I’m writing this for my friends who aren’t necessarily boxing fans, but are curious about this weekend’s upcoming boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. It’s received a lot of attention, and will probably sell quite well on pay-per-view. I’ve seen quite a few friends who I know aren’t hardcore boxing fans talking about this match.
Well, here’s a handy primer for the curious:
Floyd Mayweather is a semi-retired 40 year old who has been one of the two or three best boxers (regardless of weight class) over the past 20 years, and is arguably among the 50 greatest boxers ever. He’s 5’7″ish, and has spent most of the last decade fighting as a welterweight (147 pounds). In his later years, he has matured into a fairly low-output, extremely accurate counter-puncher. His defensive acumen is among the best of the last 40 years, and is the primary tool for setting up his offense. He has moderate (but not insignificant) power, underrated physical strength, excellent handspeed, and superb balance. His judgement of timing and distance is maybe the best since Pernell Whitaker made elite fighters look silly 25 years ago. He has demonstrated solid durability and recuperative powers, but he has rarely been tagged cleanly, and hasn’t had to demonstrate that toughness very often.
Floyd has a few weaknesses, but they have yet to force him to officially lose a fight. His punch output is low, he tends to pick his shots carefully, and he starts slowly, often ceding early rounds to otherwise inferior opponents. Owing in part to brittle hands, as well as an aversion to back-and-forth slugging, he is often content to coast late in fights, doing enough to win rounds, but not enough to force a stoppage. Volume and pressure have given him trouble, but usually not for the whole fight. On just two occasions out of forty-nine, a solid argument could be made that he lost or drew with his opponent. The educated pressure and underrated skills of Jose Luis Castillo pushed Mayweather to the brink way back in 2002, when both men were mere lightweights. And more recently, the hyper aggressive caveman style of Marcos Maidana pushed Floyd out of his comfort zone and made for an even fight on my scorecard.
Beyond that, Floyd Mayweather, even two years removed from his last professional bout, would likely be made a significant favorite against almost every boxer currently competing between 140 and 154 pounds. He’s a future hall-of-famer, and one of the greats.
Next up is Conor McGregor…
Conor McGregor is not a boxer.
Okay, that’s it.
I’m kidding. Mostly.
Conor McGregor is an elite mixed martial arts participant. He stands around 5’9″, and has jumped around weightclasses, but has primarily fought at 155 pounds in recent years.
Fighting for the UFC, he has established himself as a talented striker. His boxing skills are considered quite good for MMA, and he had some experience as a teenager in amateur boxing.
That said, Conor has never boxed as a professional. Boxing skills in mixed martial arts don’t translate directly to boxing. The techniques tend to be different, owing (in part) to much different footwork. Boxers don’t need to worry about kicks or wrestling takedowns, so they are able to focus purely on punching (and punch defense) in a way that MMA practitioners aren’t. Boxers are able to “sit down” on their punches, putting significantly greater power into their shots. MMA fighters planting themselves to punch, boxing style, become vulnerable to a leg kick or takedown that would spell trouble.
In addition, the elites in both sports generally take up their craft at young ages, often before puberty. The mental conditioning and muscle memory that is developed from literally growing up with the sport is absolutely essential in separating the good from the special.
Conor boxed some in his teens, but has entirely focused on MMA for the past decade. Meanwhile, Floyd was raised by his father and two uncles – all three being talented pro boxers. Floyd fought as an amateur while still in elementary school. By the time he turned professional in 1996, he had already spent more than a decade in and around the ring.
So all that being said, what should a viewer expect?
Well, this fight will be held in Mayweather’s comfort zone – boxing. If Floyd had agreed to face McGregor in the octagon, this discussion would be a very different one. But this is going to be a boxing match.
So, to any casual fan who may have heard of these guys, but doesnt know all that much detail, let me tell you now – this won’t be competitive. At all.
Floyd Mayweather is more than a decade older, he hasn’t fought in 2 years, and he’s naturally smaller, standing an inch or two shorter, and walking around 20 or 30 pounds lighter.
And none of that should matter.
Mayweather’s last few opponents (save for Maidana) all shared the distinction of being somewhat past their prime when they faced Floyd. And each of those men are now, a few years later, either retired, or basically washed up. And all of them, right now, each old and creaky, would embarrass Conor McGregor in the ring, without much effort.
The difference in applicable skill and experience is going to be too much for the Irishman to overcome. If Floyd is rusty and out of shape, it may be possible that he would start slowly, taking his time, and occasionally appear uncomfortable with Conor’s awkward bumrushing. This might create some false hope among the McGregor fans. But Floyd will be able to get comfortable, find his rhythm, and start making Conor look like… well, a novice boxer. The difference in size and strength will mean little if McGregor can’t get close to Mayweather. After 4 or 5 rounds of swinging and missing, Conor will discover that boxing conditioning is different from MMA conditioning. He’s going to be exhausted, demoralized, and likely eating sharp crosses and hooks every time Floyd allows him to get close.
I would imagine that Floyd, not being in the ring with an elite boxer, will feel safe enough to put on a show. But at some point, he’ll likely get bored of playing matador. He’ll start planting his feet and putting anger into his shots sometime between rounds 3 and 6, depending on his level of interest, and McGregor’s fatigue. Floyd can and likely will choose to end the fight whenever he wants, especially after giving the fans some time to get drunk.
Conor’s only hope may be to take a page out of the Marcos Maidana playbook. Back in 2014, Maidana combined an absurdly high-output attack with strange angles, lots of shoving, and borderline (sometimes clear) fouls to take an early lead and win 5 or 6 total rounds against Floyd, mostly by keeping him off balance and on constant defense.
Conor may want to try something like that, but it’s doubtful he could maintain the sort of frenetic pace that Maidana set. And even Marcos eventually slowed down as the fight wore on. Also, Maidana, despite possessing a relatively crude technique, still owned a decent jab, and had a command of basic boxing footwork. Conor would look far less polished than even the caveman from Argentina.
My record with predictions is a spotty one. Boxing is notoriously unpredictable, and multiple factors can alter the course of a fight. But if I were to make a prediction, I would say Floyd plays defense over the first three or four rounds, juking, dodging, blocking, and in general making Conor swing and miss over and over. Floyd will understand he could open up and drop McGregor pretty much at will, so he’ll restrict his offense to relatively light counters – just enough to slow the Irishman down. But by the fourth or fifth round, McGregor will be winded, his hands will drop, and Floyd will decide to end the fight in style. Expect a brave McGregor to pick himself off the mat a few times, and be saved by the referee somewhere between rounds 5 and 7.
Muhammad Ali fought a quasi mixed martial arts fight with Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. Archie Moore boxed against a pro wrestler in his final fight. Floyd Patterson defended the Heavyweight Championship against a former Olympian making his pro debut. Chuck Wepner sort-of fought Andre the Giant. Goofy exhibitions are not unheard of in boxing. Several prominent boxers have also tried their gloves at MMA, to mostly limited success. The fact that this fight is a pointless farce may not turn people away. Hell, it may even turn out to be a fun show. If someone wants to spend the money, I hope they have a good time. But it should be understood that this is a semi-retired star boxer facing off in a boxing match against a complete novice. It won’t mean anything in the actual world of boxing or mixed martial arts. But it will make some people a lot of money. Which I suppose was always the point.