With the mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor finally official, two possibilities quickly emerged Thursday: Oddsmakers and analysts are either greatly underestimating McGregor’s chances in the ring or the mixed martial arts champion just might be underestimating the task in front of him.
With no shortage of confidence, McGregor has chosen to make his ring debut against one of the most accomplished boxers of all time. UFC President Dana White said the fighter “is absolutely confident that he will win.”
Most others in and around the fight game were not as sure. While Mayweather was born into boxing — his father and uncle both fought professionally, and he never really considered any other path — McGregor began focusing on the sport when a potential life-changing payday became a realistic possibility.
Even the most thorough crash course might not be able to prepare McGregor for a technically sound fighter like Mayweather, analysts warned. While McGregor is known as a striker who prefers to fight on his feet, it’s not easy to replicate a lifetime of boxing experience.
“There’s so many small decisions that go into the overall big picture,” said Paulie Malignaggi, a former world champion who serves as boxing analyst for Showtime. “Understanding that part of the decision-making in boxing takes years. That’s where I worry for Conor. I don’t worry for Conor’s ability. . . . If you bring up Conor McGregor the right way in boxing, maybe over several years, maybe you can develop him into a world-class fighter. Maybe. But to do this all at once is very, very difficult.”
It was no surprise then that Mayweather opened as the overwhelming favorite at most sports books, typically requiring gamblers to bet $1,100 to win back $100. Fans betting on McGregor, meanwhile, could see value in the long shot with a payout in the 7-1 range. Though Mayweather has hit the mat only once in his career, they likely will be betting on a knockout when the two meet Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.
A 12-round decision could be difficult. Malignaggi praised McGregor’s hand skills and striking ability and said the fighter’s balance could be solid. “But there’s a lot more to boxing,” he said.
“People will say, ‘He doesn’t have to watch for kicks. He doesn’t have to watch for takedowns.’ But to understand your way around the ring, to know when it’s time to punch, to not punch, when to dictate pace or back off, those are things that you’d need years in boxing to really understand,” he said.
Forrest Griffin, the retired UFC Hall of Famer, said targeting Mayweather has allowed McGregor to focus his training on one discipline, and life in the octagon surely can prepare a fighter for the strategic chess matches that take place in a boxing ring.
“Look, I love boxing,” he said. “You might think more moves ahead, but there’s a lot less to consider. In MMA, you can think ahead in one facet, but you might get taken down or kicked. There’s so many more variables. Conor won’t have to worry about all those.”
Outboxing Mayweather might be impossible. Outpunching him, though, might be McGregor’s best shot.
“Listen, is he at the level of a Floyd Mayweather as far as boxing standards go?” White said this week. “No. But the kid, first of all, is a southpaw, and people can argue one way or the other but Floyd, traditionally, if you want to say there’s ever been a kink in the armor with that kid, it’s with southpaws. And Conor McGregor is an absolute knockout artist. When he hits you, you go.”
Mayweather (49-0, 26 knockouts) has beaten nine lefties in his career, including Manny Pacquiao, Zab Judah, Sharmba Mitchell and DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley. None have managed to knock him down.
In those 49 fights, Mayweather has fought the full 12 rounds 19 times. While MMA rounds are five minutes, not three, McGregor has only had two fights in his career go beyond two rounds and only one go five. He will have to show a level of conditioning and stamina that has never been required in an octagon, and he will have to strategize when to expend and when to conserve energy.
Griffin, who now serves as UFC’s vice president of athlete development, said MMA fighters might focus on interval training, sprints and more explosive movements, while boxers train for endurance. “There’s different energy systems used for the two sports,” he said. “Boxing is more aerobic.”
“That’s the thing,” Malignaggi pointed out, “you don’t get to rest when you want to rest. If you’re not the boss in there, you don’t get to choose when you rest and when you fight. Floyd will understand the fatigue and panic you’re feeling, and he’ll force you to fight when you don’t want to fight. It’s not as simple as, ‘Oh, he has a big left hand.’ ”
There are some unknowns that could tip the scales a bit for McGregor. The fight will take place at 154 pounds, much closer to McGregor’s preferred fighting weight. Mayweather weighed in at 146 pounds for his last professional bout, a decision over Andre Berto in September 2015. But that was nearly two years ago, and there’s no telling what rust has accumulated since then.
“That’s Conor’s wild card,” Malignaggi said. “Floyd is 40 years old, hasn’t fought in a while. History tells us that’s not a good thing. Reflexes slow down. Maybe you’re not as mentally sharp. Sometimes it can take just one big shot.”