In one corner stood Conor McGregor, one of the best mixed martial artists of today, someone whose repertoire includes boxing skills but who had otherwise never competed under boxing rules — never mind against a top boxer.
In the other corner stood someone who wasn’t just a top boxer, but was the best boxer of this generation. Floyd Mayweather Jr. had won world titles in five weight classes and long ago cemented his future induction into boxing’s Hall of Fame. Mayweather had never lost a fight as a pro — and wasn’t about to let that change.
Mayweather started slow but came on, took over and finished strong, scoring a 10th-round technical knockout in what will turn out to be the final fight of his career.
“Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot all his heavy shots early, and then take him out at the end down the stretch,” Mayweather said afterward. “In MMA he fights 25 minutes real hard. After 25 minutes, he starts to slow down.”
Mayweather’s game plan makes sense. But it’s hard to think that Mayweather wanted to get hit with shots like a few of the ones McGregor landed early on. Though McGregor doesn’t have great boxing skills, he didn’t embarrass himself either. He showed good hand speed and timing, landing counter punches in the first round when Mayweather missed.
Mayweather took them fine. It was still dangerous. Mayweather wasn’t doing much on offense at all — he threw just six punches in the first round, 10 in the second round and 12 in the third round, according to CompuBox. He wasn’t being elusive either, opting to stand in front of McGregor, as he’d promised. That left open the possibility that the naturally larger McGregor could land something heavy, and that it could have an effect that Mayweather didn’t expect.
McGregor fought a largely disciplined fight, barring several glaring exceptions when he instinctually let loose with some hammer fists, or turned Mayweather around and kept throwing from behind him. The referee, Robert Byrd, had issued an extended set of guidelines and admonishments in his final instructions but didn’t do enough to stop those fouls from happening once the bell rang.
Mayweather didn’t seem bothered. He never appeared to be distressed. He knew he was absorbing McGregor’s shots when they landed, and he was confident that the action would transition in his favor.
Mayweather began digging to McGregor’s body in the second and third round to help bring the fatigue forth. He increased his volume in the fourth, picking up the pace and therefore the pressure; tension can tire a man, especially if he feels out of his element. McGregor looked up at the clock early in the fifth, a sign that his stamina was waning. Mayweather tried to further demoralize McGregor after the round ended, shoving him with one glove and walking away.
And then Mayweather had an excellent sixth round, landing 27 of 37 punches (a fantastic 73 percent connect rate), including 22 of 28 power shots (a ridiculously accurate 79 percent).
McGregor dug down and had a better eighth, though not enough to win the round on the judge’s scorecards. McGregor also had Mayweather backing into the corner early in the ninth, though that was the result of a low blow. Mayweather proceeded to pummel McGregor for much of the next two and a half minutes. McGregor, clearly exhausted, tried to hold Mayweather for brief respites. He teetered on the ropes at one moment, and there was still a minute left. The round was so one-sided that two judges scored it 10-8, even without a knockdown.
The scorecards wouldn’t matter anyway. The fight was about to end.
Mayweather dug a couple of shots to the body in the 10th, then nailed McGregor with a right hand to the head, and soon another, and another. McGregor wobbled around the ring, on the ropes and defenseless as Mayweather continued to land. The referee jumped in. McGregor complained afterward that he should’ve been allowed to go out on his shield and get knocked down. In reality, Byrd saved McGregor from taking any more unnecessary punishment.
McGregor’s boxing career likely ended less than an hour after it officially began. He’s now 0-1 in the squared circle and can return to the Octagon. He wasn’t blown away early like many boxing fans predicted would happen. Yet he also was stopped by a much smaller opponent, never mind someone who hadn’t scored a knockout or technical knockout since 2011. This also was the 40-year-old version of Mayweather, who’d been retired for nearly two years.
There’s still no shame. This isn’t McGregor’s sport, and yet he talked his way into a bold challenge that made him tens of millions of dollars more than he would’ve made facing any other boxer or trying to prove himself by taking the traditional route.
Mayweather is expected to make more than $100 million, and that number could climb much higher. It’s a nice nest egg to send him back into retirement. He hangs up his gloves for good at 50-0 with 27 KOs.