There’s a fascinating boxing match on TV tonight between a faded, formerly great champion and a younger brawler with limited skills, but enough about the Cotto-Kamegai match on HBO. Instead of watching a real fight, millions will tune in for a glorified staring match between a middle-aged, retired, three-time ex-con and a semi-sentient growth protruding out of an oversized gorilla tattoo. Even though it is a stupid mismatch with no athletic significance whatsoever, its record-setting success is inevitable and unsurprising. Not only do Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor boast two of the largest, loudest and least educated fan bases in the world, but it’s a freak show. And it’s exactly the right freak show for 2017, a year when a reality TV star became president and an Olympic gold medalist raced a fake great white shark on television. And, hey, if Donald Trump (who, in addition to his close friendship with Mayweather, also boasts a loud, large, and poorly-educated fan base) were to fight a great white shark on TV, I’m sure that millions would tune in for that as well. Hell, I know I would. At least it would be a more competitive match-up than Mayweather-McGregor.
I didn’t want to ever write about this fight. Yes, I’d opened my dumb mouth last year to opine it would never happen, but if you read past the headline, I was eerily prescient. I said it would only happen if Floyd ran into more trouble with the IRS. Well, we now know that has happened. I also thought the UFC would never let it happen because it would screw up their then-hypothetical $4 billion sale, but now that sale has happened, and it has turned out to be a catastrophe (even more so, with the latest Jon Jones news), leaving the UFC’s new owners hemorrhaging money to an extent that federal regulators have basically told investors that they’d have to be stupid to lend them any more money. The UFC has no choice but to let its only remaining bankable star do whatever he wants, even though no serious analyst would give Conor a snowball’s chance in the Las Vegas heat against Floyd fucking Mayweather. I also said that if it happened, it would be a dull, one-sided fight between a faded version of an already dull fighter and his own personal Vanilla Ice, a man who has logged fewer boxing rounds against professional fighters in the past decade than has Mitt Romney.
But even that is way too optimistic. Far too optimistic. This fight is going to make Mayweather’s snoozefest against Manny Pacquiao look like Hagler-Hearns. This fight is going to make the Trump-Clinton debates or the audiobook of Paradise Lost look like Hagler-Hearns.
Let’s begin with the most obvious reason this fight will suck: Punching in boxing and MMA are totally different enterprises. Forget that the gloves are different and that MMA fighters fight barefoot, and focus on the most important and least understood element of boxing: balance. Boxers—at least good boxers—are masters of maintaining balance at all times. You can neither punch effectively nor absorb a clean punch if you are not on balance. This is why boxers all generally fight from similar stances: hands up, legs crouched, feet spread shoulder length apart, never bringing their body square or perpendicular to their opponent. It’s the most balanced position one can be in. MMA fighters, however, face a completely different set of challenges. They need to be able to guard their entire bodies, not just their midsections and head. They need to defend against kicks, elbows, and takedown attempts. The result is that MMA fighters do not have the luxury of assuming such a perfectly balanced stance. A boxer is a baseball catcher, an MMA fighter is a soccer goalie.
What does this mean? It means any claim that Conor has to being a powerful puncher in MMA (putting aside the Nate Diaz evidence to the contrary) is almost meaningless when trying to project how he’ll perform in a boxing ring. It’s like trying to anticipate how a superstar rugby player will perform if randomly tossed into an NFL game for the first time. Sure, some of the activity may look superficially similar, but you wouldn’t be able to project with any confidence how his tackling ability will compare.
But that’s not even the biggest problem Conor faces. The problem is that even if his MMA form translates to boxing (it won’t), his style is quite possibly the worst possible style to try and beat a guy like Mayweather. You see, McGregor is at his most powerful as a counter-puncher. Everyone remembers the thrilling knockout McGregor scored against José Aldo. Devoid of context, it’s perhaps easy to imagine him doing something similar to the similarly-sized Mayweather. But there is so much context. Aldo was knocked out when he recklessly leaped in, throwing a wild hook against McGregor, who landed a much sharper and faster hook. Look at McGregor’s overwhelming display against Eddie Alvarez and you’ll see something similar; Conor landed his best shots when Alvarez charged in at him.
But Floyd Mayweather will never come in on an opponent. Floyd Mayweather is a mirage, an oasis that evaporates before your eyes as you get too close. Although his low-output fighting style is occasionally mistaken for cowardice, it’s actually the opposite: Mayweather is one of the few fighters who is brave enough to let his opponents take their best shot without flinching. It is precisely this confidence in his ability to block or elude punches that makes Mayweather so effective. While most other fighters tense up under pressure, Mayweather casually dips and slides out of danger: he is the hyperspace button in Defender. Once his opponent misses, generally leaving himself wide open, Mayweather responds with his best weapon: a straight right hand down the middle that lands with just enough force to momentarily paralyze his foe while Floyd casually resets his position.
So, how does one beat an elusive phantom like Mayweather? There’s only one proven formula, most effectively put to use by José-Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana (both of whom arguably deserved to win their first fights versus Mayweather), and that is to smother him. If you bull rush Mayweather, force him to the ropes, and unload with a barrage of punches from all angles, you both minimize his ability to elude and also prevent the conservative Mayweather from throwing his counter-right. So, is there any chance McGregor could employ that strategy?
