The Irish Eye: August - Mayweather vs McGregor special
Our regular Irish expert Kane Clarke reflects on Mayweather vs McGregor and the media hype and circus which surrounded it...
Saturday 26 August was a night I had been looking forward to for quite some time.
Ever since Conor McGregor first appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show back in 2015 and - in a roundabout way - called out Floyd Mayweather, the combat sports world had been awash with speculation about who would win a showdown between the two protagonists, MMA's best striker, or the self-proclaimed TBE ('The Best Ever') in boxing.
Dublin's McGregor had risen to the top of the fight game in a short amount of time. Having held two world titles in Europe's Cage Warriors promotion, the Irishman went on to repeat the feat in the biggest promotion in the world, stopping former champions Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez respectively, to pick up UFC titles at 145lbs and 155lbs. Now he had eyes on conquering the boxing world and a 'Money Fight' with 'Money Mayweather'.
Most people in the boxing world didn't give the Crumlin man a chance, and you can understand why, after all MMA and Boxing are two separate sports. Of course, boxing is a key discipline in Mixed Martial Arts amongst many others, but the 'dropshot' is just as important in tennis as it is in badminton, and it doesn't mean we see Lin Dan challenging Roger Federer at Wimbledon, and if that did ever happen, not even the biggest optimist would give Dan a chance.
For some, this was an intriguing bout that McGregor had a chance of winning. For others it was a mismatch, because Mayweather's 'head was too small'. "That left hand" of McGregor's was being talked about by his supporters as though it was as much of a threat to Mayweather as Kim Jong-Un's hydrogen bomb was to America. The line of argument was that it was bound to be deployed at some stage, and once it landed, the outcome would be disastrous.
McGregor's confidence or 'will to win' was also talked about as if it wasn't already a key ingredient that any top athlete in the world had running through their veins. What some seemed to forget was that Mayweather himself had compiled a 21-year undefeated run at the top level in boxing, so his own self-belief was cast iron.
The world publicity tour - which featured stops in LA, Toronto, New York and London over the space of four days - only served to heighten interest among the paying public. Over the space of these four days the two combatants traded back and forth insults and threats that sent the casual fan market into overdrive.
However, the hype was only just beginning.
During those press conferences it was made public that McGregor had reached out to former two-weight world boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi to come into his camp as a sparring partner, an offer which Paulie accepted. This was a bit surprising considering Malignaggi had talked a lot of trash about McGregor, trying to generate interest in a bout between the pair when it first came about that the Irishman would be entering the boxing ring.
McGregor made it clear during a media scrum in LA that Paulie wasn't being brought in to help prepare him for Mayweather, but was being called on "because he would have to answer for all his talk" and that they were going to have a "knock".
Malignaggi had retired from boxing after being stopped by Birmingham's Sam Eggington in March and ever since had continued to be lauded for his tactical analysis and breakdowns of live bouts, working for various TV networks including Showtime and Sky Sports. Although his best years in the square circle were a decade removed, with McGregor and his team deciding not to recruit a boxing coach of any sort, surely Malignaggi's intelligence and experience of the game would be of benefit?
After a second sparring session, McGregor's team leaked a photo of Malignaggi on the canvas, which sent social media into overdrive, and led to the disappearance of 'The Magic Man' from camp McGregor.
Malignaggi took to Twitter and just about every popular combat sports podcast to defend himself, claiming that the 'knockdown' was the result of a push and not a punch. A few days of online conspiracy theories passed before McGregor's boss, UFC president Dana White, released a small clip from the infamous sparring session which seemed to show that Paulie did end up on the canvas as a result of a combination from 'The Notorious'.
Malignaggi strenuously denied these claims, popping up everywhere to slate the Irishman. Whether it was a push or a punch, the casual fan had, by now, well and truly taken the bait - money was flooding in for McGregor, with the bookmakers' odds giving Conor more of a chance than many world champion boxers before him.
And so it rumbled on. There were still more meaningless decisions to be made that would have even the casual pessimist second guessing themselves. 'The Notorious' usually fights in 4oz mitts inside the UFC's Octagon but was sanctioned to wear 10oz boxing gloves against Mayweather, what with the bout being fought at light-middleweight (154lbs).
One weight division lower at welterweight, the sanctioned glove size is 8oz. Some argued - including McGregor himself - that Mayweather had avoided fighting at welterweight (where he campaigned throughout his most successful years) to avoid that extra 2oz of padding that was going to somehow make such a huge difference to McGregor's chances of victory.
McGregor's outlandish prediction of a four-round victory was quickly shortened to two after the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled that the duo be granted exemption to fight using 8oz gloves, as requested by Mayweather of course.
