On August 27th, 2017, the world was one day removed from Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor actually fighting each other in a Nevada-sanctioned 12-round boxing match. Many thought it wouldn’t happen — I was stubbornly certain it’d never materialize — but it did, and Mayweather and McGregor (and the UFC) made oodles of cash.
Contrary to some pre-fight belief, McGregor failed to disrupt boxing as we know it, he didn’t punch from MMA angles (whatever the absolute fuck that terminology means), or fight out of a karate stance (seriously?!), or “go rogue” and throw kicks that would’ve seen him swiftly ambushed by Floyd’s bodyguards. On the other side, McGregor did land a punch on Mayweather (many of them, in fact!), he looked like someone who had an amateur boxing background that preceded his MMA career, but ultimately he did not knock Floyd Mayweather out, and was obviously stopped standing in the 10th round. Ignoring his bold and brash trash-talk, I don’t think McGregor embarrassed himself, and the only way that could’ve happened is if he’d gotten thoroughly demolished a la Mayweather vs. Diego Corrales, and seeing as this wasn’t prime Floyd, that was unlikely to happen.
Last year, I did an editorial with six takeaways from that fight pertaining to both Floyd and Conor. I only have the energy to come up with four more for this year, and I promise you there won’t be another edition in 2019.
The actual Mayweather vs. McGregor fight was a reasonably entertaining heist. Everything else? Not so much.
Even on re-watch, and analyzing it in-depth on Kyle McLachlan’s SuperFly Boxing Podcast, this was quite good relative to expectations. By having nothing to lose in his pro debut, McGregor was far from cautious, so the 41-year-old Mayweather had to work a bit, but once he adjusted it was firmly one-sided. McGregor showed a better jab than we’d seen in his MMA fights, landed a slick counter uppercut early in the contest, tried roughing Floyd up with very illegal hammerfists and random back takes, and even while exhausted, was determined not to taste the canvas. I don’t really care that CompuBox tallied more landed punches for him than Pacquiao, Canelo, Cotto, etc. Mayweather was willing to take more chances against a novice and be more aggressive, something McGregor’s coaches were somehow ill-prepared for. Nevertheless it made for a good night’s worth of entertainment.
Unfortunately, it indirectly spawned Jean Pascal vs. Steve Bosse, a Quebecois version of Floyd vs. Conor that was also entertaining but far more damaging and lopsided. That fight 100% should’ve never been sanctioned.
Why did I call it a heist? Well… Floyd wore a mask into the ring, and his coach Angelo Reyes explained it all.
“Basically he was saying it was a heist. Like Conor actually believed he could beat Floyd Mayweather and all that happened was he got fooled into the biggest pay-per-view, the biggest payday opportunity of all time.
I don’t disagree. McGregor may have had the genuine self-belief (or self-delusion, you could say) that partially defines him as a fighter, but he was never going to have the skill short of a miracle punch to beat one of the best boxers of his era. The intrigue and suspense was largely driven by the unknown. Since we didn’t have any actual tangible footage of McGregor in a boxing ring apart from Chris Van Heerden sparring and the Zapruder film footage with Paulie Malignaggi, these were some of the main reasons for giving Conor a chance, if not a win outright:
1.) Floyd’s old (ignoring that he keeps himself in tremendous shape and is a gym rat)
2.) Conor hits hard (as if Floyd doesn’t have a great chin and hasn’t fought heavier hitters, let alone difficult as hell to cleanly hit)
3.) Conor’s bigger (as if Floyd hasn’t fought bigger guys)
4.) Floyd struggles with southpaws (…no? Not really?)
5.) Hatred of Floyd Mayweather as a human being/just wanting to see him lose (sure! But this has no actual analysis involved)
6.) I really don’t like boxing and want to see an MMA fighter knock the top boxer off of his pedestal, giving my sport bragging rights. (don’t be that way)
Build-up to this clash, once made official, was the least enjoyable time I’ve ever had covering combat sports. The press conferences grew tiresome and devolved into pure trash, “glove size” was a needless storyline, a constant stream of “49-1” from the contingent of obnoxious McGregor fans, “I AM BOXING!” and oh yes, the aforementioned pre-fight takes spewed from a subsection of MMA fans (and some MMA analysts) that can best be classified as intellectually insulting. The very inferiority complex to boxing I’d written about in 2015 was in full force, and I loathed it.
