Brandon Gibson is a purist when it comes to striking. Yet when the respected coach at the Jackson Wink MMA Academy talks about his chosen art and how it applies to the Aug. 26 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, he doesn’t do it as “The MMA guy,” because as anyone knows, to know your business is to know all aspects of it.
So don’t expect him to believe this clash between mixed martial artist and boxer is the end of civilization as we know it, like some boxing purists have surmised.
“I think it’s kind of cool that we live in a time like this where we get to see these matchups happen,” he said. “Out of all the MMA guys and all the boxing guys, this is a great matchup to see.”
For people like Gibson, this war of combat sports worlds isn’t about the spectacle or the excitement of the night. Instead, it’s a chance to see what works in what world, and whether McGregor can make the proper adjustments to compete with the best boxer of this generation in Mayweather.
And if “The Notorious” one is going to battle on a level playing field with “Money,” adjusting to the range of a boxing match is first and foremost.
“The biggest difference between striking for MMA and striking for boxing is the range,” Gibson explains. “MMA fighters have to have a longer distance between the two to account for the kicking range, whereas boxers fight the majority of the fight within a boxing range and a clinch range. So MMA fighters have another range on the outside, that being the kick range, and then we have a range even tighter than the clinch, which would be the wrestling and grappling range. MMA strikers have a lot more to account for just on the range side, not even taking into account the angles of the Octagon or the variety of strikes and wrestling attempts and grappling work.”
Having said that, one would assume that having less to deal with would be ideal, but when a fighter has been getting off his shots from a certain range in MMA fights for so long, there will be that adjustment period which McGregor presumably took care of in sparring for the Aug. 26 matchup.
Another adjustment few have discussed thus far is the move for McGregor from Octagon to ring. If he’s going to make it a close quarters fight with Mayweather and use his size to bully the former five-division world champ, he will have an easier time of cornering his foe in a ring than he would in an Octagon, which has no corners. But will he have the footwork to keep Mayweather there, and what happens if the Las Vegan turns the tables on the Irishman?
“Putting somebody in the corner of a four-sided boxing ring is much easier than putting him on the fence in an eight-sided Octagon,” Gibson said. “With that said, it’s also more difficult to get out of the corner or if your back’s against the ropes – there’s less space, less room for evasive maneuvers, where in MMA, there are more options once you’ve been pinned up. So in MMA I think you need more explosive footwork to be able to cut off the cage. In boxing, you need tighter and more precise footwork to effectively hold somebody up against the ropes.”
Yet according to Gibson, the biggest factor in next weekend’s bout will come down to defense. That’s a skill Mayweather has mastered. Now it remains to be seen whether McGregor can penetrate that defense while blocking incoming fire as well.
“MMA fighters like to use, not only their range and their footwork as the first line of defense, but sometimes you’re able to clinch and wrestle and take that to a dominant position,” he said. “The clinch work in boxing is very, very different. You need to be ready to attack off the break and defend off the break. And fighting with eight-ounce gloves is very different than MMA gloves. Not so much on the offensive side, but more so on the defensive side. And Floyd’s a master at being able to cover with his palm, block and defend shots with the glove. It’s a type of defense that MMA fighters aren’t allowed to do because if we try to do that with a four-ounce glove, you get punched behind the ear and put to sleep. So McGregor’s adjustment on the defensive side will be his biggest task.”
It won’t be easy, but Gibson knows plenty of MMA fighters in his own gym that handle themselves pretty well in a boxing setting, not the least of which are International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame member Holly Holm and Cub Swanson, who recently worked with Omar Figueroa in the lead-up to his knockout of Robert Guerrero last month. So is it a large hill to climb for McGregor? Yes. But not an impossible one.
“We’ve seen a lot of boxers do well in MMA, and I think this is a great opportunity to see an MMA fighter do well in boxing,” Gibson said. “Obviously, he’s going up against one of the greatest fighters of this generation, so the task is large and daunting, but Conor is an athlete that’s special enough to make the adjustment, go in there and represent himself well.”