What I Learnt From… Mayweather v McGregor

The boxing match between Floyd Weather and Connor McGregor was the very antithesis of everything I liked so much about seeing two greats take to the ring earlier in the year when Anthony Joshua fought the legend that is Wladimir Klitschko.

It was a fight between a guy who defended himself against accusations of racism by suggesting that he was well endowed versus another who has served time for domestic violence having previously blamed his ex-girlfriend for beating up herself.  You know the levels we’re dealing with when Connor McGregor chose to wear a Golden State Warriors NBA shirt with ‘CJ Watson’ written on the back.  Watson is the man Mayweather accused his ex-girlfriend of talking to behind his back, prompting the altercation.

The build up to the fight was a pantomime of name calling, finger pointing, money throwing and what I would call “dipshittery”.  It was playing to a crowd, of course, which makes me feel guilty for falling for all the hyperbole.

In a sporting context, it was an interesting matchup.  Floyd Mayweather was defending a perfect 49 professional fights, 49 wins record.  He won a bronze medal in the featherweight division at the 1996 Olympics and has held 15 world titles in five weight classes.  He had been recognised, before his retirement, as the best pound for pound fighter in the sport.

At the time he won his 31st fight, Connor McGregor was still a plumber in Ireland.  In the years since, he has become UFC’s most marketable asset.  He is the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion.

The matchup of the two sports was primary to me wanting to watch the fight.  I wouldn’t describe myself as an enormous fan of boxing, but nor have I ever seen any MMA or UFC.  However, I have always wondered if a reasonable boxing tactic would be an all out offensive option – launching at one’s opponent with a flurry of punches before they know, well, what’s hit them.

This tactic, though, should have played in to Floyd Mayweather’s hands.  He is a boxer known for his defensive skill, not so much dodging attacks coming his way but disappearing out the way of them.  Unfortunately, this is also how McGregor has built his reputation.

When McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo with a single punch within 13 seconds, McGregor had spent the build-up to the fight goading Aldo to the extent that he was rash and left himself open.

On paper, Saturday night’s fight was one sided.  McGregor had no chance moving from UFC to adopt the Marquess of Queensberry rules of boxing.  That turned out to be the case as he was stopped in the tenth round, unable to do much more than walk round the ring as he was stalked by a vastly superior opponent.

A Victory For Sport And Preparation

However, the way McGregor handled himself in the ring impressed me.  He treated it with professionalism and focus and was maybe trying to be too much of a boxer.  Sure, there were a few blows to the back of the head and I don’t think I’ve seen a boxer facing the wrong way as much as Mayweather was during the bout.

As expected, McGregor started the fight with a barrage of punches in the first two rounds, which was widely accepted as his best chance of an unlikely victory.  Other than that, though, he was picking his punches.

However, ultimately McGregor was beaten by the fundamental difference between boxing and MMA – timing.  McGregor is used to five 5 minute rounds in MMA, during which he would through around 5 punches a minute.  Boxing is composed of twelve 3 minute rounds and the two boxers of recent times who took Mayweather close threw 30 punches a minute for the duration.

As the fight was stopped, McGregor was shattered.  He had been for the last three or four rounds.  His punches would barely have been enough to scratch an itch and Mayweather was brushing them off.

UFC supporters in the pub saw punches thrown and saw a good performance.  Boxing fans were laughing at a fighter completely out of his depth being picked apart at will.  In the first 6 rounds, McGregor threw 6 more punches than Mayweather.  In the final 4 rounds, Mayweather threw 70 more than McGregor.  That’s some pick up in pace and a damning statistic.  Mayweather was playing with his opponent, in a sport where the aim is to knock out the person facing you.

Despite the length of the build-up to the fight, a 29 year old in peek physical condition for his chosen sport was unable to out train 36 years of work put in by Mayweather over the course of his career, despite the fact that the latter had been retired for two years prior to Saturday.

It was a victory for preparation and hard work over long periods time, learning a craft and becoming the best.  You can’t make up for years of work in months.

A Defeat For Sport And Victory For Commercialisation

It was also a victory for attempting to break new ground, depending on how cynically view the event. This fight was not about the sporting context.  It was a commercial opportunity.  Mayweather had 300 million reasons to take to the ring.  No-one would turn that down, even at the expense of a perfect professional record.

With Mayweather now retired again, McGregor has made himself arguably the biggest name in combat sports.  He made around $100m himself from the bout and will do with that what he will.  Further than that, though, the fight has opened doors for McGregor to print money in whichever sport, whichever market, he sees fit at the time.  His confidence and self-belief as much as anything else ensures that there will always be interest in him.

It is the commercial aspect that has left the whole event feeling hollow, to me.  This fight was the embodiment of sport as a product, and I’m not sure I like it.  Of course it is naive in the modern day to believe that any professional sport is not about making money, but no other sporting genre would accept what happened in the build up, and in very few other sports would the protagonists be held in such high regard by their fans given their flaws.

To that end, it was also a victory for marketing and hyperbole.  And this is where I’m struggling.  Does this make it a defeat for sport?  There’s enough to suggest that it isn’t, but there was so much talk and ultimately it feels like a pretend boxing match.

Talking about the thing and going through the motions of the thing does not make it real.  It needs to have a heart that matches it, and it’s hard to think that the heart of “Mayweather v McGregor: The Event” was in the boxing and not the money making capacity.

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