those fights -- versus Lucas Martin Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman -- that he can do more than outwork opponents.
If Pacquiao could drop a quality operator and former world champion in Thurman, as he did in the first round in July last year, and stop Matthysse for the WBA world title in July 2018, then it is likely he will comfortably find the openings in an inexperienced boxer such as McGregor. Pac Man dropped Matthysse three times in a seventh-round win, his first KO in almost a decade. Pacquiao might be past his best, but he still has enough left, as his hand speed is still impressive and he has also shown his killer instinct is still intact in his most recent fights.
McGregor might have lasted 10 rounds with Mayweather before an inevitable stoppage three years ago, but it was never close. You got the feeling Mayweather -- the best boxer of his generation -- could have ended it anytime, and sooner, had he wished.
Mayweather deliberately started slowly against McGregor. "Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot his shots early and then take him out down the stretch," Mayweather said. "We know in MMA he fights for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, he started to slow down. I guaranteed to everybody that this wouldn't go the distance."
Pacquiao won't be so patient or obliging. Expect the eight-division world champion to stop McGregor in the first six rounds.
Real or not: Pacquiao-McGregor will sell more PPVs than Mayweather-McGregor
Kim: This event will do well, quite frankly better than most "real" boxing matches would on pay-per-view. McGregor is a legitimate global superstar, as is Pacquiao. So this combination works from this perspective. However, while Mayweather-McGregor did well a few years ago -- very well, in fact, at 4.3 million buys -- the novelty to this type of matchup is not quite the same, nor is the curiosity.
Because Mayweather-McGregor did it first, to a certain degree they caught lightning in a bottle. And while the event was a commercial success, it was panned critically. And you wonder if this time around, the combat sports fan will be a bit more discerning in choosing whether or not to purchase this fight. There is also a reality to deal with in terms of piracy of pay-per-views, especially if the price point is comparable to the $99.95 it cost for the HD broadcast for Mayweather-McGregor.
Real or not: Mayweather vs. McGregor 2 is a better fight than Mayweather-Nurmagomedov
Wagenheim: Trick question. It's like asking whether you prefer your burnt toast with butter or with jam. Regardless of the toppings offered, I'll pass, thank you. There is simply no "better" choice between boxing matches pitting the greatest boxer of his generation against a mixed martial artist with little or no boxing experience. Both options are nothing more than money-grab spectacles of which P.T. Barnum would be proud. There is indeed a sucker born every minute, as the 2017 dance between Mayweather and McGregor showed.
Then again, if you're going to throw a trick question my way, it's only fair that I bounce back a trick answer. I noticed that I was asked which is the better "fight" -- with no specific mention of a "boxing match." So I'll run with that open-ended wording and, in my imaginary booking, allow the combatants to mix in all of the martial arts techniques available to one in a real fight. In that case, Mayweather vs. McGregor has a chance to be the better fight, because McGregor is a striker with loads of self-belief, so he might stand and trade with Mayweather rather than quickly take him to the canvas and beat him to a pulp, as Nurmagomedov would. Either way, though, this "fight" would not go well for Mayweather. Without the Marquess of Queensberry rules to protect him, he'd succumb by either a suffocating Nurmagomedov submission or discombobulating McGregor head kick. And old P.T. smiles again.
Real or not: Pacquiao-McGregor should be a title fight
Baby: Can we please stop making a mockery of the sport? The whole premise of Pacquiao-McGregor is more laughable than Mayweather-McGregor. In the latter fight, Mayweather was looking for a quick payday and another victory to give him 50 wins so he could add another marketing shtick to his portfolio.
But a potential McGregor fight against Pacquiao is even more ridiculous. And that's not even taking McGregor's growing legal problems into account. Pacquiao is a legitimate welterweight world champion. Anyone who watched Mayweather carry McGregor for enough rounds to justify a pay-per-view purchase knows Pacquiao could finish McGregor in a round if he really wanted to.
So no, this shouldn't be a title fight. I'll even go one step further: This shouldn't even be sanctioned.