Style vs. substance
When Mayweather-McGregor dwarfs USA wrestling drama, a priority assessment is needed
Last Saturday, two of the toughest men on the planet took center stage and, with the pressure on, delivered the performances of a lifetime.
No, this isn’t about Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. Some eight hours before the self-proclaimed ”Fight of the Century” transpired in Las Vegas, American wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder were capturing gold medals half a world away in Paris. As a result, the United States — by a single point in dramatic fashion — secured its first world freestyle team championship in 22 years.
Thus marked an awkward, yet sadly fitting, juxtaposition. In one corner, we were begging for Mayweather-McGregor action and hoping their bout would somehow live up to advanced billing. Enthusiasts were desperately throwing their hard-earned money, hand over fist, at an admittedly dicey pay-per-view transaction.
In the other, a team of unassuming and hard-working American athletes — led by Burroughs and Snyder, true titans in their sport — were making history on an obscure sports channel (does anyone know where NBC Sports Network is located?) to very little fanfare.
I tried to find coverage of the United States’ return to freestyle wrestling glory at ESPN. Nothing on SportsCenter. Not a hint or link on the website. And then I remembered that the ”Worldwide Leader” in sports didn’t even nominate Snyder — the first active NCAA wrestler ever to capture an Olympic gold medal last summer — for its college male athlete of the year category a few months ago.
Snyder and Burroughs — the new and old lion in a sport that requires just as much commitment and discipline as boxing or mixed martial arts — are real stars. And real men. They’re the kind of athletes we should be admiring and future wrestlers should be emulating. No, they aren’t necessarily flashy or flamboyant. No, they won’t sell their respective souls for publicity or personal gain.
While Mayweather and McGregor incessantly talk the talk, Snyder and Burroughs quietly walk the walk. Yet rather than doing our part to ensure the popularity of the latter, sports fans lazily succumb to the manipulation of the former.
An estimated 50 million people made a conscious choice to watch Mayweather-McGregor in some capacity, including well over four million pay-per-view purchases at $100 a pop. Both fighters will easily clear nine figures before all is said and done. And ESPN did its part to fan the flames of the event, with wall-to-wall coverage before, during and after the matchup.
I could take it all to task from a supply-and-demand standpoint, admitting that we enabled two astute showmen to ”entertain” us as they both laughed all the way to the bank. But this is a good time to beg the question: were we really that enamored with the idea of Mayweather vs. McGregor, or merely conditioned to believe it was must-see TV? Was it worthy of the hype, or simply a product of its environment, sold to the general public as a freak show of sorts between two caricatures who would say or do anything to promote themselves and make a buck? And what if the World Wrestling Championships, for instance, received the same level of pre-event attention and exposure?
Everyone knows Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. Most casual sports fans couldn’t pick Kyle Snyder or Jordan Burroughs out of a lineup. That’s a sad commentary on either our perceived values, what we actually value, or a combination of both.
Maybe someday, consumers will wise up and be more selective about the kind of sports coverage they demand. Maybe someday, we’ll not only expect more from our providers, but also, ourselves.
There are bad habits we must break first, but it can be done. Snyder and Burroughs are, relatively speaking, just as captivating as Mayweather or McGregor in their arena — and much better people to boot. Wrestling is an intense, thrilling sport to watch.
I’m not expecting the roles to be completely reversed someday, but now is a good time to take inventory of our entertainment. Snyder and Burroughs deserve to be every bit the athletic icons we’ve allowed Mayweather and McGregor to become. It’s up to us to make it happen.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MessengerSports