My biggest annoyance with the “MMA angles/dat left/unorthodox techniques” drivel as reason to back McGregor as a genuinely elite boxer is that these statements were never applied to hypothetical fights against Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin or (for a smaller fighter) Terence Crawford, and yet this was justifiable for Mayweather… perhaps due to sheer ignorance of the whole sport of boxing/knowing other boxers, or through channeling Conor’s self-belief as their own, effectively eschewing rational thought. Hopefully this brain-melting discourse is permanently buried underneath the earth’s surface.
Boxing isn’t dying, MMA/UFC isn’t dying, but is the Boxing vs. MMA pissing match dying?
For the umpteenth time, the “boxing is dead/dying” takes were declared before and after Mayweather vs. McGregor. Maybe some of the “boxing is dead” columnists are the same ones who kept falsely reporting Abe Vigoda’s death until he finally died for real. We are in the midst of concern about the health of MMA and the UFC as pay-per-view numbers sag. I’m here to say that neither sport is going away any time soon.
There’s no evidence that the UFC is struggling financially, and while they may not have gotten the ideal broadcast rights deal, $300 million combined from ESPN and ESPN+ is more than double what FOX was paying them. You may dislike the increase in cards, the rise in arbitrary interim title bouts, and/or one-off matchmaking like Cormier vs. Lesnar, but the UFC isn’t disappearing unless something humongous torpedoes its bottom line. Much like boxing, questions about finding that “next superstar” are swirling around, and just like boxing, I’m pretty sure the UFC will continue to find its next set of major draws.
As for boxing, if you combined the reported US annual rights from HBO, Showtime, ESPN, and DAZN, it sits at around $250 million. This money is going to lead to bigger paydays for many top boxers. Thanks to Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, the British and Irish boxing scene is red-hot both for talent and fanbase to the point where many UK and Irish boxers needn’t come to North America. Ryota Murata and Naoya Inoue are superstars in Japan. Citing a faded (but steadily reviving) American boxing scene as evidence that boxing as a whole is in the doldrums is misguided. While HBO is admittedly questionable at this point, the other networks have shown that demand for boxing programming is still there, and they’re willing to pony up the cash. And guess what? Top Rank (Bob Arum) and the UFC are under the same roof starting in 2019.
One thing I do believe is possible in a post-Mayweather vs. McGregor world is that beyond the odd “MMA fighter calls out boxer” (and vice-versa) headline, we’re seeing the whole “UFC/MMA vs. boxing” war — largely enabled by the UFC itself — come to an end. Remember this infamous on-air tiff between Joe Rogan and Lou DiBella in 2007?
Rogan was extremely wrong about “your sport is getting swallowed,” and DiBella has walked back the silly “human cockfighting” comparisons and has developed more of a respect for MMA without being a major fan of it. Even the curmudgeonly Bob Arum, who equated ground fighting to “guys rolling around like homosexuals” and called the fanbase “skinheads,” has had praise for the UFC.
It turns out you’re allowed to enjoy MMA and boxing at the same time, and that the sports can co-exist as peacefully as humans and fishes. For me, I prefer MMA events over boxing events, but nothing matches the “big fight feel” like a 12-round boxing match.
Dana White is waiting to launch Zuffa Boxing, as futile as that may likely be. ONE Championship’s October card is headlined by a boxing match between super-flyweight champ Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Iran Diaz. Golden Boy Promotions is getting into the MMA business with Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 3. There’s mutual (if somewhat cynical) interest in cross-promotion, not cold-hearted attempts to kill off the “rival” sport.
