Mayweather - McGregor: What do the technical lessons suggest?
As I outlined in part one (and also in my preview article I wrote on the fight), both Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. possess very high level technique. That was what made the bout enticing for me from the get go. It wasn’t about the smack talk and fur coats. It was about what would happen when men with very different paths to greatness as world class strikers competed against each other. We had Inoki/Ali. There were questions about that. Now we’ve had McGregor/Mayweather. We’ve had answers yet again.
Muhammed Ali vs Antonio Inoki. This was a fight which could be comparable to the type of crossover nostalgia evoked by May - Mac. The 1976 affair featured a boxer against a pro wrestler, which was somehow a prelude to modern MMA. It ended in a draw. These are the type of spectacle, perhaps ‘freakshow’ fights that really capture the casual, hardcore, and certainly many new fans – my mother included. Plus May and Mac delivered a fairly entertaining performance to boot. In the end, what’s not to enjoy?
Now let’s try and dive into the actual technical clash of the contest itself…
I will try and cover some of the most important things I felt each man did and the details therein. Then we’ll try and draw some conclusions from the breakdown. Floyd put in a stellar, finishing performance. I think the fact he landed 58% of power shots he threw throughout the fight was key. This statistic represents what are typically the most impactful blows of a fight. Your big shots as a boxer – a cross or an uppercut for example. Mayweather actually landed 80% of the final 25 power shots he threw – so his accuracy improved with these potentially fight ending shots as the final minutes of the contest ensued. The results speak for themselves. I was incredibly impressed with the constant, ‘in your face ‘pressure delivered by Mayweather. He did a great job with forward movement at a distance that favored his tactics in the pocket. That pressure was increased over time, which makes sense when paired with the statistics I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is also interesting to note that he used a strategy of aggressive lead hand fighting early. I felt that this strategy was going to be an important one in my initial article on this fight. Floyd used it often from the get go with purpose. One can see the obvious benefits of hand fighting to disrupt an opponent’s ability to punch. I think Floyd knew this would be a good tactic to help tire Conor out, and it seemed to work. This was particularly evident in how he stayed in Conor’s face to try and get him to throw strikes and utilize valuable energy and make him work.
Mayweather hand fighting against Conor's lead hand.
Think about it. One has their arm cocked and ready to throw a strike, and all of the sudden you have to work – with an 8oz or 10oz glove on adding weight – to pull it up back to position, draw the hand back, and get it into position to punch. Not so bad a few times. But as your cardio and stamina wears, this extra labor becomes taxing and inundating. Overall, this method of boxing is useful as it also not only saps your opponent, but also because it presses your footwork forward into the pocket off that hand fighting. This cuts down the impact of your opponents punches as an added bonus (provided you penetrate deep enough with your footwork to avoid the end of his or her shots – the place where they have maximum impact). Floyd stayed calm and efficient with this mode of operation, he wasted less energy, and avoided most of the potentially fight ending shots. Smart boxing given the challenges he faced. The hand fighting, come forward strategy strategy combined with a very tight and disciplined guard was perhaps not the Philly-shell Mystic Mac and the team trained for! But this was not the only aspect of how Floyd was technically supreme on the evening. Mayweather’s overall stamina for boxing was superior. It was obvious that this was a huge part of the game plan after the first round when Mayweather Sr. began giving instructions to his son before the start of the second. They knew that if they could drain Mac that this would be a smart route to take. Just listen to the corner audio from the broadcast and you will hear this. Floyd’s choice of techniques and when to use them were also more effective – and uncharacteristic. There wasn’t a ton of jabbing early. Showtime analyst Al Berstein said it best when he exclaimed halfway through the fifth “that’s not the way Floyd Mayweather fights.” This is about the time in a twelve round boxing match that you often begin to see some patterns of a fighter’s long term game plan. This was still true according to Al by the eighth: “Mayweather coming forward trying to knock somebody out – it doesn’t happen!” But what was really going on here with such a strategy? First, Floyd had a very disciplined use of the guard at all times – it was always there. At critical points, if you watch – after a reset, after combos were thrown or exchanges occurred – Floyd was always in position with his hands defensively. Despite coming forward linearly, throwing straight punches and increasingly using a “peekaboo guard,” Floyd didn’t get hit cleanly too many times. It seems he felt that if he kept putting pressure on Conor that he would be able to wear him down over time. There are other ways to wear an opponent down in boxing – but Floyd did really well here with his choice. Especially when given the fact that Conor took the bait, so to speak.
