The Great White Hype

Don’t let the title fool you, I believe this is going to be a competitive and exciting fight, however an undeniable contributing factor to the magnitude of this fight is race. The press tour which like everything involved with this event was the largest of anything that had come before it and the media frenzy during and after was fuelled by the subtle or not so subtle clash of race and culture. Dana White puts it down to the Irish factor rather than the white factor but the American Irish community to which so many white Americans draw their heritage, (and in a case of life imitating art from the film ‘The Great White Hype’) being Irish represents white America and this fight represents an opportunity to dethrone the brash, flashy, black champion (admittedly a symbolic champion at this stage).

In reality the media made more of the situation than it needed and fuelled the flames of the racial tension that is always in America and used that hot air to create more interest and hype around a fight that on paper has no place in the sport. That racial undertone has thankfully lost its momentum but it all started with the press conferences. Conor used the word boy in reference to Floyd. In America it means something different than it does in Europe. It has its roots in slavery and was a term used by slave owners to their slaves and is now a racial slur particularly in the South. Whether or not Conor was aware of what he was doing or aware how sensitive that word is it brought the race issue front and centre and made the fight even more polarising. It was already MMA vs Boxing but now it was black vs white.

This fight is shaping up to be the biggest in history and it needs those added dimensions to make it so. If it was all about skill and the top two athletes/fighters competing, then Canelo vs GGG would be the biggest fight of the year rather than an 0-0 boxer vs a two year retired great. Mayweather and Conor are prize fighters and any criticism of this fight not being worthy, genuine, or a spectacle is missing the point of prize fighting. It’s about the fight that most people want to see and therefore willing to pay for the privilege, making the prize bigger and better than ever before.

I was at the London stop of the world press tour. It was an experience I will never forget and one I’m so glad I was able to witness. That sounds weird considering it was just a press conference but it gave me a taste of the magnitude of the event. I’ve been to many UFC and sporting events and not once have I felt an atmosphere like that. The crowd was so energised and engaged for every last word and not one punch was thrown, only jibes and insults.

If I had said to you a year ago that Conor McGregor would be fighting Floyd Mayweather in August 2017 you would have said I was crazy and that it was an impossibility. Conor was coming off a somewhat controversial split decision win over Nate Diaz and his supremacy over the UFC was by a horse hair. Forward twelve months and after an emphatic victory over Eddie Alverez at Madison Square Garden and becoming the first simultaneous two weight champ, public perception placed Conor as the King of the UFC. The Champ, Champ had his eyes firmly set on achieving more and going for a third belt against Tyron Woodley was entertained but it was the expertly placed interviews and social media pokes from Floyd that started to slowly move the fight from fiction to reality.

The public interest in the fight was overwhelming. The speculation and anticipation of pitting two champions from opposing combat sports combined with their personality and showmanship created the perfect storm for the biggest fight in history. The MayPac fight may have broken the record for PPV sales and is hailed as the biggest fight ever but in terms of significance I would personally place Ali Foreman as the biggest fight in history. If fought today with current technology and ease of access to view the fight it would blow the MayPac fight out of the water. That fight represented so much more than just a fight and Ali was fighting for so much more than just boxing. The outcome and the upset also played a part and Ali was as much an underdog in that fight as Conor is in this. The MayPac fight was five years too late and was only really about two of the best boxers fighting and a chance to hopefully see Mayweather lose a fight after so successfully playing the heel in the later stages of his career.

As with all Mayweather fights it has been masterfully promoted. The press tour was captivating and everything from his apparent lack of training, his acknowledgment of his age and slowing down of faculties to the Malignaggi saga has created enough doubt in most people’s mind to which now Conor has better odds against Mayweather than Miguel Cotto.

This fight has many dimensions to it; MMA vs Boxing, black vs white, age vs youth, southpaw vs orthodox, champion vs champion and possibly most importantly money. Ultimately there is only one reason why Mayweather is coming out of retirement and that is for the money. This stands to be the most lucrative fight in history and could push Mayweather over the billion-dollar mark for total career earnings and gives Conor his first nine figure pay day.

All that being said and regardless of the interest in the fight, some say it won’t even be remotely competitive and it’s a spectacle rather than a sporting competition. I strongly disagree with that and I feel the boxing purists have lost sight of what prize fighting is about and not only that but I believe Conor has much more than a punchers chance. On paper 49-0, five weight, multiple time world champion Mayweather should be 100/1 favourite. However, much in the same way it seems to be the perfect storm to create the biggest fight in history I feel the circumstances surrounding both fighter’s skills and physical attributes also have the makings of the biggest upset in boxing and sporting history.

I have heard many metaphors and analogies trying to explain and conceptualise the task McGregor has before him. Some have said it’s like a field hockey player trying to play golf or it’s like a figure skater trying to play ice hockey. All the analogies I’ve heard have missed the point that boxing isn’t similar to MMA it is part of MMA. The most suitable metaphor is that of a Decathlete who specialises in the 100M racing Usain Bolt when he’s 40 years old but the decathlete is 29 and in his prime. If this was GSP or Cain Velasquez trying to make the switch from MMA to boxing the contempt maybe justified but Conor is essentially a boxer in MMA and arguably the best striker currently in the sport.

These past six months since the fight even began to be a possibility Conor switched his training solely to boxing. The progress and development to his game by doing this could be immeasurable because of the level of athlete he is and the team he has around him. He got to the level he was regarding striking while training kickboxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu etc so without those distractions expect to see a far superior McGregor.

