Floyd Mayweather 49-0. Conor McGregor 0-0. On records and professional boxing experience alone, many have counted the UFC lightweight champion out of his Aug. 26 showdown with the future Boxing Hall of Famer.
Dan Hardy isn’t one of them. And while you could just say that the UFC veteran and analyst, who will be part of the Sky Sports Box Office team reporting from Las Vegas this weekend, is just standing up for a fellow mixed martial artist, “The Outlaw” has seen too much from “The Notorious” one over the years to just dismiss him.
READ PART I OF THE ROAD TO MAYWEATHER-MCGREGOR: DAN HARDY HERE
“Just based on what Conor’s already achieved, I don’t think we can count him out,” Hardy said. “This man is an excellent person at manifesting his own destiny. His ability to draw success to him and to carve out this groove within the combat and entertainment industries is really unparalleled. Nobody else has been able to do it, especially at the speed in which he’s done it.
“He’s a 28-year-old man who’s in the prime of his athletic career who’s already won two world titles in the sport that he began in and did it with relative ease as well,” he continues. “So we have to understand that he’s achieved so much already and that gives him a supreme level of confidence and self-belief. And given the fact that he does hit very hard and he is the bigger man in there and does move in an unpredictable manner, I think it would be ignorant to assume that he didn’t have a shot.”
It is hard to ignore that McGregor has been calling his shots for years, and after shocking many with his finishes of Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez to win a pair of UFC titles, why not switch sports and take on the best of this era in the ring. For pure bravado and guts, McGregor has already won. But believing something and doing it are two different things. Hardy knows this, yet he thinks McGregor’s ability to shake up the status quo like he did in MMA will only help him on Saturday night, especially in a sport that has become stagnant in many ways over the years.
“Boxing has become so set in its ways because it’s been refined over years and years of watering down and withering down the skill set of punching,” Hardy explains. “If someone says I’m going to be a boxer, they step into a boxing gym and they teach you exactly what you need to do to be a good boxer. In mixed martial arts, there are a lot of questions, and Conor is one of those people who stepped in there and started asking those questions when a lot of people, myself included, didn’t.
“All the skills that Conor has now, the kicking skills, the fancy movements, and the traditional martial arts technique he uses, I started off with all of that,” he continues. “And when I got into mixed martial arts, I went ‘Okay, I’ve got to discard some of this because we now know that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling and Muay Thai works.’ So I moved away from that questioning mentality that Conor didn’t. And I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s risen to the forefront so quickly. He’s still asking those questions and still challenging on so many different levels.”
Will McGregor ask those questions in the ring against Mayweather? If he does, it may be in the form of breaking from the strategy most pundits believe he needs to implement in order to win. That strategy is to crowd Mayweather, use his size and make it into a fight, not a boxing match. As noted in our previous piece with Hardy, the former welterweight title challenger knows those are keys to victory…but not the only ones.
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“For the first few rounds, he (Mayweather) is going to expect Conor to come out and push the pace – partly because that’s how Conor fights and partly because of the size of the event,” Hardy said. “I think when he first signed the contract, he was expecting Conor to be quite overwhelmed with the Mayweather production. Perhaps after the press tour, he realizes that Conor’s far more of a formidable character than he anticipated. And I think the advantage he initially thought he may have where Conor walks out and has that ‘Oh s**t’ moment of fighting Floyd Mayweather. I don’t think that’s a factor anymore.
“What I would do to try and get in Floyd’s head and unsettle him a little bit is to not come out and push a pace early,” he continues. “I’d come out and bully the center of the ring and I would just hit him every time he comes into range. I would make sure that no matter what was landing, it was pushing him back and making him aware that he is the smaller, older man.”
In essence, that strategy produces two benefits. It presumably throws Mayweather off his game and also allows McGregor to get acclimated to the ring, the gloves, the shoes and the atmosphere, allowing him to up the ante in the middle to late rounds, where Hardy doesn’t think cardio will be an issue for the Irishman.
“I think he can (go 12 rounds), especially if he takes the approach that I would, which is to pace yourself for the first three rounds and enjoy that moment and force Floyd to be a little panicked because Conor’s not attacking,” he said. “He (McGregor) can coast comfortably for nine minutes because Floyd’s not going to over extend himself. It can be very tactical opening to the fight and I think that would be the smartest thing to do.
“Mixed martial arts and five fives is very different to boxing and 12 threes because you’re only focusing on one energy system in boxing,” Hardy explains. “He (McGregor) knows he’s going to be standing for the whole fight and he’s going to be at boxing range or in a clinch, but he’s going to be clinched with a 40-year-old man that’s smaller than him. So I don’t think Conor’s particularly concerned with that.
“The other thing that’s interesting is that in that moment when Shane Mosley cracked Floyd Mayweather and he was on jelly legs for a second, Floyd did a great job of tying him up. Conor is gonna be excellent at freeing his arms and getting space to land another shot, because when he’s stepping in to punch at mixed martial arts range, in the back of his mind, he has the possibility of stepping too far in and becoming clinched. And no referee will separate them in mixed martial arts, which means that he then has to work out of that.”
As the days get closer to the most talked about fight in several years, the idea of a Mayweather blowout is finding fewer and fewer takers. Yes, “Money” is the rightful favorite, and Hardy agrees, but when the bell rings on Saturday, he thinks we should expect the unexpected.
“Obviously, the safe bet is Mayweather by decision because that’s been proven so many times against some of the best boxers out there,” Hardy said. “Conor’s not a boxer, and he came into the sport of mixed martial arts, which is fairly unpredictable, and redefined it in a lot of ways. Why would he not go into boxing and do the same thing? And I think he will get into boxing with the same mindset. He will face Floyd Mayweather almost with a blank canvas because he hasn’t picked up all those bad habits and traits that Floyd can study from over the years. He’s an unknown commodity.”