EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this week we published an article in which we addressed comments made in the press by Floyd Mayweather Jr. In our column, we go all in on Floyd because, well, that’s kind of what we do here at MMA Hot Sauce (we go ALL THE WAY in). But that doesn’t mean we’re not open to counterpoints about subjects we choose to discuss. That being the case, one of our readers, Gustavo Magana, wrote a response to our article and you can read it in its entirety below. Thanks for reading, Gustavo, and extra thanks for composing this column.
Floyd Mayweather’s recent comments about UFC superstar Conor McGregor’s immense success and popularity stemming from being white would carry more weight if a fighter such as Alexander Gustafsson or Georges St-Pierre made them.
At first this seems like a brash reckless statement that undoubtedly makes many readers roll their eyes and automatically see it as “playing the race card.” Such statements are plastered all over the comments section of any article that discusses race, from “black lives matter” to actors discussing discrimination in casting.
“Ronda Rousey, I think she fought somewhere like 11 or 12 fights, which is not a bad thing. Laila Ali went undefeated and was dominating too. After Ronda Rousey fought I think 9, 10, 11 fights, it didn’t even take that long, she got all types of endorsements, movies, and everything. Laila Ali did the same thing in better fashion. Ronda Rousey, she’s a good-looking woman when she put it on. Laila Ali is a drop-dead gorgeous woman; I mean a naturally beautiful woman and can kick ass, but you never heard them [the media] saying when she had I think somewhere around 10, 11, 12 fights that she was the baddest woman to ever fight on the planet. And what’s so crazy, I don’t really know the (Conor) McGregor guy; never seen him fight. I heard his name actually from one of the runners that works for our company. They say he talk a lot of trash and people praise him for it, but when I did it, they say I’m cocky and arrogant. So biased! Like I said before, all I’m saying is this, I ain’t racist at all, but I’m telling you racism still exists.” – Floyd Mayweather on FightHype.com
It is understandable for some readers to feel like this is just another person “playing the race card” when they hear so much about racism in the media, but possibly never experience it themselves first hand. I would ask those with such reactions to stop and think about the history of combat sports and how minority athletes have been treated. Especially when those minority athletes have had to compete against white athletes in boxing.
An early example would be the amount of time it took for a black fighter to even have the chance to fight for the heavyweight title. In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first African American to win the heavyweight title in boxing. It took him years to get the opportunity because nobody wanted to lose to a black fighter. Immediately after Johnson won the title, a frantic search for the “Great White Hope” began to “re-claim” the heavyweight title from the African American fighter.
Fast forward to 1982 and similar racial undertones existed in the fight between Gerry Cooney and Larry Holmes. Cooney was a good boxer from New York, but not great. However, his background as a Caucasian fighter made him much more marketable and popular among fans. The fight with then heavyweight champion Larry Holmes had significant racial implications, something that Cooney was not a fan of nor did he endorse it. Many fans chose sides based on race rather than on skill level.
A direct phone line was reportedly installed in Cooney’s dressing room so that U.S. President Ronald Reagan could congratulate him if he won the fight. Notably, no such phone line was installed in Holmes’ locker room, according to BoxRec.com. Other racial slights that occurred during the lead-up to the fight included Cooney receiving covers on sports magazines over Holmes even though Holmes was the more established and proven champion. Additionally on the night of the fight, Holmes was introduced first, which was disrespectful, given that Cooney was the challenger.
A more recent example of racial animosity arising in a UFC fight occurred when Cain Velasquez challenged Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight title in 2010. One of Lesnar’s comments going into the fight was that he would celebrate Velasquez’s Hispanic heritage by “drinking a Corona and eating a burrito.”
These three stories are merely a few of countless examples in combat sports where a fighter’s race has affected how they were treated, marketed and popularized. Additionally, it is both close-minded and dangerous to disregard any mention of racial favoritism in sports when it is clear that racism in the United States has not been eradicated.
Celebrities such as UFC announcer Bruce Buffer have commented on Mayweather’s remarks and dismissed them as “playing the race card” without considering that in fact they may have more truth to them than they are given credit for.
Without a doubt, Mayweather’s troubled past does not assist his credibility. He has served jail time for domestic violence charges. But honestly, his race is what also causes many to dismiss his comments.
Ponder for a second what the reaction to Mayweather’s comments would have been if they had instead been made by Ronda Rousey, Chuck Liddell or Luke Rockhold. Assuredly, nobody would have accused them of playing the “race card.”
In the same way that many men roll their eyes when a woman discusses gender inequality and dismiss her as some angry man-hating feminist, so too are many quick to dismiss Mayweather’s comments about the fact that racial inequality still exists in America. It permeates everything in our lives from politics to the court system to the entertainment industry.
With this in mind, McGregor is still an amazing athlete who deserves much respect and admiration for the commitment to his craft. Furthermore, his own marketing abilities, fan-friendly style of fighting, and drumming up interest in his fights has contributed greatly to his success. This article in no way attempts to negate those star quality factors that McGregor possesses. Rather, it merely serves to present a different point of view and explanation that race, gender, and many other factors can assist or hurt a fighter in the quest for superstardom.
So I ask you, think about Mayweather’s comments not just from a gut reaction or from the lens of the speaker. Rather, please consider the comments in light of the history of combat sports and the fact that racism is still an issue in the United States, whether we want to accept that fact or not.
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