One of the biggest things mentioned in terms of potential advantages for Conor is his ‘unorthodox’ style. In reality that just means different to traditional boxing. I happen to agree with this and if 47 boxers (he fought two fighters twice) have been unsuccessful before him and they have been just that… boxers maybe it will take an MMA fighter to solve the Mayweather puzzle. As an MMA fighter Conor is bringing new looks, new timing, new angles and new ranges that Mayweather has never seen before. One of the smartest things his team did was to not bring in one of the great coaches like Freddie Roach. He would have said everything that Conor did was wrong and attempted to change him in a short amount of time to a style that as of yet has been ineffective against Mayweather. That would have only hindered his progression and not allowed him to develop the attributes that will give him a chance in this fight.

One of the things that has surprised me is the rigid, tribal mentality that many of the boxing pundits and elites have shown with regards to this fight. I have lost respect for Max Kellerman and his assessment of the fight. He states that Conor will not land a punch and stands 0% chance. The reality is anything can happen in a fight and no matter who is fighting it is never a 0% chance. Many have mocked Conor’s warm ups or technique on the heavy bag but by what standard are they judging him? Conor is a genuine master of movement and boxing (and some of MMA) is still in the stone age with regards to training modalities outside of the technical aspect of the sport. They mock it because they don’t understand it but from what little I’ve seen of Connor’s training I think he is pushing the boundaries of physical preparation.

Another factor in this fight is size. Conor is the much bigger man. Having seen them both up close at the London press conference it is obvious Conor is bigger in every way. Frame, hands, head, thickness and most importantly range. If Floyd was a MMA fighter he’d be flyweight (125lbs), Conor is a fully fledged light weight (155lbs) and will most likely never be able to make Featherweight (145lbs) again. Mayweather didn’t carry his power as he moved up weight classes and Conor may possibly be the biggest fighter he has ever fought so a Mayweather KO is very unlikely. Conor can also use his weight in the clinch and potentially tire Floyd as it goes into the later rounds. I watched a video early in the promotional build up from Floyd saying how Conor is 10lbs over and he’s going to miss weight. Boxers don’t understand weight cutting the way MMA fighters do and what he doesn’t realise is that Conor is well ahead of schedule but come fight day will be walking in the ring at 170+lbs while Floyd will weigh 152lbs with a full stomach and clothes on.

Keeping on the theme of size, just last week the Nevada state athletic commission voted unanimously to allow the fight to take place in 8oz gloves rather than the traditional 10oz gloves at 154lb. I don’t believe this will have as much of an impact on the fight as others do. It will play a part but there are advantages for both sides. In terms of a more likely KO it’s not necessarily about the padding but about the actual size of the glove. The difference in padding in the glove is minimal between 8 and 10oz as the 2oz difference is spread over the whole glove not just the padding over the knuckle. However, the likelihood of landing your shots are increased as the defence is compromised and more shots can get through.

The psychological aspect of this fight is not one to be overlooked. Conor is a super manifester and has managed to go from being on social welfare in 2013 to claiming two UFC world titles and now fighting the P4P king of boxing for 100M$. His self belief may only be matched by a man that has dominated his sport for 20 years and fought in 30 world title fights. That experience is invaluable to Mayweather and has served him well in fights when his opponent is in the biggest fight of their life and overcome by the ‘lights’. Conor has been in several fights that have done over 1M PPV buys. If nothing else Conor has shown that he shines brightest when the lights are on him and has risen to the occasion in the face of ridicule, doubt and pressure and delivered over and over again. Any mistakes along the way have been learnt from and he has positioned himself in a fight with momentum, youth and confidence on his side.

Another psychological aspect of the fight is the reality that if they were to fight in a real fight or even just a MMA fight, Mayweather would be asleep in 30 seconds. It’s a false equivalency to say that it’s the same if they were to go into their respective sports. Mayweather has zero experience of grappling and Conor is the much larger athlete and would man handle him into submission. Even if Mayweather is to do the expected and win he is most likely to win a lop sided decision and McGregor will walk away with a win of sorts and with little to no damage. That must be a strange feeling for Mayweather to feel knowing that the man across the ring could kill him with his bare hands with relative ease. It limits the sincerity of his trash talk and potentially gives a mental edge to McGregor.

Two points that I’ve seen banded about that I don’t agree with is that Mayweather doesn’t do well against southpaws and that there is a risk that Conor may use an MMA move outside of the rules of boxing and get disqualified. Firstly, the myth that Mayweather doesn’t do well against southpaws. It’s a fallacy based on some truth but his 49-0 record would disagree. Any orthodox fighter will tell you that they find southpaw fighters awkward and because of the nature of the way your stances line up it tends to mean that fights can be scrappy and both sides can find it difficult to land sustained combinations. It’s also worth noting that some of Mayweather’s best weapons are not quite as effective against southpaws but still effective enough to beat every southpaw he has faced.

The other myth: ‘a risk Conor may resort to MMA moves’ is barely worth addressing. I’m sure that Conor is going to skirt around the rules to the best of his ability and maximise his unorthodox advantage but any out right MMA move like a kick or a knee is not even in question. MMA fighters regularly separate individual disciplines and just yesterday in my gym we did three boxing rounds followed by three kickboxing rounds and finished with three MMA rounds. Not once did I see a misplaced kick, knee or takedown and with Conor’s boxing heritage I’m certain that it is not even an issue.

If I am to be pushed on a prediction then my head would say that Maywether wins by decision. However, I believe this fight will be more competitive than anyone thinks and my gut is telling me that Conor is going to find a way to do it, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve listened to the ‘There’s only one Conor Mcgregor’ song about 40 times.

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