Gordon Marino, an instructor of philosophy and boxing, views Conor McGregor as an existential threat to the sport he loves.
Marino is an author and a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf who has written about the sweet science for publications including the Star Tribune, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He has coached boxers in Minnesota while teaching Kierkegaard in Northfield.
“Existentialism focuses on individual choices,” Marino said. “That’s certainly a big theme in boxing. People don’t realize that philosophy is a lot like boxing. In both enterprises, people are constantly sparring. You work on an idea for a year, then someone asks you a question and knocks the pins out from under you.”
Saturday night, Floyd Mayweather will fight McGregor in Las Vegas. Marino hopes Mayweather stays firmly upon his pins.
Marino, who coached boxing at Virginia Military Institute, is worried. Boxing lacks star power and on Saturday night the sport’s greatest draw, the 40-year-old “Money” Mayweather, is risking his reputation and perhaps boxing’s future in what promises to be a brawl with McGregor, a mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighting Championship star.
Most analysts give McGregor little chance. He will not be able to use martial arts or wrestling moves on Mayweather. He will have to beat Mayweather with his fists, and Mayweather is one of the great evaders and counterpunches in boxing history.
Still, Marino frets.
“McGregor is an unusual character,” Marino said. “He’s a world-class athlete. He has unusual movements. He’s hard to time. He’s extremely strong and loose-jointed and extremely comfortable with violence.
“I’ve trained fighters to go up against mixed martial artists. The MMA guys almost always lose, but they’re not afraid to lose. Mayweather has so much at stake, he has to be afraid to lose. McGregor seems to think he’s going to win.”
Will Marino watch? “I have been blowing off this fight,” Marino said. “Now I’m getting interested. When I was a growing up, if you wanted to be a badass, you took up boxing. Now it’s MMA. If McGregor can make a fight of it for 12 rounds, that will be bad for boxing. I’ve never rooted for Mayweather before. In this case, I’m hoping for a first-round knockout.”
Boxing thrives when the sport’s biggest names are big names in society. Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were better known than some U.S. presidents around the globe. Mayweather possesses more crossover appeal than any other fighter alive, but he is sometimes more of a showman during weigh-in than during the actual fight.
He bored the world while beating Manny Pacquiao. If he is cautious against McGregor, he will look weak in the eyes of a judgmental sports world.
“Against Pacquiao, his level of inaction was disturbing,” Marino said. “If he does that against this guy, I’m worried about boxing’s health.
“Boxing is always financially dependent to some extent on figures like Ali and Tyson, to bring in the crossover crowd. Mayweather didn’t go for the knockout against Pacquiao, and that hurt the popularity of the sport.”
I interviewed Mayweather in 2007. Rather, I listened to him talk for half an hour. He was so obsessed with his pay-per-view ratings that he said he would tell his maids to turn the dozens of televisions in his Las Vegas mansion to his fights.
He probably didn’t need to boost the ratings. The revenue for the fight Saturday is expected to be about $700 million, with Mayweather taking the lion’s share of an estimate $300 million purse.
Mayweather can be and should be a showman. For the sake of boxing, Mayweather needs to be both dominant and flamboyant Saturday.
“I don’t think McGregor has a chance of winning,” Marino said. “Mayweather is a tremendous counterpuncher. But I have to admit, I’ve become interested. I feel like I have no choice but to watch.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org