Pre-Fight Thoughts: Floyd Mayweather -vs- Conor McGregor
Like a lot of people, I never actually thought we would get to the point where anyone from the UFC would be squaring off against Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring. Even the gravitas and marketability of Conor McGregor seemed insufficient to capture the interest of boxing's most profitable fighter. As with many things involving Conor McGregor, the impossible becomes reality — this is actually happening. When the initial announcement was made, it took me a little while to truly believe it; the notion of Floyd coming back for a big money fight was not far fetched, but fighting an 0-0 boxer coming from another sport was not something I ever expected.
One of the reasons this fight seemed so implausible was the fact that McGregor, while extremely successful in the sport of MMA, has exactly zero professional boxing matches to his name. To the casual outsider, this may not seem like a big deal. "He's a professional fighter, and boxing is part of MMA" — what does it really matter, anyway? Well, theoretically it should have mattered to the Nevada Athletic Commission, who have many times refused to sanction boxing matches due to clear disparities in experience between the fighters. While it is no surprise that the rules do not seem to apply to a big money fight, the fact remains that the commission is responsible for the safety of the fighters and, on paper, this is a terrible mismatch.
This brings me to another problem with this match up, in that it is practically impossible to discuss — with any degree of nuance — with casual fans, due to the polarising nature of both fighters and their personalities. The lack of prior boxing matches for McGregor means that any discussion pertaining to his performance in this fight is based on speculation, the vague inferences one can make based on watching his MMA fights and, unfortunately, a whole lot of personal bias. Make no mistake about it, anyone earnestly picking Conor McGregor to defeat Floyd Mayweather is making an emotional pick, not one based on any real evidence as to the Irishman's in-ring capabilities.
It should be stated that Conor is absolutely an elite MMA fighter. He is by no means in the conversation for Greatest Of All Time, but he has achieved incredible success, both financially and in terms of raw performance. This bout frustrates me because I do appreciate what Conor brings to the sport of MMA, and now he's venturing into such a narrow field — and against one of its very best — with, essentially, no time to prepare. The build-up for this fight was only 8 weeks; there is something to be said for Floyd coming back after 2 years off, but Conor McGregor has been afforded no real time to hone whatever pure boxing skills he does possess.
The main talking point of the pro-McGregor fans is that he has a thunderous left hand, and he is unorthodox — his lack of formal boxing experience is a benefit, we are told. This is absurd; while there is, to a very small degree, an inherent unpredictability to novices, this is by no means a significant advantage. An elite boxing veteran like Floyd Mayweather is able to adapt and adjust to whatever he sees his opponent doing, he has made a career out of this. Conversely, this unorthodox behaviour is difficult to adjust, so once it is figured out, the tendencies and flaws exposed, Conor's "style" will be solved and the fight reduced to a mere formality. There is a reason that certain things become fundamentals, it's because they work: unrefined, wild tactics are not some sort of magic bullet.
The argument that, in order to defeat one of the most technically proficient, calculating boxers of the modern era is to essentially not know how to box is absurd — and somehow a common sentiment. Conor's popularity has drawn the attention of a very large contingent of fans who have little-to-no actual knowledge of the sport of boxing, which leads to really bad talking points like the above. Another irritating and oft-repeated lie is that Floyd "has trouble with southpaws."
How exactly does a man whose record reads 49-0 have problems with southpaws when he has spent 21 years fighting some of the very best left-handed fighters? This is a weird myth that has been perpetuated for a long time, the utterance thereof a sign you are talking to someone who really does not know what they are talking about. Floyd Mayweather has been able to shut down everyone he has faced, whether they fought orthodox or southpaw; he is not going to be flustered by an unpolished rookie with a sinister plan.
The marketing for this fight has been impressively successful, given there is absolutely no pretense: it's called "The Money Fight," and they are fighting for a gaudy, revoltingly expensive Money Belt. This is a cash grab, and there is no subtlety about it. While purists certainly have a lot to complain about, the enormity of this contest cannot be overstated — it has been impossible to avoid discussions about the fight since the day it was announced. Regardless of whatever the final revenue tallies end up being, Mayweather -vs- McGregor has been huge event — a truly historic event.
