There has been lots of chatter recently in the world of combat sports about the potential cross-sport matchup between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. Initially, the talk of the fight seemed just that, talk. However, fueled by fan interest and apparent buy-in from Mayweather, some believe the fight might become a reality. There’s no question McGregor is a player, but is Mayweather willing to take the fight? Only time will reveal the answer to that question. Until then, we take a look at some of the sweet science behind a possible “super fight” between these two superstars to make a speculative determination on who would win the fight; moreover, we will reflect on some critical yet nuanced aspects of boxing and MMA that will collectively determine the outcome of this potential matchup.
Though this is a cross-sport fight, we think it’s clear that McGregor is the one stepping into Mayweather’s world—that is, boxing. We don’t believe there is any argument that McGregor would dismantle Mayweather quickly in an MMA fight, but there seems to be a lot of speculation whether Floyd could take Conor in a boxing fight, hence the intrigue of this matchup.
There are many factors that revolve around the differences between MMA and boxing. The physical output in boxing over time is not necessarily greater than MMA, but more in-line with what an aerobic athlete endures. MMA, on the other hand, requires a combination of anaerobic and aerobic fitness that includes aspects such as stuffing takedowns, fighting in the clinch, grappling, defending in the guard or executing submissions. These are all examples of anaerobic elements of the game, which are devoid in boxing. The point we’re making here is that Conor has spent an inordinate amount of time training these anaerobic factors and conditioned his muscles in way that will not necessarily serve him in a boxing match. Reconditioning muscles to match the demands of a task takes thousands of hours of training the mind and the body. For example, an 800-Meter sprinter cannot recondition his muscles in a short period to effectively run the 1500-Meter race at a high-level.
The difference in glove size can make a difference as well. Conor is accustomed to wearing 4-oz gloves compared to that of 8-oz gloves. While that might seem a minor aspect to many, it is in fact, a very important factor for a couple reasons. First, and obvious to many, the 4-oz glove has less padding which means greater impact whereas the padding in the boxing glove tends to absorb at least some of the power.
Second, because of the additional padding on the end of the fist (this differs depending on the brand of the glove), the distance is impacted. Though it may be only 1-2 inches, this is critical because the art of striking is a game of just that, 1-2 inches. MMA fighters who are accustomed to remaining safely outside an opponent’s reach may now find themselves within striking range of a boxing glove. Conversely, boxers who previously land from very specific distances might find their punches falling short if they were to wear MMA gloves. Moreover, the size of the gloves impact the defensive and resulting offensive strategy available to the fighter. More on that later.
Third, the weight of the glove impacts how the punch is thrown, which also impacts the velocity. Think about a wrecking ball. The weight of the ball plus the velocity generated by the distance from the object and swing of the crane dictates the damage done. Boxers learn to relax their shoulders and allow the weight of their gloves, and heavier hand wraps, to further generate power and snap.
Fourth, body positioning in each sport is different. In MMA, fighters must stand squarer to effectively defend kicks and takedowns; however, in boxing the stance tends to be more linear as this increases the range of the fighter’s jab and hypothetically reduces the size of their body as a target.
Finally, because of the weight difference in the gloves, the muscles for striking under the specific weight conditions are developed differently. This can impact speed, power, and endurance. Again, altering stance, adjusting to the weight differences, and realigning the differences in spacing would likely take thousands of hours of deliberate practice to become highly effective.
Another subtle differences between the two sports is footwear. Mixed martial artists do not use footwear, whereas boxers do. While we can only speculate on the pros and cons of this, the friction created by the shoes likely has an impact across different areas like footwork and perhaps even power because of the increased stability. Conor will now likely train and prepare with boxers’ footwear, but there is no substitute for the time spent wearing shoes during training and actual fight conditions. Therefore, there could be subtle effects of movement variations caused by the friction and the weight that may further affect Conor during the fight. Some may think this is ridiculous, but experts in any craft can be impacted by even the slightest changes. For example, professional bicycle riders and sprinters take great care to wear clothing that reduces friction to gain the best competitive edge possible.
These subtle variances often make the difference between winning and losing at the highest levels of competition.
