It was the impossible dream: Build a career in mixed martial arts, become a two-division world champion and UFC superstar and then secure a boxing match with the best boxer of this era.
Conor McGregor lived up to all his boasts, won his titles, earned the fame and glory and earlier this month, got the fight he wanted with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But what happens when the bell rings on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas? In less than two months, a mixed martial artist who has never competed in professional boxing before will face a 49-0 future Hall of Famer who has barely been touched in the course of that 49-fight career.
Now the word “impossible” will get thrown around even more, but McGregor’s track record has shown that what is impossible for most has proven possible, and often probable, for him. So while fans and pundits believe that the Irishman has bitten off more than he can chew, there is no doubt that McGregor and his team are coming up with a game plan to shock the world once more.
Does that blueprint to beat Mayweather exist? And if it does, can McGregor execute on fight night? The world will be watching later this summer, and in the meantime, what five things can “The Notorious” one do to at least put himself on a level playing field with “Money” Mayweather?
Read on for one person’s view…
It’s the simplest thing in the world, right? But fighting Floyd has never been an easy task, and considering the world class boxers who tried and failed, it becomes an even tougher challenge for McGregor.
But to win, McGregor can’t wait to counterpunch. Mayweather, formerly a fighter who would stand in the pocket, make you miss and make you pay, has turned into a potshot artist in recent years. Yes, he will still make you miss and make you pay, but he will not initiate the action. You commit and he fires back. And the art of the counterpunch has been key to McGregor’s success in the UFC.
But if the two keep their accepted form on Aug. 26, they might wind up staring at each other for 12 rounds. Of course, McGregor might just take that dare and try to force Mayweather to commit, but the Las Vegas resident won’t bite. This is his sport and his ring, and he’ll stand there all night until McGregor decides to lead.
So Mr. McGregor, it’s time to lead. But he can’t make it a boxing match. He has to close the distance, maybe eat a shot or two, and make it ugly on the inside. The talk so far has been that southpaws (a group McGregor belongs to) give Floyd the most trouble. I disagree, and counter with the idea that its pressure fighters like Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana who gave Mayweather nightmares. Maul, brawl and get into a fistfight at close range. That’s key No. 1.
PACE, PACE, PACE
No. 2 will be a lot harder to implement, simply because few fighters are as well-conditioned as Floyd Mayweather. Yes, he’s been on the sidelines since he defeated Andre Berto in September 2015, but the Grand Rapids native isn’t like the other retirees. He’s not walking around with a beer gut and an expanded waistline; in fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s out doing roadwork as I write this.
So to push him cardio wise for 12 rounds will be tough, but McGregor has to do this. He should be out running right now, getting ready to put a punishing pace on his opponent, because as much as Floyd is always in shape, he does like to fight at a comfortable rhythm that he sets. If McGregor takes him out of that rhythm and makes him fight harder than he wants to at 40 years old, the flawless technical game that has become his hallmark could get sloppy all of a sudden. And sloppy and tired fighters can make mistakes, and one mistake might be all McGregor needs.
The one-inch height advantage and two-inch reach advantage that McGregor holds over Mayweather likely means next to nothing come fight night. But expect to see McGregor looking much bigger than his foe when they finally collide, and not just because the two will be fighting at the junior middleweight limit of 154 pounds that Mayweather has only seen three times in wins over Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto.
In those three fights, the highest he got on weigh-in day was 151 pounds, which means he’s fighting as close to his natural weight as you will see in boxing. That won’t be the case for McGregor. At this point, the 155-pound division in which he just won his title last November is probably his optimum weight class, but he still cuts down to make the lightweight limit. So if fight night comes and he has a sizeable weight advantage, it will allow him to take that aforementioned “just fight” strategy and use it to bully Mayweather on the inside, keep him in a corner or on the ropes, and put a little more pop on his fastball.
It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but once the pomp and circumstance is over, McGregor is looking to win a fight, not make highlight reels.
Floyd Mayweather has been in this game too long and has been in too many big fights to fall victim to a little trash talk. He might even admit that he gets more motivated the more an opponent talks. And McGregor will talk in the lead-up to August 26 – a lot. Floyd will talk as well and it will result in an entertaining promotion, to say the least.
But will McGregor be able to push buttons that no one else has on Floyd? Maybe the Irishman will place Mayweather in a position where he has to defend the honor of his sport against the invading outsider. Maybe the first punch of the fight won’t be landed by Floyd, but by Conor. And in a fight where McGregor is playing by another man’s rules in his town and in his ring, it might be the mental game where he has to make his mark and land the first blow.
Because if McGregor can make Mayweather fight out of his comfort zone, well, then everything could change.
BE CONOR McGREGOR
Conor McGregor is a unicorn in the sports world. There’s no better way to put it. And while putting millions of dollars in the bank account is quite the motivator, I get the impression that McGregor may be more concerned with winning this fight and cementing himself even further in the history books.
Think about it: I he wins on Aug. 26, forget the internet; he might stop the entire world. It would be a feat no one has accomplished before, and might never accomplish again. And what’s more enticing than that? But to get there, he has to believe it. Or as Han Solo said, “Never tell me the odds.”
Yes, the Dubliner is fighting the best boxer of this era with no pro boxing experience. But he’s here now, so why not be Conor McGregor and go in guns blazing in an attempt to shake up the world?
If he loses, well, he made the walk and took the shot. You have to give him credit for that. If he wins? Wow. Now that would be something.