The Conor McGregor–Floyd Mayweather clash, set for August 26 in Las Vegas, has taken a turn for the ugly over recent weeks. McGregor calling Mayweather “boy” on two separate occasions may seem innocuous to the untrained ear but it has been picked up as a malicious insult across the pond due to its racial connotations within African American society. The Dubliner has vehemently dismissed accusations that he is a racist and Mayweather himself entered rocky territory when he described his adversary as a “faggot”. It needed UFC head honcho Dana White to intervene and state that the issue had been blown out of proportion. All in all, it’s been getting pretty unsavoury.
These barbs, however, are not without precedent in the noble art. Often, boxing is held up as a colour blind sport that ignores dividers like race, religion and politics to bring fighters together, regardless of colour or creed. It would of course be a Utopian view to suggest that this is always the case and for many years great fighters were frozen out of the world title picture for being of a particular ethnicity.
Before their clash in 2008, Bernard Hopkins infamously said to Joe Calzaghe that: “I would never lose to a white boy.” Calzaghe refused to be drawn in by the bate and Hopkins was clearly stirring the pot as he tended to do before fights. In 2001, around the politically charged atmosphere of 9/11, Hopkins threw down the Puerto Rican flag before his bout with Felix Trinidad, so had previous form in this murky area.
Long before this incident, in 1980, Alan Minter was preparing to fight ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler. London’s Minter stated that after 17 years of hard work he “did not intend to lose his title to a black man”. Minter later said he had been misquoted but Hagler retorted that he would make the Englishman pay, which he duly did in a three-round bloodbath. With cuts and lacerations spewing blood across the ring, Minter’s WBC and WBA title reign was emphatically ended but a pumped-up, hostile crowd were only just getting started. Beer bottles, cans and all manner of debris hailed into the ring as Hagler tried to exit as safely as possible after battering the hometown hero.
One of most infamous occasions of blatant racial tension occurred in 1985 and the lead-up to the bout between Mark Kaylor and the recently deceased Errol Christie at Wembley Arena. Tempers flared at an open press conference after Kaylor directed a slur at his opponent and the pair brawled in the street. Later, in 2010, both men spoke with Steve Bunce on live radio and seemingly settled their differences, many years after the offending evening. When the original bout took place, Kaylor prevailed by eighth-round knockout and sent talented Christie’s career into a downward spiral that he would never truly recover from.
Focusing back on the McGregor-Mayweather fight, it would be a sorry state of affairs if it turned out that all of these pantomime antics were simply displayed to sell the fight to the non-boxing fraternity. As outlined above, while it may be the exception rather than the rule, McGregor’s comments depressingly fall into a long line of unsavoury remarks in boxing history.