Floyd Mayweather in the cage? Not crazy at all

Provided by Esther Lin/Showtime

After nearly 20 years of covering Floyd Mayweather's career, I have finally learned my lesson. Never underestimate the best boxer of his generation inside or outside of the ring.

You might recall -- I do, because I am reminded of it often by smart aleck readers -- that in May 2016, Brett Okamoto, my ESPN colleague who covers MMA, and I were tasked with writing a piece on our views about whether there was a chance that a fantasy boxing match between an unretiring Mayweather and UFC star Conor McGregor could really happen.

There had been a lot of discussion on social media about it and both fighters fed into it but could it really happen?

My response in that piece, in part, was, "This is such a joke but, hey, the bosses said my man Brett and I should discuss it because there are so many people interested in this nonsense that we might as well get the clicks, too. I like talking about real fights, not fantasy silliness that has less chance of happening than Cain-Abel II, or even Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier IV. ... I'll let the rest of the world do mental cartwheels over this nonsense while I stick to real fights. Are we done yet?"

As it turned out, we weren't done. Not by a long shot. In fact, Mayweather and Showtime/CBS ultimately made a deal with McGregor and the UFC and they actually did fight in a boxing match this past August. It sold around 4.4 million pay-per-views domestically and, other than Mayweather's 2015 showdown with Manny Pacquiao, which sold 4.6 million, is the biggest revenue fight in history.

The fight ended as most predicted -- with Mayweather winning easily. He stopped McGregor in the 10th round of a fight in which many (myself included) thought Mayweather carried him for several rounds past when he could have ended matters in order to give the fans a show. The win moved Mayweather to a perfect 50-0 and he once again went back into retirement.

So now that Mayweather is making noise about another comeback, this time to the Octagon for a UFC fight, the question is how serious is he?

As I wrote a few paragraphs ago, I have learned my lesson. I do not underestimate Mayweather. At all. Many will say it's ridiculous. Not me. Like I said, I have learned my lesson.

Mayweather has his stand-up game down pat as a legendary boxer, but there is obviously much more to MMA than just fighting on your feet, which is why Mayweather recently hired UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley to teach him other elements he'll need in an MMA fight. But that could just be for show right?

Maybe but Mayweather's made his strongest comments to date on the topic of going over to UFC when he was interviewed by Showtime's Jim Gray on Saturday night at ringside at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas between fights of a card he was promoting.

While Mayweather, 41, said he would not box again, he made it very clear that he was interested in an MMA fight.

"It is possible I do come back, but if I do come back, it has to be in the Octagon," Mayweather said, even indicating that he would like to fight at about 145 pounds.

Pressed later in the interview if he was serious, Mayweather said exactly what one would expect him to say: "Absolutely. If the money is right. You got to talk to Showtime, CBS. The money is going to be crazy."

And that, my friends, is why nobody should be foolish enough to laugh at Mayweather's discussion of crossing over to MMA the way McGregor did to boxing last summer.

The money would be, as Mayweather noted, crazy. It would be absolutely gargantuan, whether Mayweather faced McGregor on his turf in a UFC fight or somebody else. Mayweather earned more than $200 million to fight Pacquiao and added another $200 million-plus payday to fight McGregor. Those two fights are the No. 1 and No. 2 pay-per-view fights of all time, each selling more than 4 million units.

Now, imagine for a moment, the hype and anticipation of seeing Mayweather in a cage under MMA rules in which he was in serious harm's way of losing? It's a license to print money, which happens to be Mayweather favorite thing.

Mayweather has legions of fans who believe he walks on water and can do anything. Surely, he could stay upright and box his way to a win over an MMA fighter they would think. And then there are probably even more people who would throw down a C-note for that pay-per-view hoping and praying to see somebody kick him in the face, take him down and then bash him in the head repeatedly while on the canvas.

The pay-per-view sales would be off the charts. It very likely would break the record of 4.6 million pay-per-views sold by the fight with Pacquiao.

That would mean another $200 million-plus payday for Mayweather and it could wind up being considerably more, given the spectacle of such an event and the massive worldwide interest in seeing what he could do in the Octagon.

Mayweather has always treasured his perfect boxing record, which now stands at 50-0 with 27 knockouts. His status as an all-time great is set in stone. He beat a who's who of his time, won world titles in five weight classes from junior lightweight to junior middleweight and is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He earned more money than any combat sports athlete in history, and it's not close even without a UFC payday. Mayweather did everything he said he would do and more.

So if he went over to UFC and lost a fight, so what? His boxing record will remain the same, his boxing legacy will remain the same and, like McGregor, he would earn ample respect from the doubters for at least trying to go outside of his comfort zone and daring to be great in another sport.

In other words, Mayweather going over to UFC is not crazy even though there remain complicated negotiations to go through and egos to put in check during the process. But they did it for Mayweather-McGregor. It can be done.

But the end result -- Mayweather in the cage -- is not crazy at all because at his heart, Mayweather is a fighter. He's done it for his whole life. He knows nothing else. And, besides, the man who gave himself the nickname of "Money" would, after all, be playing with house money.