Offense – MMA Striking v. Boxing
In MMA, strikes can come from 8 general areas: 2 hands, 2 legs/feet, 2 knees, and 2 elbows. In addition, areas of attack include the head, the torso, the legs, and the feet. Moreover, in MMA offense is compounded by the many techniques available to grapplers. In boxing, offense is limited to the use of hands with areas of attack focused on the body and the head.
MMA fighters must typically maintain a greater distance than boxers do because they must contend with a variety of potential offensive attacks like kicks and takedowns. This is likely one reason why some of the longer, loopier punches that tend to land in MMA are not typically effective or even detrimental in boxing.
Generally speaking, the greater distance created because of the threat of takedowns, and the amount of time spent grappling, decreases the number of strikes in comparison to boxing. In addition, the rate at which strikes are thrown and landed is far different in MMA and boxing. Where Conor has trained over the years to throw a particular number of strikes in preparation for an MMA fight, his striking output in a boxing match will be vastly different.
To illustrate this, we compared a few of the highest output matchups in boxing and MMA, and listed the data below. As can be seen, the boxers’ striking output is more than twice that of the mixed martial artists’. While greater time spent in the ring may account for some of this, the point is, boxers are putting in far more punching repetition during training and fighting. Will Conor have enough time to recondition his muscles in a way that will suit him in a boxing match in just a short period of time?
Defense – MMA Striking v. Boxing
In boxing, the size of the glove allows fighters to more effectively block and guard against punches. In addition, shoulder rolls are used to absorb strikes (e.g., Mayweather, James Toney) as well as bobbing (e.g. Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier) are a staple of the sport as fighters seek to gain an advantage inside. Because inside fighting in MMA employs a combination of elbows, knees, hand strikes, and takedowns, bobbing and shoulder rolling come at a high risk and are seldom used. Therefore, reconditioning the mind and the body movement to effectively incorporate shoulder rolls and bobbing would take thousands of hours to become highly effective and compete at the highest of levels.
Styles – Styles make fights and these two fighters are counterpunchers. What exactly does this mean?
Styles make fights. Both of these fighters, masters of distance and timing, tend to use counter-punching as their primary style. The focus of this style is for the fighter to patiently bait the opponent into a well-timed counter attack by providing an illusion the fighter can be struck. The fighter often creates this illusion by using a lowered guard and remaining just on the edge of the opponents reach, further enticing the opponent’s aggression by sometimes leaning their head slightly forward. Their relaxed shoulders allow for increased speed as only the muscles needed to generate speed are engaged as needed. Many fighters use this style to psychologically wear their opponent down as he begins to question his strategy after being feinted and summarily punished for aggression. Fighters like Roy Jones Jr. and Muhammad Ali were masters of this. And so are Mayweather and McGregor in their respective sports.
Deliberate Practice- Hours of Training and Competing
There is an article online outlining one training regimen of Mayweather. In it, he can be observed hitting mitts, hitting the heavy bag, hitting the body shield, and shadowboxing. Round after round, after round, for 32 rounds. Now multiply similar training regiments (or even a third of this) over the course of weeks, years, and decades. The result is hundreds of thousands of punches thrown. In MMA, deliberate practice must be divided amongst many skills. In boxing, there is only punching and punch defense. The result is that boxers develop greater fluency with skills related to striking with hands and defending punches, under boxing rules.
When all these subtle differences are taken into account, there is an absurd amount of deliberate practice going into specific skills required in each sport. In general, to become an expert in any realm typically takes upwards of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Though that is just a rough estimate, there is a crossover of skills from MMA to boxing, but the differences may be too great to try and make up the deficit Conor would face in training to prepare for arguably boxing’s greatest ever.
