On August 27, Conor McGregor, a man who has torn through the MMA world like a hurricane, will set foot into the boxing ring for the first time. His opponent? Only the greatest boxer on the planet today.
By Kyle Ganapathy
Featured photo: Zagranie.com, ESPN
McGregor’s boxing record is a clean slate. On paper, 0-0 looks ridiculous next to 49-0. We’ve seen his sparring against former champion Paulie Malignaggi but apart from the two minuscule clips and a handful of photos, McGregor’s skills are still shrouded in mystery.
How on earth is McGregor going to stand toe to toe with boxing’s best? There’s no doubt that McGregor can fight. The two division UFC champ has silenced many of his critics with his left hand alone. It still remains to be seen, however, if that left can find a home between the ropes. So, let’s move on from what we don’t know and focus on what we do know. Here are the five keys to victory for both fighters come Sunday.
1) Feint and fire back
Mayweather has called himself one of the greatest counterpunchers of all time and to be honest, he could be right. Counterpunchers love to study their opponent’s strikes, make them miss, and make them pay. The best way to fight a counterpuncher is to keep them guessing.
McGregor is in the prime of his life. He has crisp, dynamic movement and the ability to change levels and directions rapidly. Throwing feints is an art in itself and if you don’t “sell” them, they aren’t going to work. Watching McGregor’s excellent left straight feint to right uppercut against Max Holloway is solid evidence that he knows how to use them. If he can bait Mayweather’s counters with convincing feints, he’ll soon find himself being able to land some of his own.
2) Go to the body, hard and often
One of boxing’s oldest axioms is, “attack the body and the head will fall”. Body shots hurt. Anyone will tell you that. It’s one of the easiest ways to slow a fighter down and sap their strength.
It will be a daunting task but if McGregor can cut off the ring and consistently land to the body, he may enjoy the same success Marcos Maidana did. When up close, Mayweather’s trademark ‘Philly Shell’ guard offers great defense but also exposes the body quite often. Capitalizing on the openings could allow McGregor to stack up the damage which will pay dividends in the middle and late rounds.
3) Be energy efficient
Detractors of McGregor will always point out his seemingly weak conditioning. In both of his fights against Nate Diaz, there was nothing ‘Mystic’ about his lack of a gas tank as he slowed down significantly in the middle rounds.
The longest fight McGregor has been in lasted 25 minutes. This boxing match has the potential to go for 36. That’s 11 extra minutes. A lot of time if you’re out of breath. McGregor definitely needs to keep an eye on the fuel gauge and make sure he does not punch himself out. Picking smart shots and moving efficiently is the key to staying strong for all 12 rounds.
4) Make it muddy
The term ‘mudfight’ is used to describe a boxing match that is messy and more like a bar brawl than a showcase of the ‘Sweet Science’. That is exactly the kind of fight McGregor needs to bring to the table if he wants to end Mayweather’s streak.
If you take a look back at his closest fights, Mayweather has always struggled with fighters who push the action and slug it out in the pocket. Miguel Cotto and Marcos Maidana enjoyed a lot of success when they forced Mayweather into a mudfight.
McGregor will need to get on the inside and battle it out. Go for the dual exchanges, take a few hits to land some big shots, and take advantage of the clinch to dig into the body. If you can’t outbox a boxer, fight him.
5) Be an enigma
McGregor’s open workout was the object of much ridicule. Boxers around the world started The McGregor Challenge, mimicking the Irishman’s arm flailing warm up. The lampooning was palpable but people have forgotten that McGregor has enjoyed a lot of his success in MMA due to his unpredictable and explosive movement.
While he didn’t showcase a lot of his skills at the open workout, he’s doing something very smart. He’s hiding his hand. Whether or not he has what it takes to stand in the same ring as Mayweather is still the biggest question. We don’t know how well he can box and neither does Floyd. Mayweather has fought the greatest boxers of his time and has always come out on top. If McGregor goes in and tries to be a boxer, there’s nothing he can do that Mayweather hasn’t seen before. But if he goes in as ‘Mystic Mac’, he may just be able to take him by surprise.
1) The right hand
Every sports outlet has harped on about how Mayweather has “struggled” with southpaws in the past. However, every southpaw who has come Mayweather’s way has been staved off by a stiff right hand.
In boxing, southpaws seem to have a slight advantage over orthodox fighters because their lead right hook can easily slip over a left jab. The best way to counter a southpaw, however, is a strong right straight down the middle.
Mayweather dispatched Bobby Giepert, trounced DeMarcus Corley, and peppered Manny Pacquiao with expertly timed right straights. If Mayweather establishes this punch early on, it will grind McGregor down and open him up for excellent combos.
2) Stay cool, stay sharp
Every time Mayweather has found himself in trouble, he has kept his composure and weathered the storm. Taking a page out of Muhammad Ali’s playbook, Floyd employs the ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy when he gets pinned to the corner. He covers up well and lets his opponent land the ineffective shots. This gives him time to recover and set up his counters.
McGregor will bring the fight and when he does, Mayweather will have to keep his cool and not buy into his game. Ride out the wave and hit him back where it counts.
3) A veteran’s volition
Mayweather has been boxing professionally since the 1990s. So while McGregor was trading Premiere League stickers with his classmates, Floyd was honing his pugilistic prowess.
Mayweather’s experience is obviously going to be the biggest factor in this fight. McGregor can strike but boxing is a different playing field. In boxing, there are angles an MMA fighter has never studied; nooks and crannies where you can deal damage but keep your own chin safe (without fear of knees and kicks of course). Mayweather knows them all and has seen them all. If he sticks to boxing throughout the fight, we’ll witness the most expensive boxing lesson in history.
4) Be the shark in the deep waters
Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning. Very rarely have we seen Mayweather gassed and tired. McGregor, on the other hand, has shown it to be one of his major weaknesses.
McGregor starts out strong and fast, but if Mayweather can endure the early torrent, he’s going to latch on to Conor’s legs and pull him into the depths. That’s where we’ll really see what McGregor is made of. If he comes up short, Floyd is going to systematically pick him apart.
5) Overconfidence is a king’s bane
With all that’s been said and done, McGregor is the clear underdog. If history has taught us anything, however, is that we should never count the underdog out. Everything can change in an instant if a fist finds the point of a chin.
No matter how high Mayweather sits above McGregor, he’s going to have to keep an eye on the bold Irishman. The right hook and left straight will be coming. Mayweather cannot afford to underestimate his power and speed or he may be in for a long night. Mayweather is going to have to keep his feet moving and his gloves up.
When the fight was being negotiated, boxing purists were calling it ridiculous: a circus fight. But whether it takes place under a whimsical striped tent or the T-Mobile Arena, the fight is still going to be huge.
The combat sports world has been left heartbroken time and again by dashed dreams of fights that should have happened but never did. At the end of the day, Mayweather vs McGregor is a superfight. A rare occasion, to say the least. On occasions like this, there’s only two things to do: sit back and enjoy the show.