What Does History Say?
Author:  Paul Hindley

When the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was announced it was my genuine intention to either ignore it, or if that wasn’t possible, sneer at it and treat it with the contempt I, and many other fans think it deserves. However barring last minute disasters or acts of god it appears the fight is going to happen.  As it is happening and is undeniably a huge event it warrants some level of discussion. However rather than taking the usual tack of writing about all the myriad reasons this is a black eye for boxing or the similarly myriad reasons Floyd will win with something to spare I thought it might be interesting to look back and see what, if any, historical precedents there are for such a fight.
The first and obvious thing to say is there are not many. As should go without saying all-time great fighters, even ones recently retired, are not in the habit of taking fights against guys making their professional boxing debut, the obvious flip side of that coin being that guys making their professional debut do not frequently make said debut against undefeated greats of the sport. Given this finding a direct precedent is pretty much impossible. Despite this there have been instances where similar fights have happened or have come within a whisker of doing so.
Perhaps the closest we got to a like for like event was in the 1970s when a fight between heavyweight great Muhammad Ali and basketball star Wilt Chamberlain was mooted. According to Thomas Hauser’s excellent Ali biography Chamberlain was a guy whose ego comfortably matched his prodigious basketball talent and somehow he convinced himself if he trained himself in boxing with the specific goal of fighting Ali and Ali only he would be able to beat the Greatest. His thinking was as a guy who stood 7ft 1 tall he enjoyed pretty much every physical advantage over Ali and so it followed he should be able to develop a game plan to beat Ali in a one off event.
According to Hauser’s biography Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee saw this for the egotistical nonsense it clearly was, but also saw it as some of the easiest money Ali would ever make. Unbelievably this fight got as close as to nearly having contracts signed. On the day of the signing Angelo Dundee was begging Ali to keep quiet as he knew any showboating or histrionics could bring Wilt to his senses. Unfortunately Ali was a showman and when the gigantic Chamberlain walked into the signing Ali stood up and greeted him with a shout of TIMMMMBER! This was apparently sufficient to bring Wilt to his senses and he walked away from the fight, taking with him a $3m dollar pay day for Ali.
However the aborted Chamberlain fight was not to be Ali’s last brush with cross sport bouts. By the mid to late seventies Ali was becoming increasingly aware of two things. The first was he didn’t have long left in the sport of boxing. The second was that he was spending money a damned sight quicker than he was earning it. As such get rich schemes and seemingly easy paydays were extremely attractive, no matter how hare-brained they sounded on paper. In this spirit in 1976 Ali signed to have a fight against Antonio Inoki, a great of the booming Japanese wrestling scene. The rules of the fight were to be Ali would box and Inoki would wrestle, one could view the fight as a precursor to MMA as practiced by McGregor.  When the fight actually came to pass it quickly descended into farce. Inoki realised if he stood his ground with Ali sooner or later Ali would land one of his bigger punches and it would be game over for him. To avoid that eventuality at the start of each round he threw himself on the ground and scuttled round the ring kicking Ali in the shins, for round after tedious round. Ali having no wrestling experience or idea how to counter this aimlessly followed him round in surely the most unedifying and humiliating spectacle of his long and glorious career.
Perhaps the event in the sport most comparable to the Mayweather McGregor fight can be found some years before Muhammad Ali during the title reign of Floyd Patterson and his title defence against Pete Rademacher. Rademacher was an Olympic champion, winning heavyweight gold at the 1956 Olympics.  What made his title challenge to Patterson so unusual is he was making his professional boxing debut in the fight. 1956 was the early days of the Cold War and in snatching gold over a strong Russian team Rademacher became something of an overnight sensation. In a country looking for a hero Rademacher was perfect, a farm boy who grew up in rural America, he served in the army and was a high school football star. He was almost a poster boy for the American Dream. Whilst Patterson did not particularly pursue the fight, when Rademacher’s backers offered him $250,000 dollars both Patterson and his trainer Cus D’Amato knew it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Patterson was, or at least could have been a terrific fighter. His problem was he was a small heavyweight operating in the era before the cruiserweight division. What this meant is whilst he was a terrific stylist he was simply too small to be effective as a heavy. Despite all this he was still far too much for Rademacher and he won the fight comfortably, stopping the overmatched Rademacher in six fairly one sided rounds.   Patterson did go down in the second, but opinion differed over whether it was a knock down or a slip. No such debate was had over the seven times Rademacher visited the canvas, before he was mercifully put out of his misery.
Floyd Patterson is nowhere near the fighter his namesake is. He certainly doesn’t make anybody’s heavyweight top ten and for what my opinion is worth it would be a fairly generous reading of his career that got him in a top twenty, and he beat Rademacher with relative ease. It should also be remembered Rademacher was an Olympic champion; he was coming into the fight with a level of amateur experience and success Conor can only dream of. If he can’t make a competitive fight against a fighter of Patterson’s ability one has to have genuine concerns about Conor’s ability to do so against Mayweather, who will almost certainly be remembered as an all-time great.
So what does this all mean for the forthcoming Mayweather fight? What it means is whatever the hype or the press conference shenanigans the omens are not good.  If we look to the Ali Inoki fight for an indication we have a farce, if we look to the Patterson Rademacher fight we have a mismatch. Whilst the fight may well be hugely profitable for the participants if history has taught us anything it is that the event is unlikely to be one we look back on with any great fondness in years to come, and there are very good reasons events of this nature happen with such limited frequency.