While some may argue that Conor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather is a classic David vs Goliath matchup, the scenario that is most likely to come to the mind of most boxing aficionados is that of the Christians versus the Lions.
So how did we find ourselves here? How did Mayweather, arguably an all time great with a perfect record of 49-0 and conquerer of boxing legends such as Manny Pacquiao, Sugar Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez (and many, many others) find himself staring across the ring at McGregor, a professional Mixed Martial Artist with a 0-0 record?
A long, winding road
While one might be tempted to sum up this situation with the old adage: No one ever went broke betting on the stupidity of the American people, the truth is a tad more complicated (but not by much).
The credit — or blame for the fight — can be chalked up to the motor mouth and magnetic personality of McGregor, a one-time plumber's apprentice from the hard streets of Crumlin, Ireland, who gained millions of fans and banked many more millions of dollars through an incredible run as a knockout artist in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
McGregor's improbable rise, combined with a desperate desire on the behalf of people to see Mayweather — arguably the most prodigious talent in the history of The Sweet Science and a despicable human being — brought low, have brought us this spectacle of Idiocracy.
But perhaps, the most important factor at play is the gullibility of the American public: After all, that country last year elected a president most of them didn't trust or agree with on most issues close to their hearts.
Skills pay the bills
In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posited that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve any expertise in a particular field. Mayweather is 40 years old. He has reigned over his domain for more than two decades. He may in fact, be the world's first 100,000-hour man.
The Mayweather gym is affectionately known as The Dog House. Which speaks to the mentality of the occupants: It's literally a dog-eat-dog world. It has been alleged that in-house sparring matches can go on for hours, with rounds lasting as long as 31 minutes.
Like his father and uncle, both high-level fighters, Mayweather's skill and will were forged in the blazing fires of this gym. His father claims he has been throwing punches since he was an infant.
Mayweather is a boxing savant. The young Mayweather would throw five and six-punch combinations and dazzle judges and fans with crisp, hard-hitting punches. The older, wiser Mayweather has boiled down the game to its simplest form: Hit and not get hit.
His weapons of choice are the straight right hand and a searing left hook. He's built an entire career around these two punches. And a defensive mastery which allows him to stand in front of his hapless opponents and let them flail away at him.
What most casual fans don't know is that McGregor, was for a time, a boxer. He reportedly quit the sport after taking a beating in his youth. Many boxers have said he would struggle to win the Irish boxing championship, much less a world championship.
Why the puncher's chance is no chance at all
The conventional thinking goes thus: McGregor is the knockout artist. McGregor's left hand is a nuclear-tipped missile. All he needs to do is hit Mayweather once and he will crumble. Many point to the fact that the fighters are using eight-ounce gloves in the bout. They say that the lighter gloves will work in McGregror's favour.
The conventional thinking is wrong. McGregor punches pretty hard: For a Mixed Martial Artist. But punching is merely one of the skills he has been honing this past decade. He has devoted at least the same amount of time to grappling and submission.
Boxers train to throw hands and avoid them. All day. Every single day. It is Mayweather, in fact, who has spent his life learning how to properly throw and deliver punches, that is the harder hitter. And that's the difference.
George Foreman, an Olympic gold medalist with a reputation for being a murderous puncher, could not deliver the payload to Muhammad Ali's chin. It was Ali, who did not have a reputation for throwing hard shots, who ended up knocking out the now gentle giant.
The difference in skills between Foreman and McGregor is the same between a decent tennis player and Rafael Nadal. And I'm being rather kind. Boxing legend Teddy Atlas, who trained Mike Tyson, compared McGregor's skills to that of a caveman. He says most C+ boxers would take McGregor to school.
It is Mayweather who can, and will, land shots as and when he pleases. And even worse for McGregor, even if he lands that fabled left hand clean on Mayweather's jaw (no sure thing, mind you), the American has a history of displaying a granite chin. In his long, storied career, Mayweather has never left his feet.
But McGregor is the younger man, fans cry. He's bigger than Mayweather. Surely, a good big man beats a good little man. For the most part, that happens to be true. But McGregor isn't that much bigger than Floyd. Sure, he might be 10-15 pounds heavier on fight night but that simply means that McGregor, notorious for running out of steam late in the fights, will expend more energy trying to chase after Mayweather and leaves himself open for shots.
Another old boxing cliche: Styles make fights.
The easiest and most cited example: Ali beat Foreman. Foreman beat Frazier. Frazier beat Ali.
Mayweather owns the style match up with McGregor. The most success any fighters have had against Mayweather: De La Hoya and Marcos Maidana (in their first fight). Pressure fighters who threw lots of punches against Mayweather have always had some success against him.
Which is perhaps why Mayweather wasn't eager to fight the 2009 version of Pacquiao, a pressure fighter who threw an incredible number of punches and had knockout power in either hand.
