Boxing Part II: Against All Odds, Mayweather Versus McGregor Was a Good Fight

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jserraglio
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Joined: Sun May 29, 2005 7:06 am
Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Boxing Part II: Against All Odds, Mayweather Versus McGregor Was a Good Fight

Post by jserraglio » Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:30 am

I've always loved boxing ever since my dad took me to the Cleveland Arena to watch live bouts. Boxing has also inspired some good writers over the years, notably Norman Mailer and David Remnick (current editor of the New Yorker) writing about Muhammed Ali.

Lately there has been a revival of interest in writing about the sport from writers like Kelefa Sanneh. Here is his latest piece, a recap of last week's Mayweather-McGregor match.

Against All Odds, Mayweather Versus McGregor Was a Good Fight
The New Yorker
By Kelefa Sanneh
August 27, 2017


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For a minute or so on Saturday night, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., versus Conor McGregor looked like the fiasco that many of us assumed it would be. McGregor, a mixed-martial-arts champion entering his first professional boxing match, came out of his corner with his fists up and waving, and his elbows out, looking less like an élite athlete and more like some ruffian from a silent film. The pay-per-view glitches had mainly been fixed, the tickets had mainly been sold, and now the only thing left was for Mayweather to embarrass McGregor, firing precise punches into the gaps left by McGregor's long arms and loose shoulders.

But he didn’t. According to one accounting, Mayweather threw only six punches in the first round, and landed only two. What was he doing? A boxer sometimes spends a few rounds doing research, learning his opponent’s techniques and tendencies, the better to counter them, later on. But Mayweather, during the first three rounds of the fight, seemed less cunning than confused. He had never looked this way before, but plenty of other boxers have: it was the look of an aging boxer whose body has grown suddenly and puzzlingly uncoöperative. Mayweather is forty, and he built his record to 49–0 by relying on his quick reaction time. He loved to get dangerously close to his opponent and then shrug away from punches, deploying a technique that couldn’t really be copied by any boxer who lacked his reflexes, which was all of them. This approach allowed Mayweather to dominate without punching very much, or very hard. But during the first three rounds, McGregor was doing the one thing that most of us were sure he could not do: out-boxing Mayweather.

Later, once the fight was over, Mayweather talked to Jim Gray, insisting that the fight had started just as he wanted it to. “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,” he said. Maybe. But if this was Mayweather’s plan it was an uncharacteristically risky one, not least because it would require Mayweather to do something that he hadn’t done (barring one fluke) in almost a decade: score a knockout.

Whether Mayweather’s slow start was planned or not, it was magnified by McGregor’s fast start, which was just as shocking. Despite his awkward-looking posture, he managed to reach Mayweather with an irritating jab and, occasionally, a hard uppercut. Either accidentally or on purpose, McGregor did sometimes seem to forget where he was: when the two fighters were close, he might pound Mayweather’s head with the butt of his fist; this technique is known as a “hammerfist” in M.M.A., and known (though, on this night, inconsistently recognized) as a foul in boxing. Mainly, though, McGregor looked far more capable than anyone had any right to expect. After the third round, Al Bernstein, one of the commentators, said, “Conor McGregor, having himself quite the time, in Las Vegas.” He looked great—relative to expectations. And Mayweather looked relatively terrible.

In absolute terms, though, Mayweather was starting to figure out his next move. One of the most interesting analyses of Mayweather’s approach came, during a cheerful post-fight press conference, from McGregor himself. “I thought you switched up your game plan three times,” McGregor told Mayweather. “You came out looking to box; I thought you were being outboxed, early on. You looked to play against the ropes,” he said—this was the second strategy. “You were getting picked off there. And then you came in hands up towards your forehead, dipped in, forehead on your chest, and tried to fight that kind of fight—I didn’t anticipate that.”

In the seventh round, not long after Bernstein pointed out that Mayweather resembled “a shadow of his former self,” he stunned McGregor with a straight right hand, and started taking more chances—not cruising, like a confident virtuoso, but straining (and sometimes lunging) for a knockout. McGregor was getting hit and getting tired, staggering backward. From his corner, after the ninth, came an urgent and somewhat self-defeating command: “Everyone calm down!” In the tenth, McGregor kept staggering and Mayweather kept punching, and eventually the referee decided that, while most viewers surely wanted to see McGregor suffer some more, and possibly recover, he himself did not. Mayweather had won, by knockout, a meaningless championship belt, in a surprisingly meaningful fight.

Beating an M.M.A. champion doesn’t add much to Mayweather’s legacy, but this was nevertheless a smart fight for him to have chosen: it got him an outsized paycheck and a fiftieth win, neither of which would have been assured had he fought, instead, a top boxer. At the post-fight press conference, Mayweather, who likes to proclaim himself “The Best Ever,” gave himself a grade of pretty good. “I’ve been off for a couple years,” he said. “I’m not the same Floyd Mayweather I was twenty-one years ago. I told you guys, I’m not the same Floyd Mayweather I was two years ago. But remember: I still have a helluva I.Q., and I’m still a thinker.” He proclaimed himself retired, and, if he proves unable to keep his word, he may have to pick his opponents even more carefully: against a top welterweight like Keith Thurman or Errol Spence, Jr., Mayweather’s mental power might not be enough.

Dana White, the president of the U.F.C., which organizes McGregor’s fights, looked jubilant after the fight, despite having previously predicted a McGregor knockout victory. “I don’t know if tonight was the best boxing you’ve ever seen, but we saw a fight,” he said. Indeed, the night could scarcely have gone better for the U.F.C. With a win, McGregor might have been tempted to keep boxing; with a hard-fought loss, he can go back, triumphantly, to being the biggest star in the U.F.C., which has recently struggled to keep its big draws. (Ronda Rousey may have retired; Jon Jones, the brilliant light-heavyweight champion, recently failed a drug test, and may be stripped of his title.) “Conor McGregor looked damn good tonight,” White said.

In the buildup to the fight, much was made of McGregor’s incandescent confidence, which can be contagious: he seemed to believe he could do absolutely anything, which made even nonbelievers eager to spend a hundred dollars to watch him try. This fight proved, instead, that McGregor is an unusually accurate judge of his own considerable talents. He figured that, despite his inexperience, he was a competent enough boxer to give Mayweather some trouble, and he was correct. After the fight, McGregor refused to complain, but he did suggest that he disagreed with the referee. “I thought it was a little early of a stoppage,” he told Jim Gray. “I would have liked to have hit the floor.” Gray noted that McGregor seemed unaccountably happy. “I've been strangled on live TV and came back,” McGregor said. (This was a reference to to the time he lost, by rear naked choke, to Nate Diaz, and then beat him in the rematch.) “Let me wobble back to me corner, let me try and recompose me self,” he said. In defeat, McGregor embraced the kind of blood-and-guts boxing mythology that Mayweather has always disdained. “No one’s taking these type of risks, so frig it,” he said. This was, in a sense, a happy and wholesome conclusion to a sometimes unhappy and generally unwholesome promotion. Mayweather and McGregor promised to give fans a good fight. And somehow, against all odds, they did.

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