Last night’s much-anticipated fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was a triumph of marketing. It was strictly a novelty show; there was no title at stake. Nevertheless, thanks largely to tireless promotion by the fighters, it generated world-wide interest. I haven’t yet seen the numbers, but millions were expected to buy the Showtime program, and it was the most heavily-bet boxing match in history. Surprisingly, it also turned out to be a pretty good fight.
To recap, briefly: Mayweather retired from boxing with a record of 49-0, universally regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats. At 40, he hadn’t fought in two years, but his fans didn’t worry too much about that, as he is always in superb condition. Floyd is a defensive genius, and the main knock on him is that his fights tend to be boring. (Exhibit A was his uninspiring win against an over-the-hill Manny Pacquiao.) McGregor, a 29-year-old Irishman, is a mixed martial arts champion and the most prominent figure in his sport. McGregor is quite a bit bigger than Mayweather as well as 11 years younger, but it was a boxing match, not wrestling or whatever else they do in MMA, and Floyd was a heavy favorite.
Mayweather’s usual style is to counterpunch while backing up, but he didn’t do that last night. Stung by criticism of his performance against Pacquiao, he vowed to stand in with McGregor, and that is what he did, eschewing his normal defensive approach. Mayweather may have felt secure in the knowledge that McGregor can’t punch hard, but nevertheless, the early rounds went to McGregor, as Floyd did nothing.
After the fight, Mayweather said that his strategy was to let McGregor tire himself out in the early rounds and then wear him down in the middle rounds (the bout was scheduled to go 12). That is what happened, as Floyd started to get active in the fourth and by the 8th was in control.
Of course, Mayweather doesn’t hit very hard either, in part because he has broken his hands so many times that he wears special protective gloves. It took a lot of punches to chop down the Irishman. By the ninth, McGregor had nothing left and was in deep trouble. A minute into the tenth he was defenseless as Mayweather pummeled him against the ropes, and the referee wisely stopped the fight.
Many had feared the bout would be a freak show. There had been speculation that the fight might end bizarrely–for example, with a fading McGregor throwing a kick–which would, the theory went, require a rematch. Thankfully, nothing like that happened. McGregor’s tendency to punch to the back of the head was the only oddity.
MMA fans can take satisfaction from the fact that their man performed relatively well in an unfamiliar sport, while boxing fans were relieved that Mayweather, who throughout his career has been more respected than loved, upheld the honor of their sport.
Some say that Mayweather could have put McGregor away at will, but let the MMA champ hang around to make a more entertaining event. It didn’t look that way to me, but ESPN reported that Mayweather tried to place a $400,000 bet on himself winning in under 9 1/2 rounds, and then on himself winning by a knockout. Maybe the fighter knew what he was doing: the TKO came at 9 1/3 rounds.
With Mayweather-McGregor behind us, attention turns to what should be a real thriller: Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will fight for the unified middleweight championship of the world on September 16. It will be the biggest fight in years, a relatively rare meeting between two great champions who are still in their primes, although GGG says it likely will be his last fight. Golovkin has never been beaten and has never been on the canvas. Alvarez has lost only once, by decision to Mayweather. I will have more to say about Golovkin-Alvarez as the fight draws nearer.