Financial flaunting masks insecurity of fight game

The imminent meeting of Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas, and the inexorable awfulness of the build-up, may have scaled new heights of nonsense but Sin City and the fight game have always been perfectly in step when it comes to the art of show business and bluster and the business of making money.

Financial flaunting masks insecurity of fight game

It’s 62 years since the first prize fight of any real import was held in what was still closer to a one-horse town than the lurid but alluring metropolis that exists today.

It took place at Cashman Field in early May of 1955 and it paired the legendary Archie Moore with a not-quite-great Cuban by the name of Nino Valdes.

The promoter Jack Kearns called it the ‘Nevada World Heavyweight Title’ fight.

Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspan, who helped organise the fight, went all in. It was, he crowed, according to Prizefighting: An American History: “the greatest event for the town since the government started using the area for the atom bomb tests’.

It was actually an eliminator for the right to challenge Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight belt.

Still, as hooks go, Greenspan’s was a doozy.

The attendance was disappointing apparently, nothing like the officially claimed 10,800. Jim Braddock, whose story was told on screen half a century later with Russell Crowe in the eponymous role as The Cinderella Man, was referee and sole judge.

He scored it in favour of Moore, the world light heavy champion, over Valdes who was the No.1 heavyweight contender.

The crowd, such as it was, booed. Valdes broke down in tears. His manager Bobby Gleason labelled it “burglary”, accusing the authorities of a double cross and machinations designed to prevent his man from getting a shot at the title. Associated Press said that Moore had “closed fast to win the decision”.

United Press reported that Braddock penalised each man a round for low blows and, though there was no knockdowns, both were forced into retreats in a grinding but engaging bout. Moore bled from the nose and mouth and his eye was swollen. By the 13th of 15 rounds, Valdes’ left eye was almost shut and fatigue had taken hold.

And with that, boxing had a foothold in the desert.

New York’s status as the centre of boxing’s universe wouldn’t be challenged until the 1970s when Caesars Palace bigwig Clifford Perlman began working with Don King and the pair conspired to host fights between the likes of Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Ken Norton in the oasis of excess.

The figures involved continue to multiply as the years go by.

The take at the gate when Moore saw off Valdes was (a disputed) $102,000. The most expensive seat at the T-Mobile for McGregor-Mayweather would set somebody back that and another $5,000 on top. Although, with 7,000 tickets left unsold last Tuesday, it seems some things haven’t changed since ’55.

Nor have the risks to those involved.

Making it out of a career in the ring with your wits about you may be first priority but close behind it is the desire to hang up the gloves with finances intact. Neither of this weekend’s protagonists need a history lesson in just how difficult it is to make it from retirement to the last bell with a tale that doesn’t provoke pity.

Archie Moore was counted out for the last time in 1998, his life ending in a San Diego hospice when he was in his eighties. His career spanned close to three decades. The only man to face Marciano and Ali — he was knocked out by both — he trained the likes of George Foreman and found success as an actor for TV and film.

Valdes was less fortunate. Forced to retire in 1959 due to eye problems, he left Cuba after the Castro revolution, worked as a security guard and a bouncer and died in poverty in a New York tenement in 2001. His is the sort of cautionary tale that continues to proliferate in boxing and no amount of noughts on the end of a cheque can ward it off.

It is a spectre that haunts even McGregor and

Mayweather.

The Irishman has spoken time and again about the hardships he faced when earning a pittance on the dole in Dublin. So much so that he has named his luxury yacht the ‘188’, the amount he received per week, as a reminder. His mantra since the early days of his UFC career has been to ‘get in, get rich and get out’.

Like McGregor, Mayweather has been photographed posing with wads of dollar bills. It is a constant flaunting of excess that screams of insecurity. McGregor was quick to pick up on it when asked about reports that Mayweather could owe the IRS millions of dollars in unpaid back taxes from 2015.

“That’s gotta sting,” he said. “He shoulda paid his taxes and stayed retired and kept my name out of his mouth.”

Speaking to TMZ Sports on LA’s Rodeo Drive, McGregor had already admitted that he was “blowing f***ing loads” of cash but that he would ultimately prove to be far smarter with his riches than the man known as ‘Money’.

Only time will tell.

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