It’s actually surreal that the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing match is upon us, but that is the case as we move towards Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs), the best boxer of the last two decades, will return from a two-year retirement at the age of 40 to face the biggest name in combat sports during his absence: UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor (21-3 in MMA).
When the two fighters finally touch gloves on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET), with strong potential to break Mayweather’s pay-per-view record of 4.6 million buys from his 2015 victory over Manny Pacquiao, a 60-day circus build will commence with an actual boxing match.
Mayweather will seek his 50th career win, which would best the mythical mark of former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, against a brash Irishman making his pro boxing debut. McGregor, 29, has proven to be Floyd’s equal during the buildup to the fight in terms of talking trash and flaunting his business acumen, but whether or not he can equal the former pound-for-pound kind inside the ring largely remains in question.
Ultimately, that’s why the fight will sell so well. The intrigue of seeing how McGregor will react in such a bizarre matchup that was literally talked into existence is the very definition of reality television. Both fighters, of course, will be handsomely paid to almost absurd levels in order for millions of fans across boxing, mixed martial arts and beyond to find out what happens.
The fight was only made because of its unmatched financial potential (helped by McGregor’s continued “daring to be great” mentality). But let’s take a look at how each fighter measures up against each other entering the matchup:
Mayweather vs. McGregor fight card, odds
What’s at stake?
First and foremost, what’s on the line in this one is the gratuitous amount of millions both fighters are expected to make.
Mayweather, who claims to have earned upwards of $300 million when all receipts were counted from his victory over Pacquiao, expects to make even more this time while McGregor has flaunted the idea of earning $100 million (although the exact financial split will remain under wraps per a clause in the fight’s contract).
Most of that money, however, is guaranteed and has just about nothing to do with what actually happens inside the ring (and more to do with how well the promotion has sold the fight.). So in terms of what’s tangibly at stake, that’s where it gets interesting.
Not only is Mayweather seeking a very marketable 50th victory to finally retire on after promising his children and secretive adviser Al Haymon this would be his last, he is also in some ways protecting the reputation of his own sport against a brash neophyte like McGregor.
Officially, there are no recognized titles at stake in the bout (nor should there be, with the Nevada State Athletic Commission coming under scrutiny simply for approving the matchup to begin with). But certain records — everything from the fight’s live gate to the aforementioned PPV buys — are expected to be eclipsed because of the crossover appeal the fight has throughout popular culture.
For McGregor, there’s an opportunity here to become his own generation’s Muhammad Ali when you look at it from the sense of a loud-mouth salesman who can make outrageous claims and consistently back them up to almost frighteningly accurate detail. Anyone who has followed the UFC run of “Mystic Mac” can remember how many times he has called the exact round and finish of his fights, even when entering as an underdog.
A victory for the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion would not only be in contention for the biggest upset in sports history, it would likely open the door for McGregor to start a new career within a wild west sport that financially rewards marketable capitalists in ways that MMA is still unable to.
McGregor’s star power would be elevated to unforeseen levels with a win, likely setting up a rematch that could become one of the most anticipated sporting events of this lifetime. But talking about such a scenario and actually witnessing it playing out are two entirely different things.
Although McGregor has closed the gap unexpectedly well in terms of the betting odds, he remains a massive underdog from a critical standpoint. He has an uphill climb ahead of him when it comes to matching his skill set with such a battle-tested surgeon as Mayweather, who provided McGregor with little to no advantages during the fight’s negotiation.
Who has the edge?