Fight week approached and worldwide Facebook profile pictures were changed in support of either competitor. Thousands of Irish fans descended upon Las Vegas as they always patriotically do to create a special atmosphere. The final press conference was closed to the public, and with record-breaking PPV numbers already trending, the two competitors were in a much more solemn mood, knowing that the hard work convincing the paying public that this was going to be a competitive fight had been done, even wishing each other "good luck" after their customary face-off.
The crowds and cameras were back out in force on weigh-in day and so, inevitably, was the smack talk. McGregor weighed in at 153lbs, and promised to rehydrate to around 170lbs come fight time. Mayweather came in at 149lbs, and would be around the same weight when he entered the ring, giving up roughly 20lbs to his younger counterpart.
All that was left now was the collection of their cash, or the 'fight' as some people called it. But not before Mayweather reminded the viewing public that they were actually watching a heist and not a sporting contest. We have become accustomed to some humorous walk-out attire from Mayweather through the years, but his decision to unashamedly wear a balaclava for his ring-walk was a final stroke of genius.
This was a daylight robbery. But who could blame Floyd for wanting to make $350 million for an easy night's work?
It was the ultimate low risk / high reward situation. Both men would make a hell of a lot of money because people wanted to see it, so why not give the people what they wanted and make themselves millions in the process? This is 'prize' fighting after all.
The bout itself played out pretty much as expected with Mayweather coming forward, forcing McGregor to fight. Not a usual tactic from Floyd, but he has in the past shown disregard to apparent punchers, telling the fans and Marcos Maidana prior to their first bout in 2013 that he would come forward - and he did - which made for a great, close fight.
Many had criticised his victory over Manny Pacquiao and argued that his usual elusive style was 'boring', and so Floyd promised to come forward, confident in the knowledge that McGregor couldn't hurt him.
And so it was that Mayweather marched forward for the first three rounds, high-guarded, making McGregor throw punches that he didn't need to. Slowly but surely McGregor began to show the signs of fatigue.
Another major factor I couldn't quite get my head around prior to the bout, was how was McGregor going to do the rounds? He'd shown in his UFC contests that his gas tank has been known to empty a little early, so how on earth was he going to manage 12 rounds or 36 minutes in a boxing ring? Against an all-time great to boot?
Indeed, McGregor had fought for a full 25 minutes just once in his career, and after two of those five-minute rounds, he was running from Diaz to try and get a moment's respite.
Unfortunately for Conor, the squared circle is a lot smaller than the Octagon, and there was nowhere for him to run as Floyd started putting the pressure on him throughout the middle rounds, taunting him at the end of round five with the words "where's the power?"
Mayweather started to up his output and put pressure on the dwindling McGregor, before eventually forcing referee Robert Byrd to jump in and call a halt to the bout just over one minute into the tenth round.
And, just like that, the moment I had been waiting for so badly had come and the circus was over. No longer would I be waking up to countless notifications, having been tagged in meaningless social media propaganda - I could finally go back to making boxing predictions online without being hounded.
Of course, for a day or two after the fight, there was still the odd McGregor fan who repeatedly reminded everyone that Floyd (now 50-0) wouldn't last a minute in an MMA bout with Conor, not that I've ever seen anyone suggest he could.
Regardless, as with his loss to Nate Diaz, McGregor (now 0-1(1) in boxing) showed once again that he is humble in victory or defeat, and gave an honest and detailed breakdown of how he thought the fight went at the post-fight press conference. Dressed in his own brand suit, drinking his own brand whiskey, 'The Notorious' praised Floyd for his composure and for out-witting him with his experience.
No doubt, McGregor can hold his head high and he has done well for himself, his country, and his bank account. If reports are to be believed, the contest may even have beaten the current PPV record set by Mayweather vs Pacquiao, which would mean that McGregor would hold the all-time PPV records in both MMA and boxing, and would be in line to easily make a $100m+ purse. A ridiculously good negotiation tactic for any forthcoming contractual discussions that will surely hold the 29-year-old in good stead - whatever he chooses to do next.
My personal point of view? I hope his future's back in the Octagon, where he belongs.
The only other card featuring Irishmen in August was also Stateside, as Derry duo Connor Coyle and John Cooley again shared a card but came away with differing results.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, Coyle put on a superb performance as he outpointed fellow unbeaten fighter Joshua Maxwell over six rounds at the A La Carte Event Pavilion, Tampa, Florida.
The 27-year-old super welterweight had his opponent down in the fifth round as he upped his perfect record to 6(2)-0.
Unfortunately there was a shock first round KO defeat for 30-year-old featherweight Cooley against American Joseph Cole, who thus saw his record fall to 2(0)-1(1).