There is not. Not only is McGregor most effective when his opponents come to him but, his reputation for exciting fights notwithstanding, McGregor is (by boxing standards) a supremely inactive fighter. In the UFC, McGregor averages about 5 strikes per minute in fights that go a maximum of 15-25 minutes, and which (in McGregor’s case) routinely last far less than that. To effectively mount an offense like Castillo or Maidana requires throwing close to 30 punches per minute for a fight that almost certainly would run a full 36 minutes. In other words, Conor would have to be nearly nine times as active as he generally is with his hands (again, while trying a new sport, wearing heavier equipment, and fighting the most elusive fighter of his generation).
And what if Mayweather allows Conor to land a punch out of boredom, or a decline in skills due to his age (a fact Mayweather has been reduced to citing to make the fight seem even remotely interesting)? Well, the odds are pretty good it won’t matter. Floyd has actually shown a pretty good chin in his career. He’s been in with plenty of big punchers and once ate an absolutely nasty shot from Shane Mosley, one of the hardest punchers of his generation. And what happened? Floyd briefly wobbled and then caught himself and proceeded to win virtually every second of the fight from there forward. The only time Mayweather has officially been knocked down in his career came when he landed a big punch to the forehead of Carlos “Famoso” Hernández, broke his own hand from the impact, and briefly touched the ground in pain. And, of course, Mayweather then continued on and won virtually every second of the fight from there forward. Do you see a pattern here?
Let’s cut to the chase: Conor McGregor would be a significant underdog against even a top amateur fighter. (Just ask Xtreme Couture trainer Robert Follis, who told ESPN, “Conor’s striking is good, but I’ve got pro guys who will go to the boxing gym and work with some 14-year-old amateur who has 40 fights and they get picked apart.”) That top amateur would be a significant underdog against a serious pro, who in turn would be an underdog against a top pro. And that top pro? Well, with the exception of Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Álvarez, all the well-established, experienced, top boxing contenders who have faced Mayweather in recent years have gone into the ring at odds of close to 30:1. Do the math and you quickly arrive at a Dumb and Dumber routine: Conor’s odds are not good. Like one in a hundred? No, more like one in a million.
If that argument isn’t compelling enough, consider this: The highlight of Conor’s training camp has been his sparring sessions against retired boxer Paulie Malignaggi. There’s some debate as to who got the better in those matches, but remember that (1) Malignaggi was paid to be a sparring partner for Conor, and (2) Malignaggi is part of the broadcast team tonight, and clearly benefits from increased interest in this stupid event. Let’s assume, though, that Paulie wasn’t taking it easy on Conor to build up his confidence. Who is Paulie Malignaggi, the boxer? Well, he’s the worst possible sparring partner to train for a guy like Mayweather. Their styles are nothing alike, and Malignaggi legitimately may be the lightest-punching name fighter in the last decade, while Floyd possesses significantly-underrated power even though he rarely uncorks it. Besides, even at his best, Malignaggi was absolutely humiliated by Amir Khan, a guy who was blown out by Canelo, a guy who was skunked by, wait for it, Floyd Mayweather. Any way you do the math, no matter how many benefits of the doubt you cut in Conor’s favor, the result is the same: He’s orders of magnitude below Floyd’s skill level.
And this brings us to one of the most frustrating aspects of any Mayweather fight. People don’t tune in to watch Mayweather elude his opponents; to the contrary, even in his prime, crowds routinely walked out on Mayweather’s dull, dominating performances before they were over. No, most people tune in because Mayweather is such an awful fucking human being that they want to see him get knocked out. As someone who has done as much as anyone to educate the public on what an awful human being Mayweather is, I sympathize with the instinct. But you’re not going to get what you paid for. You’re just going to subsidize the extravagant lifestyle of an unrepentant serial batterer who smears the mother of his children on national TV by suggesting (a la Stephen A. Smith on Janay Rice) that she was responsible for her own beating.
Besides, how fucking impatient are you people? You do realize that if by some miracle—or perhaps interference from Vladimir Putin—McGregor scores a McKnockout it will be on every McChannel and online McStreaming site within minutes? Oh, and that the whole fight card will replay, for free, next weekend? If Floyd is knocked out—he won’t be, but go with me—wouldn’t you rather save $100 and watch it a minute after it happens?
The November election proved that the American people are not very good at deciding how to vote with their ballots, but we can still redeem ourselves—even if just a bit—by voting with our wallets. By not buying this fight, you are effectively being paid $100 to not support a morally bankrupt human being in a meaningless freak show likely to be devoid of entertainment. (Let’s not even discuss the undercard, which is the worst I can ever remember.) Doesn’t this sound like an almost incomprehensibly good deal? Or, doesn’t it at least sound better than the alternative?
Daniel Roberts deleted his Twitter account and has never been happier. If you want to tell him how much he sucks, you now need to email him at drobertsIMG@gmail.com. You have his apologies for the inconvenience.