After months of hype, speculation, trash-talk, mind games and bravado, arguably the biggest fight in combat sports history is now upon us as UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor crosses over to the boxing ring to fight one of the best to ever compete in ‘The Sweet Science’, Floyd Mayweather, and it’s now time for both men to either put up or shut up in the ring on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Mayweather has been the overwhelming favorite from the start, and rightly so as he’s gone undefeated in 49 professional boxing fights against the best the sport has to offer during a career spanning over two decades, marking him out as the best boxer of his generation.
‘Money’ has repeatedly laughed off the idea that an untested fighter in the ring like McGregor has any chance of winning and has vowed to finish him inside the distance.
That’s a notable line in the sand, because even Mayweather himself has acknowledged that if McGregor can make it to the final bell then that will be a moral victory both for him and the sport of MMA, regardless of whether he goes on to win or loses on the scorecards.
With that in mind it’ll be interesting to see how Mayweather approaches the fight as he’s not known as a devastating knockout artist. In fact, ‘Money’ has only notched up one stoppage victory in the past 10 years, and that came eight fights ago when he sucker punched Victor Ortiz as they reset after an intentional headbutt from his opponent.
McGregor has made much of Mayweather’s ‘brittle hands’ in the pre-fight build-up, and indeed they are well known to have been susceptible to injury over the years, but the boxing superstar’s lack of knockouts in the second half of his career can also be attributed to a step up in competition, and just as signicicantly, a series of step-ups in weight, with his power diminishing as he did so.
However, that hasn’t been to his detriment in the ring, as he’s been able to rely on the fact that he’s the best defensive boxer of all-time, with his technically perfect shoulder roll defense, speed, reactions and boxing IQ meaning that even greats like Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez and Shane Mosley have struggled to land consistently against him, helping him to maintain his unblemished record.
With that in mind, how can McGregor stand a chance when many of an MMA fighter’s most dangerous weapons, like kicks, knees, elbows, takedowns and submission moves are not only illegal, but would result in the Irish sensation facing astronomical fines?
The good news for McGregor is that his hands have always been his most dangerous weapon anyway, with almost all of his 18 career knockouts in MMA having come by way of punches.
He most certainly has fight-ending power, particularly with his razor-sharp left hand, but much has also been made about the awkward, unorthadox angles that MMA fighters have a tendance to throw from that could catch Mayweather off-guard.
There’s definitely some merit to that as Mayweather has already proven beyond any doubt that he can deal with anything thrown at him by traditional boxers, who are trained to fight in a way that he is a master at reading and reacting to, having spent his life in the gym.
Perhaps someone less predictable with an unfamiliar style could stand a better chance to catch him by surprise, and if so then McGregor is the perfect candidate as he is somewhat of a unique case even within MMA in that he’s remarkably accurate when throwing from those odd angles, has a knack for picking out the right shot at the right time and lands with power.
McGregor will also be the significantly bigger man, well north of 160lbs on the night, while Mayweather probably won’t even attempt to get above the 154lb limit they both have to tip the scales at on Friday.
‘The Notorious’ also has a 1″ height and 2″ reach advantage, the latter of which is somewhat significant given that Mayweather generally enjoys the advantage of a longer reach than his opponents.
That extra few inches will come in handy for McGregor, as he’s used to fighting at a longer distance than a traditional boxer due to requiring more space to throw kicks and defend takedowns in MMA.
At closer range, Mayweather likes to clinch to break up the action if he feels in danger or wants to stifle his opponent’s offense, but here McGregor’s MMA experience could prove invaluable as he’ll have the superior size and technique to rough his rival up and make him uncomfortable enough to think twice about continuing to utilize that tactic.
Of course there’s no extended clinches in boxing, so those moments are likely to be fleeting – though the referee isn’t known to be a particularly hands-on official, which could work in McGregor’s favor.
McGregor’s size advantage could come at a cost however, as there have been questions about his cardio in the past, specifically when he stepped up to 170lbs on short notice to fight Nate Diaz last year.
McGregor went all out for the finish in the early rounds in that encounter, but having originally been training for a 155lb fight, he struggled to maintain that pace, enabling Diaz to take over and become the first UFC fighter to finish him, albeit via submision rather than strikes.
However, McGregor showed he could fight successfully at that weight in their rematch, going the full 25 minutes with Diaz and emerging victorious, and it seems he’s left no stone unturned to get himself in peak physical condition for his first-ever 12 rounder against Mayweather.
Still, Mayweather’s cardio has always been one of his strengths, and I believe he’ll be strategically planning to tire McGregor out, using his defensive skills in an attempt to let ‘The Notorious’ punch himself out in the early rounds, while also targeting his body to further take the wind out of his sails.
Mayweather will be hoping that those body shots take their toll, allowing him to then come on strong in the later rounds and put McGregor away.
That would be Mayweather’s best chance of ending McGregor’s night, and it’s worth noting that he has finished opponents by way of body shots earlier in the his career.
However, keep in mind that former two-weight world champion Paulie Malignaggi adopted a similar strategy in his infamously heated 12-round sparring session with him recently. Despite that, ‘The Notorious’ still managed to come on strong in the final two rounds, looking relatively fresh based on the short video clips that leaked, and indeed landing his best shots of the contest.
In all fairness, the recently retired Malignaggi is not a patch on Mayweather and was out of shape, but there is reason to believe that McGregor could go the distance with a 40-year-old version of his counterpart.
So, when all is said and done, I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility that McGregor could hurt Mayweather with his dangerous left hand at some stage in the fight, but I suspect even if he did he’d struggle to find the follow-up punches against ‘Money’s’ defense and ringcraft to secure a finish.
Meanwhile, Mayweather could find success going to the body and may take some of the wind out of McGregor’s sails, but I think he’ll ultimately have to settle for consistently landing the cleaner shots and generally outboxing the UFC star over the course of 12 rounds to earn a decision that will secure his 50-0 legacy, while also enabling McGregor to hold his head high afterwards, knowing that in the Octagon his rival wouldn’t have made it out of the first round.
Floyd Mayweather to win by decision.