Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr announced Wednesday that he would come out of a two-year retirement to face Irish prizefighter Conor McGregor, a two-division champion in mixed martial arts (MMA).
The bout has been in negotiations all year, with the two hyping the possibility in the media and online.
With 49 victories without a loss in professional boxing, the 40-year-old Mayweather will enter the ring on August 26 for the first time in nearly two years to face McGregor, who turns 29 next month.
The fight in Las Vegas, Nevada, will be contested at 154 pounds (69.85 kilograms).
“IT’S OFFICIAL!!!” Mayweather wrote on Twitter, with a link to an Instagram video promoting the fight.
Critics have ridiculed the bout as a farcical money grab by Mayweather, one of the highest-earning athletes in sports history, to reach 50 wins against an inferior opponent.
McGregor, a skilled kickboxer who has held titles in two weight classes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), has never boxed professionally.
The UFC is the dominant promotion in MMA, a fast-growing combat sport that combines kickboxing, wrestling and submission holds.
In a late Wednesday conference call, UFC President Dana White conceded that McGregor is no equal to Mayweather in “boxing standards” but as a left-handed power puncher poses an unusual threat to his orthodox-stanced opponent.
“Conor McGregor is an absolute knockout artist. When he hits you, you go,” White said.
“It’s part of the fun of this fight. Is Conor McGregor in a 12-round fight going to be able to touch Floyd Mayweather?”
Boxing and MMA are regulated equally by state governments across the United States, and the Nevada State Athetic Commission will oversee the Mayweather-McGregor bout.
While a prohibitive underdog against Mayweather, some of McGregor’s supporters argue that his youth, size advantage and massive knockout power could be a threat to the man considered the best defensive boxer of his generation.
“The fight is on,” McGregor tweeted.
A raucous throng of supporters follows the brash, heavily tattooed Irishman, who has become the biggest pay-per-view draw in MMA. His recent fights have all sold upward of 1 million pay-per-views, according to media reports.
Mayweather’s May 2015 match with Manny Pacquiao obliterated pay-per-view records with 4.6 million sales in North America and was the most lucrative bout in history, but he has only topped the 1-million mark against charismatic opponents.
“This is such an unprecedented event, such a spectacle, that all of a sudden people who have never really been interested in MMA or boxing are interested in this event due to the nature of the competition and the nature of these two personalities,” said Stephen Espinoza, head of Showtime Sports, Mayweather’s television partner.
“That’s an untapped part of the market that not even Mayweather-Pacquiao touched.”
McGregor stands 1.75 metres with a reach of 1.88 metres, with a career record of 21-3.
He captured the UFC lightweight (155 pounds, 70.3 kilograms) championship in November, and previously held the promotion’s featherweight (145 pounds, 66 kilograms) belt.
McGregor has fought as heavy as welterweight (170 pounds, 77.1 kilograms), where he suffered his only loss in the UFC, a submission to choke in March 2016 to Nate Diaz.
Mayweather, who in 2012 served 87 days in jail after repeated convictions domestic violence and battery against women, has held titles from 130 to 154 pounds (59 to 69.85 kilograms).
Agreeing to the higher weight could be a significant concession to the larger McGregor, who has appeared depleted at 66 kilograms in his career. Mayweather gives up 2 centimetres in height and 5 centimetres of reach to the Irishman.
Asked if the fight could gross 500 million dollars, Leonard Ellerbe, chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, said: “Why not?”
McGregor is “the biggest star in their sport” with one-shot knockout power, he said.
Mayweather is “putting it all on the line” and risking his legacy against a novice boxer, Ellerbe conceded.(dpa/NAN)