1. Power: McGregor’s biggest strength in the matches is also his best shot at doing the impossible. At 145 and 155 pounds, where he has held championships in UFC, McGregor is a power puncher who can end a fight with one shot. How his power in four-ounce gloves translates wearing eight ounces in boxing, however, remains to be seen. Either way, he presents a dangerous enough threat that Mayweather, whose brittle hands have long stolen from his accurate pop as a puncher, will need to take him seriously. But in order to stop Mayweather and his underrated chin, McGregor will likely need to land more than one clean punch in succession, which “Money” has built a legacy around preventing opponents from doing. Advantage: McGregor
2. Speed: The impact of McGregor’s power has always been helped by his hand speed and deft ability to navigate and control space. During many of his biggest UFC victories, the brash Irishman has snake-charmed opponents into inching closer before closing the gap with a speedy burst and landing square on the chin. But even at 40, Mayweather will be like no opponent McGregor has ever faced. The only thing more impressive than Mayweather’s quick-twitch fibers as a counter puncher is how much he has been able to maintain it with age. Not only is Mayweather faster than his opponents in terms of foot and hand speed, he thinks at a much faster pace, which allows him to cut corners and set traps. McGregor may be in his physical prime but until we see Mayweather actually prove things like age and ring rust are strong enough to slow him down, his overall speed remains among the elite. Advantage: Mayweather
3. Defense: McGregor is not just facing a defensive genius in Mayweather, he’s facing arguably the best implementer of the “hit and not get hit” philosophy that the sweet science has ever seen. Mayweather has mastered the shoulder roll technique to minimize his own strike zone and keep himself perfectly balanced and ready to counter his opponent’s misses. McGregor’s offense is predicated upon taking calculated risks which leave him open to be hit. In this fight, considering his lack of professional experience, he will need to be as reckless and unorthodox as any opponent Mayweather has faced. That won’t bode well for his defense. Advantage: Mayweather
4. Technique: The gap here will be huge when you take into account Mayweather’s incredible accuracy and the short amount of time McGregor has to adapt from an MMA striking stance to one as a traditional boxer. But with that said, presenting himself as far removed from traditional as possible just might be McGregor’s best shot at victory. If he models the techniques of Marcos Maidana against Mayweather during their first meeting in 2014, McGregor may have a window early to use his awkward aggression and non-traditional fighting stances to give Mayweather a look he hasn’t yet seen. Unfortunately, he’s facing the most prepared, smart and accurate counter-shot artist of the modern era. Advantage: Mayweather
5. Intangibles: Although Mayweather has spent many years proving that phrases like “ring rust” and “growing old overnight” aren’t part of his vocabulary, the 11-year age advantage McGregor possesses (not to mention size and reach) need to be taken into account. One can counter that ideal simply by mentioning the incredible chasm between the two in terms of boxing experience. But McGregor legitimately has no peers when it comes to being a once-in-a-generation athlete with a one-dimensional mindset that’s clouded by irrational self belief. What that means is he’s not only crazy enough to believe he can win against such absurd odds, he’s determined and focused enough to give himself every possible chance to do so. Many Mayweather opponents have talked a big game only to succumb to fatigue and frustration late in the fight. McGregor appears to be a different kind of animal, which makes him a live dog in a fight he would conceivably have no chance to win. Advantage: McGregor
Like all Mayweather opponents, McGregor’s best (and possibly only) shot at victory will come in the first three rounds while Mayweather attempts to pick up his patterns and rhythms. Once Mayweather makes his patented mid-fight adjustment, opponents are typically disarmed for the remainder of the fight. McGregor will need to utilize constant pressure and awkward angles to penetrate Mayweather’s defense. In many ways, knowing how futile the idea of beating Mayweather by decision truly is, McGregor should be focusing his stamina and game plan for a six-round fight. Outside of Mayweather showing up old to the fight and looking every bit of 40, McGregor needs his focus to be on knockout or bust.
But let’s not act like Mayweather doesn’t have a great chin and hasn’t shown in the past — particularly against Maidana — that he’s more than comfortable staying in the pocket despite heavy pressure and making calm decision about when to counter or cover up. Let’s also not forget how often Mayweather has landed enough stiff right hands early in the fight (including the first round against Pacquiao) to dissuade opponents from being as reckless as they intended to coming in. Under that line of thinking, the length in which McGregor can last in this fight ultimately comes down to how aggressive he wants to be. While more aggression gives him his best shot at victory, it also increases the likelihood that he gets countered clean and stopped by pinpoint counter shots that Mayweather trapped him to walk right into.
Had McGregor been making his boxing debut against literally any other top fighter, one could make an outside case for him using his athleticism and control of distance to land an awkward shot and turn the fight into a brawl. But Mayweather simply doesn’t get hit and when he does, he has been more than capable of recuperating quickly and adjusting.
Look for McGregor’s early aggression to create early fatigue. Once his patterns become predictable, Mayweather will pick him apart at will. Should Conor look to empty the tank, he likely goes out on his back. There’s also the chance he attempts to save face and foul himself out of the fight, knowing the size of his fight purse and potential for more lucrative boxing matches should he have been able to save face with his performance. In this case, knowing McGregor’s ambition to accomplish goals that are deemed out of reach, the former is more likely. Pick: Mayweather via fifth-round TKO