Mayweather lands a clean "power punch" with his right hand. That isn’t to say McGregor didn’t do a lot of things very, very well however. I was genuinely impressed. His fortunes were not surprising to me either, as I predicted in my preview for this fight. When Mac heard the bell in the first round – his first round of his professional boxing career – this was Mayweather’s 388th professional round. Some people had questioned whether Mystic Mac could box and whether he deserved to be there. I was not among these doubters when he made the walk to the ring in Las Vegas. Conor’s use of angles, head movement, and occasionally lowered guard (a skill often preferred with smaller gloves in MMA because the benefits of guarding traditionally like a boxer would are less advantageous. You simply have less a defensive shield with the smaller glove size and less padding.) proved viable under Queensbury Rules against Mayweather. McGregor also used his lead hand to measure in and out of close range beautifully. In many ways, it all worked well for the opening rounds. The Irishman landed some outstanding shots of his own with his signature switch hitting and looping fisticuffs. Lots of activity early on and volume paid off on the score cards. He also made it a rough and physical fight without being penalized despite a few warnings. But Floyd was a survivor, and perhaps that is what counts most despite losing some of the early rounds. However, one must give Conor significant credit where credit is due.
McGregor lands a "power punch" of his own with a left uppercut. I love how Conor’s team made some adjustments in the fight. Yes, Floyd perhaps was the more effective at this in the long run, but John Kavanagh, Owen Roddy and the rest of the SBG team are world class martial artists for a reason. I believe their instruction and ability to understand boxing is top of the food chain. After the conclusion of the fifth Roddy was instructing Conor waste energy hitting Floyd’s arms because they could tell Mayweather wanted to stand in front of Conor to tempt him into work in vain. By the end of the eighth you could hear in between rounds John tell Conor before the ninth to try and counter Floyd’s “hands up style” and try to “step in and beat him.” They knew that they had to interrupt the American, and this was a correct assessment in my view. Perhaps it was too late. Roddy also urged him before the tenth frame to throw single strikes and clinch, in order to “recover.” This was the beginning of the end. Despite the fact a fight is sometimes down to which athlete can adapt and learn within the contest more quickly in order to establish relative dominance, team SBG did give a great account of themselves.
This was an important technical takeaway as it shows how far striking in MMA has evolved and grown in recent years. It also shows how the knowledge and understanding of Boxing can also continue to provide important lessons for mixed martial artists of the future.
In conclusion, both men did many things well. Conor did an outstanding job using his reach with volume in the early rounds, and landed some good power shots to boot. Mac also did a great job of hanging on Mayweather when he could, despite some futile moves.
Floyd did an excellent job of using a lower energy clinch, as well as walking Mac down slow and straight with a solid guard – only to change the rhythm to explode and land significant strikes to both the body and the head. He also had some excellent combinations leading with his right hand in particular. As the fight continued, he knew when to truly turn on the pressure and sit down on his strikes for more power. Mayweather Sr. predicted after the first frame that if his son could “stay small, by the fourth he’s done.” We had much more than four rounds in the end, but this was perhaps the writing on the wall. Ultimately it was a case of Floyd doing some things he normally doesn’t do and winning because of it, despite Conor doing a good job in many areas. I really enjoyed the contest and I hope you did too! Feel free to let me know what you think of my breakdown and get in touch by my socials or email. I know there are many more aspects of the fight I could have covered, but this was just a collection of my thoughts so far! Take care and see you all next time.