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Mayweather - McGregor: What can the context of the contest reveal?

The contest between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor was a fight that promised so many things. In many ways, I think it delivered. The promotional angle of the contest heralded larger than life personalities, bad blood, and a clash of styles. The extravaganza also presented a series of technical questions as to how a successful approach to striking in mixed martial arts would weigh up against the established and proven traditions of effective boxing. In the end we had what I thought was an entertaining contest. This involved some interesting technical lessons about both sports, and a conclusion in which both men showed mutual respect and graciousness. Despite some over the top buildup, I think it was ultimately all a good thing for combat sports! Allow me to explain my thinking. I will primarily focus on the technical aspects of the contest to make this argument.

Before we get into the actual analysis of the rounds, I wanted to cover some context in this first part of my breakdown. One could describe Conor as technically representative of how many MMA athletes are approaching their striking these days. His movement, methods of training, intelligence and overall craft with his hands and feet embody key ingredients of how plenty in the sport are developing their standup. This is partly because Conor’s style in the upright has proven to be effective under the MMA ruleset. Precision beats power, timing beats speed – right?

Conor's left hook connects on Jose Aldo to win the UFC Featherweight Championship at UFC 194. His famous quote "timing beats speed, precision beats power" emerged at the press conference after when discussing his victory.

Further evidence of this trend is visible if you examine his whole team at SBG for that matter. There are many talented martial artists in that stable, including Blaine O’Driscoll, James Galagher, Richard Kiely, Kiefer Crosbie, Ryan Curtis, Will Fleury and Dylan Tuke just to name a few. These men have all been very successful in other top promotions using a similar template. Conor and company move in unorthodox ways. Sometimes I like to call the style the ‘SBG shuffle’ for lack of a better world. They mix their approach to striking differently than athletes five years ago did. This has influenced a whole range of ideas regarding standup fighting in MMA. It has also proven to be a successful avenue for what I like to call ‘third generation’ mixed martial artists. I’ll save an in depth discussion of my terminology there for another time, but think of your early single discipline specialists, your ‘second generation’ fighters who were good in a couple areas but tended to rely on one strong suit to implement their striking – to the new breed of competitor who melds all aspects of the game on the feet. This is your third generation mentality. They are looking at points fighting styles like karate, taekwondo and full contact kickboxing as much as they draw on muay thai and western boxing. There are more influences too, but like earlier we’ll save that for another time! We are just beginning to scratch the surface of this ‘third generation’ territory and the possibilities within it. I think Conor in some ways has helped usher this new era into the foray of MMA with his approach. He is not the only extremely famous individual doing this by any means: think of Demetrius Johnson, Dominic Cruz, and many others. But in Conor’s case, this is part of what made his appearance in professional boxing so intriguing for me. He comes from a more complete understanding of striking from a no holds barred fighting point of view, and this is something I think can be appreciated even when assessing a boxing contest.

Former kickboxing champ and McGregor team mate Richard Kiely lands with an intercepting right hand after leading with a left hook. The style of timing is similar.

Floyd on the other hand is considered one of the best ever in pure boxing for good reason. All of his defense first skills – the hand trapping, parrying, and head movement – the footwork, game planning and understanding of timing and space to set up his combinations….his complete skillset easily ranks among the best to compete in the squared circle. Many outstanding boxers with different styles and varying game plans have tried to solve the Mayweather puzzle for years – and failed. That is not to say Floyd has remained the same boxer throughout his more than two decades in the ring either. The very best at anything never stop learning and making adjustments in their game, and the ‘Pretty Boy’ is no exception. The Mayweather we saw fight Pacquio in his bout previous to ‘The Money Fight’ was not the same man we saw take out the Irishmen last month. This was one of the things that made the fight so intriguing for me, at least from a technical perspective. I was curious which Floyd would show up. Regardless, many experts in the industry gave Conor little chance. Plenty of pundits viewed the contest as a circus and spectacle act – which of course in many ways it was on one hand. But as I argued in my previous post on the fight, I felt it was going to offer us more than just eyecandy and window dressing. Sure, some have stated in retrospect Floyd was only toying with McGregor. Although it seems this was actually part of his physical (and perhaps tricky psychological) game plan – when you consider that Conor is so accomplished in the other facets of his mixed martial arts toolset – I think he did pretty well given the boxing focused challenge he faced in Floyd.

Hand fighting from the open stance. Mayweather worked to constantly bat down McGregor's hands and disrupt his set ups with forward pressure. Why? Check out part two of this article series for a complete breakdown.

In summary, I think August 26th was a successful showing for combat sports given the context of the clash: we saw two famous athletes give a good performance in their own ways, even if it was not competitive in the fashion we anticipated. We saw some ‘new’ things from both men. That’s part of what makes us watch and reconsider as fans. That’s part of what makes a great fight – one that challenges preconceived notions. I look forward to delving more into the specifics of how and why in the next part of this breakdown. Stay tuned for the details! (Part three is now live and can be viewed here) (If you wish to view my preview article, which contains some other interesting points of analysis you can do so here)

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