Deliberate practice, hours of training and competing, and differences between in-fight equipment, we posit, is the major reason McGregor will not be able to contend with Mayweather under common boxing rules. Our speculation of this has nothing to do with the superiority of the athlete. They are both incredible athletes who excel in their respective craft. In an MMA fight, we believe Mayweather wouldn’t last more than 3-5 minutes. And this is very generous. In a boxing match, we’d be surprised if McGregor lasts 3-5 rounds with Mayweather. In simple terms, it is the amount of deliberate practice that determines the outcome. As we mentioned earlier, the differences at the highest levels of competition are so slim that the determination between a gold and silver medal in the Olympics, for example, is literally 100ths of a second. And Conor’s devotion to MMA-specific training for many years and 1000s of hours has conditioned his muscles and neurological connections in ways that cannot be altered in a short period of time to match that of what Floyd possesses. The gloves, shoes, distance, timing, etc., will all add up to the benefit of Floyd. Again, the 800-Meter champ cannot compete against the 1500-Meter champ and vice versa.
Don’t Believe the Hype
In the end, we actually feel there is a great potential for this to be a boring fight. Mayweather never let his ego impose on his fighting style hence the reason for his perfect record. Floyd’s style has never been to stand-and-bang. Though Conor has youth on his side, Mayweather will likely respect Conor’s power and is nimble enough to stay clear of his range as he looks to safely capitalize on opportunities that will increasingly present themselves as the fight progresses. Even if there is a way to modify the rules so the athletes can meet in the middle (e.g. “Butterbean” rules), this could still be a bust a la the Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson 150-Meter race.
However, the beauty of combat sports is that anything can happen. For example, maybe Mayweather steps out of his game to prove a point and gets caught, or even struggles with the awkwardness of McGregor’s striking style. But in our view, the most exciting and competitive aspect of this fight will likely come from the pre-fight trash talk hype. As such, we encourage you to remember the infamous words of Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype!”
As we were wrapping this article up, we came across the following headline: Roy Jones Jr. wants to fight Anderson Silva on the same card as Mayweather-McGregor. These types of potential matchups are more akin to carnival side shows, not professional sport, in our opinion. Boxing is an amazing sport. Watching elite boxers throw punches is to watch true virtuosos of the punch. Boxers should be respected, and so should the long and storied sport. As such, do not sully the sport of boxing or MMA with these matchups. If fans are curious as to the outcome of this fight, simply re-read what we’ve written above, but substitute Jones/Silva for Mayweather/McGregor.
We hoped the urge to pit mixed martial artists against boxers died in 1993 when Royce Gracie quickly tapped Art Jimmerson in UFC 1, or 7 years ago when Randy Couture dismantled James Toney in the first round. The same will happen pitting the elite boxer against the mixed martial arts in boxing. Comparing boxing with martial arts because there is punching in both is like comparing basketball with football because both sports pass the ball.
And for those who want to see these fights just to find out who is the “baddest man on the planet,” the conclusion is foregone. As professionals involved in the sport of MMA, we suppose we are biased. But in our opinion (well, we feel there is no doubt), boxers can no longer hold this title. It now belongs to the mixed martial artist.
We invite comments and differing perspectives as this will be hotly debated up until the fight…if it happens.
An expert in leadership and human performance, Dr. Paul “Paulie Gloves” Gavoni is a highly successful professional striking coach in mixed martial arts. As an athletic leader and former golden gloves heavyweight champion of Florida, Coach Paulie successfully applies the science of human behavior to coach multiple fighters to championship titles at varying levels worldwide. With many successful fighters on his resume, Coach Paulie tailors his approach to fit the needs of specific fighters based on a fighters behavioral, physiological, and psychological characteristics. Coach Paulie is a writer for Last Word on Sports and is a featured coach in the book, Beast: Blood, Struggle, and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts.
Alex Edmonds, PhD, BCB, is currently an associate professor of research at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. He graduated from Florida State University and received his doctoral degree in Educational Psychology with a minor in Statistics and Measurement. Over the years, Dr. Edmonds has applied his knowledge of research design, measurement and assessment in both field and laboratory examinations. He has published extensively in a variety of areas such as research design, psychophysiology and sport psychology. Prior to graduate school, he was a strength and conditioning coach working with professional athletes in football, track, and boxing. He then combined his passion for the sports with the field of psychology making it the emphasis of his graduate work. While in graduate school, he conducted his field work with the track and field team at Florida State and started using biofeedback for research and practice during this time. He has utilized biofeedback extensively with various types of athletes for performance enhancement, as well as stress-regulation techniques. Dr. Edmonds is certified through the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance in general biofeedback.
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