Conor McGregor Has Stretched The Great White Hope Dynamic Beyond Its Limits

In 1996, Samuel L. Jackson played a turban-wearing, conniving character named Reverend Fred Sultan, who was the prototype shady boxing promoter in the movie The Great White Hype. 

After a fight that became a financial flop featuring his undefeated Heavyweight champion of the world, James “The Grim Reaper” Roper, played by Damon Wayans, a concerted effort was made to pit him against a white challenger who could stoke the country’s racial animosities and make a windfall of cash in the process.

The Great White Hype – The Best Line of the Film

The best line of the film.

The crux of Sultan’s plan is that if no suitable white contender is available then he will create one, even if there is no viable chance of him winning. 

Fast-forward to 2017, where life has truly begun to imitate art in boxing. Neophyte boxer and current mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor has convinced the world that he is the one man who can eliminate the ‘0’ that sits proudly behind Floyd “Money” Mayweather’s record. With no proof other than his unique striking abilities as an MMA fighter and the belief that boxers are limited due to only training one segment of combat, many have cosigned a bout that at best seems comical.

Mayweather – McGregor: Fight of the Century?

In this instance, however, it is McGregor that has done the race-baiting, calling Mayweather “boy” and joking about the stereotyped hyper-sexuality of black women. Although he and Mayweather both went the dramatic “heel” route of caricatured combat villainy, McGregor has indeed won the public over with his over-the-top signature cocky white rage and confidence.

Jack Johnson Vs. James J Jeffries (July 4th, 1910)

The “Fight of the Century” In 1910, former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement and said, “I feel obligated to the sporting public at least to make an effort to reclaim the heavyweight championship for the white race. . . .

However, throughout history, the “great white hope” dichotomy has been employed to sell hype and divide the audience into a white vs. Black face-off for competitive dominance. Going as far back as the notorious Jack Johnson, America’s first Black world heavyweight champion, the promotion of race representatives facing off to prove superiority has been around. 

Johnson, who was the Colored World Heavyweight Champion in 1903, changed the course of boxing when he defeated Tommy Burns five years later to become the overall heavyweight king.     

White America clamored for a white contender that could dethrone the cocky world champion with a penchant for dating white women. The clamor for Jim Jeffries, the undefeated retired former heavyweight champion, to come out of retirement reached a fever pitch. Jeffries returned to the ring to satiate the masses, seeking to quell the indefatigable mystique of Johnson. 

It was billed at the “Fight of The Century”. Jeffries, who was known for his knockout power, was TKO’d in the 15th of a scheduled 45 rounds. John L. Sullivan, comparable to a Dana White styled promoter today, pushed the racial envelope and although a financial success, the outcome would spark race riots across the country in the aftermath.

This was the height of the Jim Crow era south and the racial powder keg was ever ready to erupt, but the passion derived by the fans for polarizing figures that can prove which side is better became a common selling point. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, dubbed the “Battle of The Century” during World War II, and Rocky Marciano’s defeat of Louis exemplify the dynamic.

Muhammad Ali vs Jerry Quarry 2 knock out TKO

Muhammad Ali vs Jerry Quarry 2 knock out TKO

Like Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali was the original master marketer in boxing. After defying the U.S. Selective Service by refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War, the icon we know today was lambasted and shunned. So it was no wonder that when his reinstatement came, the great white hope came in the form of Jerry Quarry, which was his first fight upon his return. Ali won after three rounds due to Quarry being cut. They fought two years later and Quarry lost via technical knockout.

The most infamous version of the narrative came when Larry Holmes fought Gerry Cooney on June 11th, 1982. Cooney was an undefeated number 1 contender and an Irish-American. Due to the two both receiving $10 million purses, even though Holmes was the WBC heavyweight champion,  Holmes lashed out, saying that if Cooney wasn’t white, he would not be getting the same purse as the champion. Racial animosities were high with news bibles like Sports Illustrated and Time placing Cooney on their covers, even though he was the challenger. 

Larry Holmes vs Gerry Cooney (High Quality)

11th of June, 1982……………Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada WBC Heavyweight World Championship

On fight night, Holmes was even introduced first when boxing tradition dictates that the champion is introduced last.

The bout was held in a 32,000-seat stadium erected in a Caesar’s Palace Parking lot, with millions more watching around the world. Holmes dropped Cooney with a right in the second but Cooney came back well in the next two rounds, jarring Holmes with powerful left hooks. After a fight that saw Cooney deliver low blows and have points deducted, in the thirteenth, a flurry of punches sent Cooney down. His trainer, Victor Valle, stepped into the ring and stopped the fight. 

Gerry Cooney, who had knocked out Ken Norton to get the title shot, was 25-0 when he faced Holmes that night. 

With McGregor debuting against the best defensive boxer in history, it can be said that the deeming of this fight as “The Money Fight” is extremely appropriate. 

Conor McGregor’s Dad Says Fight vs. Floyd Mayweather Is Not About Race | First Take | July 12, 2017

The First Take crew debates Conor McGregor’s dad saying his fight against Floyd Mayweather is not about race.

What started as a boxing vs. MMA debate became something different via the rhetoric employed during the International Press Tour, which just ceased last Friday. 

With Mayweather coming out of retirement for this fight, one must ask, has the great white hope dynamic just been stretched beyond its bounds?  

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