Irish UFC Star Was Something To See, Right Up Until The Point The Best Boxer This Century Showed Why

By Jason Keidel
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It’s almost impossible for any fight to match the hype spun around the Mayweather-McGregor bout Saturday night.

But considering the apocalyptic predictions leading up to the fight, it more than lived up to its billing. Clearly not the fight of the century, but certainly a show representative of this century. In a world where clicks and crowds and following means everything, two showmen showed up and showed out.

Indeed, Conor McGregor more than showed up. For at least three rounds he showered Mayweather with jabs and lead rights, and even caught the loquacious champion with a jarring uppercut that thwarted an attack, and sent sweat splashing from Mayweather’s forehead.

Photo Gallery: Mayweather Vs. McGregor

For those who said McGregor could neither land nor take a punch, the Irishman schooled the masses in courage and competence. It was obvious when the two men met at the middle of the ring just before the fight that McGregor was palpably taller, bigger, and stronger. And no Mayweather opponent had McGregor’s reach, which he used expertly, peppering Mayweather with jabs to keep him at bay.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. left, and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor go at it during their fight at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Aug. 26, 2017. (Credit: JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A combination of McGregor’s surprising prowess and Mayweather’s penchant for slow starts led to a shocking first stanza. For a fight that was supposed to end in minutes, the first nine minutes belonged to the MMA fighter, not the boxer. A fight that was supposed to be a fraud was a referendum on McGegor’s agility, pliability, and fighting intelligence. If there was any fraud perpetrated, it was just beyond the ropes.

As always, the ringside judges need to be screened for cataracts, or narcotics, as at least one had Mayweather ahead by seven rounds. Steve Fardhood, the unofficial scorer for Showtime, had Mayweather ahead, 86-85, going into the 10th round, as did yours truly. I believe McGregor won the first four rounds, and Mayweather charged ahead with the rest.

As I predicted last Friday, stamina was the difference. I predicted Mayweather by TKO in Round 9. I was off by about 90 seconds. I also argued that McGregor, who endures elbows and kicks and stone-fisted punches in the Octagon, could suffer through Mayweather’s jabs for some time. And he did. But for all of McGregor’s courage and athletic prowess he had never heard a bell for Round 6. Or 7. Or 8. Such was the toll that took his legs, and the fight, from him.

But no one was laughing at McGregor at the beginning, middle, or end of this bout. Indeed, for all the gaseous monologues leading up to Aug. 26, he handled himself in and out of the ring with talent and temerity, courageous against a way more refined and experienced boxer, charming and disarmingly gracious in defeat.

This was not a farce, or a heist, or an affront on your traditional mores. While the doomsday cliches poured from the media and masses, assuring us that this fight was an athletic circus, that the two men had no business fighting and we had no business buying it, those fears were far from realized. The better boxer — the greatest boxer of this young century, no less — won the fight, as expected. But he got a most unexpected challenge from his challenger. If boxing, like all sports, is entertainment, then we were presented quite a show by two of the best showmen in the world.

You can decide whether it was worth $100, but it was worth something, meant something, and represented something. All of them better than projected. Even in defeat, his left cheek swollen like a poached egg, McGregor was still a showman in full. Sitting at his post-fight presser, McGregor appeared in a suit, with a bottle of whiskey bearing his handle (Notorious), sipping from a cup filled with its contents.

Indeed, we should all raise a glass to McGregor, Mayweather, and the sport of fighting. Not just boxing, but also UFC, two competing sports married just for one night, fittingly, in Las Vegas, a town renowned for surreal weddings.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel