All things considered, most observers seemed relatively pleased with last month’s super-hyped boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
But, of course, you can’t please everyone.
Count veteran MMA fighter (and former UFC champion) Benson Henderson among those with a very low opinion of the event. Henderson, who currently fights for Bellator MMA, believes the fight was actually a “detriment to mixed martial arts” and hopes it’s not the start of a worrying trend.
“People will start to view us like WWE,” Henderson told ESPN. “You start having freak shows like that — mock contests — and bill them as real? That’s not the way to go.
“Soon, you’ll see fights that are basically worked. ‘Oh, this guy will win, but it will be really close first.’ One guy is carrying the other, for the sake of millions. How close to the edge are we talking to a worked fight? How close to that line do we want to get? Let’s be honest. Let’s call it like we see it.”
A two-weight champion in the UFC, McGregor (21-3) had never boxed professionally prior to last month. Mayweather won the bout via TKO, and reached a landmark 50-0 career record.
The majority of fans and analysts have praised McGregor’s effort. The Dublin native did well early, before fatigue set in. Mayweather went on to dominate the later rounds. The event itself produced the second-largest live gate in combat sports history and is trending well in pay-per-view numbers according to Showtime.
The whole thing didn’t sit well with Henderson (24-7), who says he’s all for fighters making money — but not at the expense of the sport’s image.
“It’s a very slippery slope when you have a world champion boxer fighting an MMA guy for the sake of money, and he can’t knock him out in the first round,” Henderson said. “He has to make sure he carries him a little bit. For me, that’s too close to skirting the edge [of a fixed fight].
“I think Floyd even said that to a certain extent. He threw six punches in the first round. Would you not call that suspect? Make sure it lasts a couple rounds, then put him away whenever you want? That’s detrimental to the integrity of MMA, to people buying a fight thinking, ‘Oh no, this isn’t fake. It’s real. These guys aren’t carrying each other.'”
Henderson, who returns from ACL surgery to face Patricky Freire at Bellator 183 next week in San Jose, California, says he’s generally discouraged by the influx of “loudmouths” in the sport. He admits there’s not much he can do about it, but he doesn’t have to like it.
“For sure it is trending that way, and loudmouths are taking over,” Henderson said. “You’re getting good guys, regular Joe’s, and they’re fighting for an interim belt and all of a sudden they’re showing up with sunglasses indoors and trying to get their personality out. It’s like, ‘No, no. Your personality is the same kid I knew three years ago. You were chill, showed up and did your work.’
“Maybe that is how you get to the ludicrous amount of dollars. Maybe I’m fighting a losing battle. But I’ve got mad respect for people like the Pitbull brothers [Freire’s] because they’re not out talking crap. All of that is watering down the authenticity of our sport. We’re fighters. Stop worrying about showing up in a fur coat. Get out of here with that.”