By Jason Keidel
If you can get past the bluster, the montage of profanity and insanity, lost in the hype and hubris is the fact that there’s a boxing match on August 26. Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will square off in the squared circle, in maybe the most anticipated boxing match in history that doesn’t include two boxers.
There have been boxing exhibitions of some note before, with some athletic crossbreeding providing superficial or monetary interest. But nothing like this. Estimates from Vegas, where the fight is being held, say that the betting action will rival that of the Super Bowl.
Also lost in the tornadic PR mayhem is the fact that McGregor, an MMA fighter extraordinaire, is not a boxer. And when you consider the industrial-size egos both men will carry into T-Mobile Arena that night, it says something that McGregor is not only willing to wear much larger gloves and swap an octagon for a square, but also that he must check his lethal feet at the door.
He also must keep his blows above the waist, his punches must land only on Floyd’s frontside. In every sense, McGregor is making every concession possible. Is he that confident he will beat Mayweather, or is he so spellbound by the extra zeros on the check that his physical fate is peripheral?
We can all agree there was a profound sense of inelegance, incivility or barbarism during their four-town tour to promote the bout. These men are not great orators, statesmen or diplomats. Only on social media does their barbaric babble translate to the bloodthirsty public.
But if we can wade through the machismo, and look at this strictly through a pugilistic lens, McGregor deserves a nod for diving into the boxing waters. This is where Mayweather has thrived, in a craft he has mastered for 20 years. Say what you will about Floyd Mayweather Jr — and much of it is fair — he is a master boxer, whose defensive skills are unrivaled over his generation.
We all love the caveat “defensive fighter,” as if that’s some pugilistic cheat code, as though he were fighting under one set of rules or equipment while the rest were at some inherent disadvantage. But boxing history is festooned with boxers who are better at avoiding punches than landing them. And some of them are among the 10 best in history. Like the fighter to whom Mayweather is most compared — Pernell Whitaker, a crafty lefty who befuddled foes for years, who also defeated the iconic Julio Cesar Chavez, but didn’t get the decision.
It doesn’t take Bert Sugar to see the difference in pure boxing skill. Just five seconds of split-screen action, with each fighter juxtaposed, and it’s clear Mayweather has been this doing this since childhood and McGregor hasn’t. In artistic terms, Mayweather is the classic painter, refined and careful, while McGregor is graffiti, loud and large.
Mayweather is also a brilliant counterpuncher, something that will come in handy when fighting a stone-fisted slugger like McGregor, whom, by all accounts, can hit very hard. But while his power is his strength, he’s much slower than Mayweather, who should be able to pick McGregor apart with jabs and counter-rights.
Still, McGregor is swathed in that puncher’s chance, that boxing cliche that rarely bears fruit, a euphemism for the plodding slugger who has little chance to catch the faster fighter. If McGregor can just catch Mayweather one time, test his pristine chin, when countless, better boxers whiffed…
That’s the hook — forgive the pun — what will make the media and masses tune in for $100 at home, $40 at your local theater or $3500 (and rising) to watch in person. Does the younger, stronger, larger man have that one shot in his arsenal? Has Mayweather, 40 years old, gotten old since he retired? Boxing is brutal that way. Most athletes decay over time, their passes fall short, their fly balls barely reach the warning track, their poster-perfect dunks reduced to layups.
But the boxer gets old in one night, in one round, in one punch. It happened to Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. It will happen to Floyd Mayweather Jr. Conor McGregor, and the phalanx of fans betting on him, hopes it happens on August 26.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.