While there are aspects of this fight to criticise, the fact remains that it is on pace to do exceptionally good business. The jury is out on whether this is a good thing for boxing or MMA, as a lot depends on how the fight plays out. For the UFC, the worst case scenario is their top star earns a sizeable paycheque to take a serious, uncompetitive beating on the biggest stage available. Should Conor shock the world and somehow defeat Mayweather, he will likely go down in the history books as the biggest combat sports star of all time. The latter is exceedingly unlikely, but not impossible.
Many people have mentioned the possibility that Conor, seeing that he has no chance to win the fight, somehow gets himself disqualified — rather than take an honest L on his record. I don't really want to give this possible outcome much thought; I would like to think, as potentially misguided as this may be, that there would be serious repercussions to such a spectacle. I highly doubt McGregor will forget the ruleset he is competing under and throw a kick.
This brings me to another point about McGregor's chances, and the perceptions of what kind of fighter he is. Throughout his MMA career, McGregor's game uses a lot of kicks to maintain his preferred range and damage his opponents' bodies. This is the most significant reason I give him almost no chance to win a boxing match against Mayweather, the lack of his preferred means of keeping distance. Secondly, his vaunted left hand is typically not a one-and-done type of punch, Conor lands precise, hard punches, but typically needs to accumulate damage to put people away. Hitting Mayweather once is difficult but doable, expecting to land consistently and flush is a tall order to fill.
My expecation is that Conor will be energetic and entertaining for the first few rounds, as both fighters soak in the tension and assess one another. Conor may have some meager early success, but Floyd's veteran savy and finely tuned understanding of the science of boxing will allow him to dictate every relevant aspect of the fight. Mayweather stood right in front of a vicious puncher in Canelo Alvarez and not only took almost no damage but beat the man up in the process. I expect no different in Conor's case, unorthodox style or no. I think Mayweather has a good chance of earning a TKO, actually.
Mayweather is known as a point fighter and rightly so, given the fact he has moved up 5 weight classes and has fight elite competition. Top tier fighters are difficult to finish, Mayweather has had documented problems with injuring his hands, and power doesn't tend to translate to higher weight classes. What he lacks in brutal finishes, Mayweather makes up for in technically brilliant performances that saw him take very little damage and win clear victories over everyone he faced. Conor may throw a lot of wild punches, and his fans may feel he is winning — because all they know is MMA — but Floyd will be blocking all of them and scoring points and earning rounds.
The reason I think Mayweather could earn a TKO victory is due to McGregor's conditioning. Conor's style is very energy intensive, and his impressive finishes are a product of this; when he is able to dictate the pace and the rage, Conor is able to quickly and mercilessly beat his opponents unconscious. However, the longest MMA fight Conor has fought was 25 minutes, and he was signficantly winded approximately half-way through that fight. To McGregor's credit, he was able to fight smart, find ways to rest, reset, and maintain his composure and won a majority decision. Still, when Nate Diaz stopped him it was after he punched himself out. McGregor's defence is little more than biting down on his mouthpiece and relying on his impressive chin — and when he gets tired this fails quickly. I would not be surprised to see Floyd work the body shots and earn a stoppage with one.
I am looking forward to the conclusion of this fight. It has been quite the spectacle, watching the build-up to this freakshow exhibition match, and I am going to be happy to put it behind me. There hasn't been much to truly talk about, the whole contest is largely an appeal to emotion — albeit a very effective one. No matter what, the result of the main event will be talked about for a long time; the post-fight anlysis will be at least as excessive as the pre-fight machinations. I'm hoping for a relatively uncontroversial outcome, while the chaos of a McGregor win would be something to behold, I am not expecting any miracles — I see Mayweather cashing the biggest, easiest cheque of his career.
Published: August 26th, 2017.