McGregor showed guts, but his future isn't in boxing
To those who were rooting for Floyd Mayweather’s demise purely as a means of tilting the inane boxing-versus-MMA referendum: You’re out of your depth.
Conor McGregor was a lot of things on Saturday night. He was conspicuously larger than Mayweather. He was unorthodox - pawing his jab, twirling in and out of his southpaw stance, and delivering blatantly illegal “hammerfists” in the clinch. He was gutsy. Patient. Calculating. What he was not, however, was an elite boxer.
Although some experts doubted his ability to land a meaningful punch against Mayweather, McGregor connected with 111 of them, 30 more than Manny Pacquiao could muster in his dustup with the undefeated fighter.
But the reigning UFC lightweight champion was never truly in the fight beyond the opening minutes.
In Round 1, McGregor connected with the left hand mixed martial artists have come to fear, an uppercut that caught Mayweather flush on the chin. The opening three rounds were tense, and easily could’ve been scored for McGregor, though only one of three judges did so.
The Irishman also showed off his counter-punching instincts, keeping his opponent out of the pocket early with a deterring rhythm of jabs and straight lefts. He tried to keep Mayweather at bay - daring the typically dormant fighter to charge - but couldn’t hold the fort.
In Round 4, as he was nestling his way through McGregor’s shield, Mayweather connected with about 60 percent of a serpent-like lead right that drew a roar from the star-studded crowd. It was the beginning of the end.
Even at 40 years old, Mayweather’s power advantage was evident from then on. McGregor threw too many punches with half steam. Standing too tall, he gained little leverage with his legs, flailed slapping hooks, and was utterly ineffective at close range. Most importantly, Mayweather never came to fear McGregor’s left, and the southpaw stance was nothing more than a minor nuisance for the boxing prodigy. It was to be expected; even seasoned pros with far superior footwork couldn't outstep Mayweather.
As Mayweather began to walk him down, McGregor’s posture betrayed him defensively as well. Carrying his hands low and his head high, McGregor’s chin was often gravely exposed and he committed the cardinal sin of trying to evade Mayweather’s right hand by moving his head straight back. That inexperience was on full display late in the seventh as Mayweather bullied McGregor around the ring, touching him with a series of clean rights. McGregor was much too square, seemingly exhausted, and losing his balance.
A similar scene unfolded in the ninth, with McGregor stumbling in reverse, eating heavy shots he simply could not escape. His biggest oversight may have been not taking a boxing lesson in holding when you’re desperate.
Yes, Mayweather is a tactical genius with preternatural reflexes and instincts. But at this advanced stage of his career, following two years on the shelf, it’s unimaginable he’d be able to impose his will on boxing’s current top fighters. He showed flashes on Saturday, but this was a greatly diminished Floyd Mayweather.
McGregor delivered a courageous performance with the deck stacked against him, but it’s hard to envision him not getting steamrolled by an in-his-prime Canelo Alvarez, among many others, in a matter of minutes.
Twenty-nine is a great age to be when you're fighting a 40-year-old, but not for your first professional boxing match - even with an MMA background.
It was an entertaining fight, for which both men will be paid handsomely (Mayweather's expected to earn $200 million, while McGregor's guaranteed $30 million and will likely earn more than $100 million).
McGregor said he’s “open to all options” moving forward. It’s possible - even likely - the brash-talking MMA superstar will be lured back into a boxing ring for the right price. But it’s not where he belongs.