Adding to McGregor's many woes is that he is economical with his punches. In his last three fights, McGregor threw around 28 punches per round. And avoiding punches is what Mayweather is best at.
In their so-called 'Fight of the Century', Manny Pacquiao landed 81 punches over 12 rounds against Mayweather. With all due respect to McGregor (and Ali), if he thinks he can do better against Mayweather even in his wildest dreams, he better wake up and apologise.
Further trouble for McGregor: He's very good at feinting, drawing his opponents into range, getting them to overcommit and delivering the death blow. The Jose Aldo fight and the Eddie Alvarez bout are great examples of these.
The trouble for the Irishman is that he's facing a counter puncher who is great at feinting, drawing his opponents into his range, getting them to overcommit and delivering to them death by a thousands cuts.
McGregor is fond of saying that timing beats speed and precision beats power. Mayweather has him handily outmatched in all departments.
One of Mayweather's favourite sayings is: Skills pay the bills. And Mayweather's exquisite skill is precisely why McGregor has the only proverbial puncher's chance. Which is to say between slim and none.
And slim just left town.
The fight that never should have been
Many argue that this fight should never have been made. The sizeable gulf in skill between Mayweather and McGregor should have been enough to give any sanctioning body pause.
According to a report in The New York Times, The Association of Ringside Physicians agrees.
“We were very surprised this bout was even sanctioned and was going to be permitted to carry on,” Larry Lovelace, a doctor and the president of the organisation, which is focused on preserving fighter safety, told the newspaper. “The thing I really fear, truly fear, is that somebody’s going to get really hurt in this upcoming fight.”
Any half-decent boxing expert — not employed by the organisation broadcasting the fight — would concur.
Not only is there a chance that McGregor will be embarassed, beaten down and mentally broken on Sunday but there is a very real danger that he could take with him lasting physical damage.
Make no mistake: A professional fighter's fists are deadly weapons. One of the first things a professional boxer learns is how to properly take a punch. Rolling with the punches it's called. Mayweather is a master at this: Blunting an opponents blows by leaning this way and that, smothering offence by stepping into the whirlwind, subtly shifting his stance to present his rival the smallest possible target. It's an art and a science.
And for all those claiming that Mayweather is no knockout artist, you should know this: He hits hard enough to keep them honest. And for the unfortunate victims of a knockout, it isn't how hard you get hit but a succession of blows that, more often than not, turn off your lights.
It's going to be a long night for McGregor. Mayweather will start slow, ceding the first two or three rounds to the busy Irishman. McGregor will attempt to apply intelligent pressure and walk him into his money shot: The straight left. He won't succeed.
By the fourth round, Mayweather will have taken away the weapon from McGregor entirely, and by the sixth or seventh round, will be tagging McGregor at will. I expect the referee to save McGregor from himself and stop the fight. Mayweather wins by late stoppage.
Following in Muhammad Ali's footsteps
Mayweather is hardly treading new ground with his crossover fight with McGregor. The great Muhammad Ali embarassed himself in a similar spectacle with Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. That story is wonderfully captured by Josh Gross in his book Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment.
“Inoki can use his bare fists. He can use karate. This is serious. There’s $10 million involved. I wouldn’t pull a fraud on the public. This is real. There’s no plan. The blood. The holds. The pain. Everything is going to be real. I’m not here in this time of my life to come out with some phony action. I want you to know this is real," Ali bragged on The Tonight Show in June 1976.
The fight was a financial disaster. Critics savaged it. Ali threw six punches in the entire fight. Inoki spent nearly all of the time in the fight on his back, repeatedly kicking Ali in the legs. The paying audience, in theatres and venues all around America, booed mercilessly.
Ali's wondrous legs, which carried him to victory in some of the most difficult fights in his career, developed multiple blood clots. He was never the same.
Rumours of boxing's death are greatly exaggerated
After the death of the great Sonny Liston, someone remarked: Sonny died the day he was born.
People have been similarly predicting the death of the boxing since its inception. Boxing, like the proverbial cockroach after the nuclear holocaust, always finds a way to survive.
That won't change as long as there are financially disadvantaged youth of colour looking to better their lot in life through their fists.
For years, people clamoured for Mayweather versus Pacquiao, thinking it would "save" boxing. It didn't. The same talking heads are now predicting that McGregor vs Mayweather will "kill" boxing. It won't.
A final thought
Perhaps the question that we should all be pondering is: Do we watch boxing and MMA for the athletic contest? Or does it speak to some darker aspect of human nature which thirsts for bloodsport?
We all know which one we'll be getting when we tune in to fight on Sunday morning. We're all watching for the freak show. The novelty. The spectacle.
Let's not pretend otherwise.
And afterwards, we'll have to look in the mirror and live with ourselves. And wonder.
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2017 17:25 PM