From a fan perspective, boxing heads who may not be keen on MMA could appreciate someone like Max Holloway or TJ Dillashaw, while we have plenty of MMA diehards on this very karate magazine who don’t usually care for boxing, but are wowed by Vasyl Lomachenko, Gennady Golovkin, or Mikey Garcia. Or, as is often the case, you care about one sport and not the other, and that’s fine too!
Prediction: We will see a high-level, in-his-prime boxing champ do a one-off MMA fight
I’m not endorsing this, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that we see a world-class boxer in his prime competing in MMA competition. Note that I did not specify the UFC; it could be any promotion and against a low-level regional-quality opponent.
One such example is Regis Prograis, a 22-0 junior welterweight from Louisiana who could end up as a unified world champion if he wins the World Boxing Super Series tournament. He was a karate practitioner as a kid (before he was kicked out for being too violent), and also trains jiu-jitsu down in Brazil.
Minha primeira graduação no jiu-jitsu, agora sou um faixa branca 2 graus. pic.twitter.com/QvccXYt72x
— Rougarou (@RPrograis) August 13, 2018
His wife is Brazilian, so he’s become fluent in Portuguese, and recently hung out with Jose Aldo. He’s clearly passionate not just about boxing, but respects martial arts in general, and by all accounts he’s a voracious reader about fighting history.
You’re probably scoffing at this prediction because… well, “lol boxer not gonna take a gigantic paycut.” Fair point, so it may come down to “passionate about trying something new and don’t care about the money” or there’s a promotion (UFC included) willing to do a one-time payment that closely matches what that fighter is making in boxing. Not every top P4P guy is making north of $5 million per year. I can assure you that Prograis hasn’t sniffed a $1 million purse yet, although that likely changes next year.
We’ve had high-level kickboxers, BJJ specialists, judokas, sambo standouts, and Olympic caliber wrestlers all transition into MMA, but “accomplished pro boxer in his prime” remains elusive. However, the combat sports scene has evolved to the point where UFC/MMA has firmly streamlined itself, so it’s no longer a curiosity to some. Some current and next-gen boxers consequently may double as knowledgeable MMA fans with a desire to dabble in the sport. Art Jimmerson, James Toney, Ricardo Mayorga, and Ray Mercer do not fit the bill. Someone like Prograis just might break that barrier.
It’s great to have Conor McGregor in the UFC again
I suspect one of the primary reasons the McGregor act grew tiresome for many was that prior to Mayweather, you could not deny Conor was an incredibly active fighter. From 2015-2016, McGregor fought a half-dozen times, and I can’t stress enough how badass it was that he went from a five-round war with Nate Diaz in August and then easily dispatched Eddie Alvarez less than three months later. That level of activity is a promoter’s dream, and even his critics can’t knock his schedule.
Then he took a detour for the grabbiest of money grabs that quite conceivably no MMA fighter past, present, or immediate future could manage. Fair play to him, bad for fans who want to see him in the Octagon and against one of several formidable challengers.
Speculation over whether or not he’d take the Floyd payday and call it a career has been squashed. He’s returning against Khabib Nurmagomedov, widely regarded as one of his worst stylistic matchups. It’s going to be one of the biggest events in UFC history, and toppling the imposing Dagestan native would greatly enhance his legacy. Defeat may not necessarily dent his drawing power, but he would enter 2019 more than two years without a win.
I couldn’t be more thrilled to have McGregor back in an MMA cage. This whole ordeal from the Mayweather fight to his April bus bashing doesn’t dissuade me from the fact that I’ve long enjoyed the hell out of McGregor as a martial artist. He’s an exceptional talent both in terms of fighting ability and mastering the prize part of prizefighting in ways I don’t believe anyone in the UFC past, present, or future will match.
At this stage, the “fight every few months” McGregor is surely not making a comeback. It’s expected that he only has a few more MMA bouts left in him before he walks away, which is a shame given there are so many compelling opponents he’s yet to face. For now, we can all look forward to watching (or hate-watching!) the post-Mayweather chapter of McGregor’s fascinating career unfold. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t involve reigniting the flames of a rematch with Floyd under MMA rules, or else I may have to go into hiding for a few months.
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