IN the end it all went smoothly. Floyd Mayweather outclassed an exceptionally brave Conor McGregor while volleying him to defeat in round 10, the fans inside the T-Mobile Arena enjoyed it and boxing survived. But, and there was always going to be a ‘but’ when Mayweather went 50-0 against a debutant, this never felt or looked like a real fight.
For his part, McGregor gave this adventure absolutely everything he had and he deserves all the credit in the world for that. From knuckling down in the gym and learning a new discipline to promoting the event to within an inch of its life, McGregor became the most talked about underdog in sporting history. And it can be said he surpassed all educated expectation by not only surviving for as long as he did, but also for bringing the crowd to their feet by clumping his opponent on several occasions. However, it’s important to retain perspective when examining his performance and that of his rival.
It was clear from the opening bell as the 29-year-old trotted over to Mayweather square on, chin high, and swiped his left hand over, that he was so many levels below his opponent it was almost ridiculous. What wasn’t immediately obvious, though, was why the American superstar didn’t make him pay for such carelessness straight away. Certainly the Irishman’s eccentric style gave the favourite something to think about, but if Mayweather had any respect at all for his opponent, it would have been a completely different contest. Yes, the punch stats – the holy grail for certain enthusiasts – will tell you that McGregor landed more punches on Mayweather than Manny Pacquiao managed in May 2015, and almost as many in nine-and-a-bit rounds as Canelo Alvarez achieved in 12 four years ago. Bottom line, had Mayweather approached either of those two bouts like he did this one – contemptuous yet completely carefree – he would have lost. But against a novice like McGregor, Mayweather knew there was absolutely no way he could lose.
While it would be wrong to say he wanted to get hit, it’s fair to say avoiding punches was not his priority. After feeling McGregor’s power from a meaty uppercut in the opening round, he continued to stray into the target zone completely content he would not encounter danger. Frequently smiling and winking at ringsiders, he did exactly as he pleased.
“It took us a little longer than we expected,” Mayweather said. “But I guaranteed you I was going to score the knockout. In 21 years in the sport of boxing I had some great fights and some boring fights, but I will always go down as a winner and someone who could dissect fighters and follow the game plan.”
The game plan for the opening rounds was simply to see what McGregor had to offer. After all, nobody, not even McGregor himself, really knew what to expect. What Mayweather discovered, while conserving energy and only throwing a shot when he absolutely had to, was a willing but raw fighter, and one who was visibly exhausted by the fourth round. From this point, having seen all he needed to see, Mayweather gradually increased his attacks from behind his high guard, and had little trouble landing when he chose to throw. It’s likely that Mayweather decided to end matters in the 10th round because he knew by then his opponent had nothing left. But the sense he was carrying his opponent was hard to ignore.
Perhaps this feeling was exaggerated by pre-fight whispers from members of Mayweather’s team that he had instructed them to bet on a knockout in round nine. Whether true or not, it’s indisputable that the favourite turned up the heat dramatically in that session. Laser-like right hands bounced off McGregor, yet he pluckily retained his footing while scrambling to hold on. The bell saved him, but there would be no escape in the 10th. A crisp right sent McGregor tumbling to the ropes, and another made his head go one way and his knees the other. The stoppage by referee Robert Byrd, at 1-05, was perfectly timed except for Floyd being a round out with his prediction. Fighters forecasting when they will win is nothing new of course, but in a contest like this, it’s natural to question the ethics of such an approach.
Because this is Floyd Mayweather we’re talking about. The man for whom boxing will always roll over and wag its tail. And this event was the most blatant belly stroke yet. Mayweather versus anyone would have been big business for Las Vegas and boxing, but Mayweather versus McGregor was off the scale and the Nevada State Athletic Commission knew it. Sanction a contest with a debutant? Yes, master. Go against the advice of doctors and reduce the glove size? No problem, just feed us a bone.
For many in the boxing world, myself included, it was the lawlessness of the whole thing that leaves a bad taste, but ultimately we must be thankful that Mayweather got the job done while proving – even when McGregor was busier and enjoying sporadic success – that it is preposterous for anyone to enter the sport at such a high level and be successful. We should also be grateful for McGregor’s behaviour in the ring. Though he toyed with the rules at times (rabbit and low punches were part of his arsenal, but then show me an angelic boxer), he exhibited respect for the sport with his preparation, and was a gracious loser. Afterwards, as he took sips from a tumbler of whisky, he spoke about continuing in the sport and good luck to him if that’s the path he chooses to take. Against Mayweather he displayed enough athleticism and determination to suggest he could reach a certain level, but that level is likely a long way below where someone like McGregor would feel comfortable competing.
“This was some buzz, to come here and fight Floyd Mayweather,” the loser said. “There are options in MMA, and there will be options in boxing I’m sure. I love competing, and I love a good fight, and this was a good fight. I don’t know what’s next, but something will be next.”
Indeed it will. Whatever direction McGregor struts off in, it’s almost certain the world will be watching. As for Mayweather, one presumes that this is really the end. Although he has announced his retirement twice before, he would be well advised to stick to it a third time. While he remains an exceptional competitor, at 40 years old it was clear his skills are starting to fade and, frankly, what else is there left to achieve? While we can argue about Mayweather’s place in history, and his influence and effect on the boxing world, his genius both inside the ring and out should never be doubted.
“I’m very comfortable, I didn’t have to come back,” Mayweather said. “I’m not a fool. If I see an opportunity to make $350m in 36 minutes then I’m going to do it. But that’s it. I won’t be back again.”
That’s your lot, and thanks for the ride. While the legendary and brilliant run of 49 victories that came before should define him, defeating Conor McGregor for the biggest purse in boxing history is a fitting epitaph for a fighter who always played by his own rules.