The Fight of the Century

Ian Hanes

We have a date. Mark your calendars, August 26 the world will witness the biggest fight in combat sports for generations. Shortly after becoming the first simultaneous two-division UFC Champion in history, brash Irishman Conor McGregor appeared on Conan and said that he would fight the undefeated boxing kingpin Floyd Mayweather Jr, who boasts an unprecedented 49-0 record (a feat only accomplished by Rocky Marciano), if the opportunity arose. Mayweather is widely considered the best living boxer which leads many to wonder why he would risk his historic record against someone who has never boxed professionally. The answer is simple; itís all about money. McGregor and Mayweather stand to make $75 and $110 million respectively before either collect their share of the PPV points. Depending on the number of PPV buys (which I believe will dwarf any other fight in history) both men could, and likely will, collect another $30-$50 million. However, while money is the ultimate motivator, thereís much more on the line than just a paycheck.

In this contest, McGregor has everything to gain and nothing to lose. He shouldnít win. I donít think he will. I doubt even he thinks he will. Vegas currently has him at a +1100 underdog, but none of that matters. He doesnít have to get his hand raised to emerge victorious. Boxing has steadily been on the decline for years now while MMA has been steadily on the rise. The last boxer Floyd knocked out was Victor Ortiz in 2011 in the 4th round. If McGregor fares better than a former world champion, that seriously reduces the legitimacy of the sport. Take any athlete in the world right now and pit them against LeBron James in one-on-one and LeBron starches them with ease. Any athlete in the world would get pinned in 30 seconds by David Taylor on the wrestling mat. Hell, Randy Couture submitted James Toney in just over 3 minutes at UFC 116 and Couture is nowhere near the best fighter of all time. If the best living boxer canít embarrass someone that has never boxed professionally, that will go miles in terms of legitimizing MMA as a sport while seriously hurting the image of boxing.

Now the problem with Floyd starching McGregor in the first round is that sort of performance is not a product of his style. In recent years he has largely been a point fighter who is an expert in avoiding shots, an art heís obviously perfected. McGregor is also a southpaw with a vicious left hand, something that has given Floyd problems in the past. In McGregorís career, only two men were able to survive to the final bell, Max Holloway (current UFC Featherweight Champion) and Nate Diaz. In the Holloway fight, McGregor tore his ACL early on and still ground out a victory. While the Diaz fight went the distance, he dropped Nate 3 times, something that had never been done to Diaz in his 13 year MMA career. Conor hits hard, no one can dispute that. But these fights were in 4oz gloves, and heíll be boxing Floyd in gloves that weigh more than double that which leads into what is considered Conorís biggest potential hindrance.

Conor has gone 25 minutes in the UFC once before, and he was thoroughly gassed by the end of the contest. The superfight between these two men is going to consist of 12 three minute rounds and there are serious concerns that Conor will have the ability to make it the distance, despite Floydís recent lack of finishes. While I think there is undeniably a high degree of legitimacy to this claim, I expect Conorís gas tank to be better than the public seems to expect. Conorís style in the octagon relies on a multitude of creative kicks which will obviously not be permissible in this fight. In his Diaz fight there were also a few wrestling exchanges and any fighter will tell you just how exhausting those can be. Limited to just boxing, I donít expect him to fade as quickly as most others do. While he is much more limited in his offensive options, this will play into his favor in terms of energy reserves. However, despite his age, Floyd has shown time and time again that he has the gas tank to go 12 rounds. Even though I think McGregorís gas tank is deeper than most, his only true chance is to land big shots early in the fight. It is very unlikely that he will win if he leaves it in the hands of the judges.

Despite what people may think, this is not the first time an MMA fighter has flirted with the idea of a boxing/MMA superfight in the ring. Around 5 years ago Anderson Silva, a man widely considered to be the best fighter of all time, tossed around the idea of boxing Roy Jones Jr. Ultimately it was all talk and nothing ever materialized. Roy Jones was also rumored to be in talks to fight Chael Sonnen, a decorated wrestler and former 3-time UFC title challenger, but this fight also never came to fruition. Recently on his podcast, Chael spoke about running into Jones years after all the speculation had blown over and Roy Jones said something very striking to him. Jones spoke very openly about how he hated boxing MMA fighters. According to him, their technique is very far below the standard of boxing that heís used to, but they know how to make it work very effectively. Itís akin to the episode of South Park where they play a baseball team that spent all summer getting really good at being bad so they wouldnít have to spend all summer playing baseball. At this level, a professional boxer expects his opponents to react and fight a certain way, and it can be difficult to fight someone who is effective with poor technique. It sounds strange, but after 7 years of doing jiu jitsu, I can see where heís coming from. Itís sometimes difficult to spar with inexperienced grapplers because your setups donít elicit the reactions you are expecting because they break a cardinal rule like planting their hand on the mat. In my opinion, this is an advantage that Conor will only be able to utilize in the very early stages of the fight. Floyd will figure him out, perhaps as early as the first minute or two.

When itís all said and done, the result will likely be as expected. Floyd will get his hand raised. Heís forgotten more about boxing than McGregor has ever known, and thereís no disputing the fact that he is the greatest boxer alive at the time of this article. Both men will walk away with a ridiculous payday which, at the end of the day, is really all either man cares about. But ultimately the pressure is almost exclusively on Floyd. With his sport on the decline, a quick decisive victory is necessary to preserve the image of boxing. If Conor loses, well, everyone expected him to. Heíll still be the UFC Lightweight Champion, and heíll walk away with over $100 million dollars. In my opinion, the buildup to this fight will be better than the fight itself as both men are known for having spectacular trash talking abilities. Even if the fight is a snoozer, we should all just be thankful to witness something of this magnitude.

Last but not least, quick shout out to UFC President Dana White. It took 6 years to put the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight together, and Dana got this fight booked in 6 months. I never hold back in criticizing the UFC brass, but this is one time where the man upstairs sincerely deserves praise.