By Michael Battista
Boxing’s decline has coincided with the rise of MMA. MMA, now the darling of professional combat sports, has thrived with a younger audience that boxing can’t seem to attract.
For one night, two of the biggest names in each of their respective sports collided. Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr., boxing’s 49-0 main attraction, took on “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, the Irish loud-mouth poster boy of the UFC. They met for a boxing match in Las Vegas, Nevada on Aug. 26, in what many dubbed “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History.”
Many fighting purists called it a spectacle and not a real fight. The fight marked Mayweather’s return to the ring in nearly two years and McGregor’s first ever professional boxing match. The pre-fight coverage was nearly insufferable with claims of racism, bigotry, misogyny and every other hot button issue flying out of ESPN faster than freshmen darting for meal equiv.
Both fighters claimed the fight wouldn’t go the distance and technically they were right. Mayweather was able to dominate McGregor in the 10th round of the 12-round contest after one minute and five seconds, causing referee Robert Byrd to stop the match and give the boxing legend his 50th win.
McGregor shocked many skeptics — he came out strong in the first three rounds. You can argue that Mayweather took one of the first three rounds, but McGregor’s reach and ability to switch stances and styles so quickly pushed his opponent back. McGregor countered Mayweather. He didn’t perform as just a brute MMA fighter, but as someone who could fight with technique and style.
If it wasn’t for the constant hammer punches in the corner and other awkward antics, I would have actually believed McGregor could go all the way early on.
McGregor’s abilities weren’t enough to overcome Mayweather. His sporadic low punches, leaning in too far, aforementioned hammer punches in the corner and low energy culminated in his eventual defeat. I can’t fault the man too much since it was his first professional boxing fight, but in the end these mistakes led to his downfall.
After the early going, I saw the match slow down and Mayweather began to take the lead, while the UFC champ snagge a round or two in the middle.
“That was our game plan,” Mayweather told Showtime Boxing. “Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot all his heavy shots early and then take him out at the end down the stretch.
“Me and my dad (Floyd Mayweather Sr., Jr.’s trainer) talked about it,” he added. “We wanted him to shoot his heavy shots in the beginning because we know in the MMA, he fights 25 minutes real hard. After 25 minutes, he starts to slow down.”
For all the hate he received, Mayweather is still the face of modern professional boxing. He’s undefeated, he’s charismatic and he always has a plan whenever he steps between those ropes.
Mayweather veered from his usual style — by round four he was stepping toward McGregor. Mayweather was landing punch after punch to the body and combining counters with a flurry of jabs.
McGregor’s early bursts depleted him, and he earned his first ever professional boxing defeat in the 10th round after Byrd stopped the fight — Mayweather’s first technical knockout in nearly 10 years and his first knockout decision in nearly six years. He had to change his style to do so, by peppering light jabs to gain points and taking the rounds to try chip down a much younger, taller fighter.
With his win and overtaking Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, Mayweather once again announced his retirement from boxing.
McGregor said he plans to return to UFC, but might possibly box again.
August 26 won’t be remembered as the day boxing was saved, but I think it will be remembered as a shining moment where two icons clashed, if only for a brief moment and some worthwhile entertainment.