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Very little in life is truly surprising. We are creatures of habit, fenced off by routines that are more or less predictable for months on end, if not longer. This only magnifies with age, as the openness and possibility of the future continues to funnel into a single, specific direction. It isn’t always a bad thing -- it makes our lives much more stable and easier to manage -- but the realization of it is often crushing and existentially deflating.
It’s no small wonder then that sports are such a common escape. They frequently provide a real outlet for genuine surprise to occur. Aside from maybe March Madness, fighting by nature lends itself more regularly to upsets than anything else in sports. It is perhaps the most redeeming and alluring quality of violence; anyone can get knocked out at any moment. Unlike a series of offensive drives in football or an elongated scoring spree in basketball, a comeback in boxing, kickboxing or MMA is instantaneous.
This was the underpinning logic behind much of the otherwise irrational belief that Conor McGregor had a legitimate chance to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday in Las Vegas. In a world where Leicester City won the English Premier League, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to beat the winningest team of all-time and Donald Trump won Pennsylvania and Michigan, who’s to say someone with no professional boxing experience can’t beat one of the most gifted boxers ever? Surely stranger things have happened.
Yes, sometimes shocking and improbable things happen. What “The Money Fight” reminded us, however, is that likely and probable things happen much more often. That’s not to say the fight was bad; far from it. There was consistent action and moments of real intrigue. Just the sight of McGregor in the ring was interesting. McGregor represented himself well, landed some good shots and won a number of rounds, four by my count. It is accurate and defensible to say that it was a good fight, even if good boxing didn’t take place.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Mayweather controlled every round of the fight, including the ones he lost. It may not have seemed like it, but if you’re familiar with Mayweather, you know he will drop early rounds to figure out opponents. That’s exactly what he did against McGregor. In the first three rounds -- McGregor’s best -- Mayweather was 12-for-28 in total punches compared to McGregor’s 26-for-115. That was by design, and despite McGregor’s significantly higher output, Mayweather never took any damage. Mayweather made his pivot in the fourth round, landing the same amount of punches as McGregor in less than half the attempts. After that, Mayweather consistently landed more punches with much greater accuracy in every round. Even if you think the stoppage was early -- it wasn’t -- the writing was very clearly and boldly carved into the wall. There was no surprise crouching around the corner, no miracle lurking within. Only unnecessary brain trauma awaited.
There’s no shame in getting sucked into Mayweather’s game; it’s what he does, and he’s done it to nearly everyone he has fought. McGregor fought as smart a fight as he could have, but Mayweather is an inevitability. He has been for his entire career. That McGregor hung tough and didn’t do anything embarrassing was a moral victory. Inking this fight in the first place was a bigger victory than most boxers or mixed martial artists could ever hope for.
More than anything, the disparity in experience determined the outcome. Mayweather is so fluent in professional boxing that he can say exactly what he wants in the ring, from snappy one-liners to furious tirades to long-droning lectures. McGregor is very much a second-language learner. Experience is something you don’t know you didn’t have until you get it. It was strange to see how many people thought the cardio management of five five-minute rounds of MMA -- something with which McGregor has struggled despite having greater familiarity -- would transfer seamlessly into 12 three-minute rounds of boxing. Clearly, it didn’t. It was telling that McGregor started to gas around the 18-minute mark, or what would be the championship rounds of an MMA fight. If there was any doubt as to whether or not McGregor’s cardio is an issue, this match should validate what the Nate Diaz fights already theorized.
One of the most embarrassing narratives to emerge from the MMA-sphere leading up to the fight was that somehow McGregor was going to introduce new techniques to boxing that would confuse and fluster Mayweather. It was clever, if not a flimsy and dubious rationalization of McGregor’s boxing inexperience, a way for those who desperately wanted to feel validated to turn McGregor’s most obvious flaw into his greatest strength. While McGregor did have success early on, it was not at all because he was doing anything new to the sport. Skirting the lines of the rules, physical imposition in the clinch, switching stances -- none of this is some disruptive innovation of boxing technique. Anyone who thinks otherwise frankly does not and has not watched much boxing.
People overthink these things. The same reasons we’re drawn to fighting -- the belief that anything can happen and the desire to be surprised -- lead us to believe that how much we want something to happen is the difference between it manifesting into reality or not. McGregor is the king of this fantastical thinking. There’s a lot more magic in the seemingly impossible than the easily explainable, and more than anyone, McGregor embodies the pure excitement of possibility.
That aura blurs into delusion. People lost their minds during this fight. No sigh of relief was louder than that of the boxing community. Even if the expected result hadn’t happened and McGregor saw the final bell, the judges’ scorecards -- and that of boxing media -- were so flagrantly and indefensibly bad that it was clear who they were rooting for. Even worse, the fact that McGregor was put away in the 10th round and not earlier has led many to believe that winks were winked and punches were pulled, since McGregor being a tough competitor is simply out of the question for them. Meanwhile, the same MMA fans who knew that McGregor was going to knock Mayweather out cold suddenly became champions of moral victories, to the point that they saw McGregor’s ability to hang tough as a stain on boxing. Once the #MayMac hangover subsides, a lot of people will have a lot to be embarrassed about.
No, the fight was not a referendum on boxing or MMA. It showed that a boxing champion, even one who is faded, is a better boxer than a novice making his pro debut. That’s all.
McGregor is a phenomenal mixed martial artist with a long list of compelling fights waiting for him in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Despite putting on a better performance than most expected, he’s still not a very good boxer and would get absolutely demolished by any noteworthy pugilist. He also deserves respect for chasing a monstrous fight like this one, dying on his sword and having the balls to throw himself into an unquenchable fire with the sincerity and temerity to believe he could extinguish it; and of course, McGregor’s greatest attribute is the ability to take a loss with dignity and humility, which he displayed once again.
The Money Fight exceeded this writer’s expectations, and I know I’m not alone. Only the most boring cynical curmudgeon could have watched it without being entertained. Even though the results followed the most probable trajectory, it was still surprising in its own way, and that’s why we watch. It was a ridiculous spectacle. It was stupid, it was fun and, thankfully, it’s over.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.