'When it’s Conor McGregor at the slot machine, the crowd gathers round'
As it played out in all its brutal inevitability, there was a sense that had this fight been staged on a charity event at the Green Isle Hotel in Clondalkin some would have shrugged and gone to the bar.
A gauche first-time novice boxing a slick champion with multiple titles in multiple weight divisions, this scrap was only ever going to turn out one way. Right?
Unless there was a rub of the relic, a flash of lightning, divine intervention.
But this was Las Vegas. The big roulette wheel in the desert where the sucker never gets an even break but keeps coming back for one more throw of the dice.
When it’s Conor McGregor at the slot machine, the crowd gathers round.
He’s good value. He’s got a colourful spiel, a line of huckster patter that plays well in a city where more people believe in miracles than in Lourdes.
This is the land of plenty. Home of the bottomless cup of coffee and the deepest margaritas on the planet.
With the world watching on Pay-per-View and A-listers a hundred rows deep at ringside, here’s referee Robert Byrd telling both boxers, but looking straight at the new boy, McGregor, “It will be a clean, professionally-fought fight, under boxing rules. Protect yourself at all times.”
“Protect yourself at all times.”
Those coming to prizefighting for the first time, people possibly caught up in the Italia 90-style buzz surrounding McGregor’s unfeasibly large adventure, may just have woken up to the fact that this could be a dangerous proposition.
Stepping into the square ring with a master craftsman in the boxing art, a man intent on surpassing the 49 unbeaten record he shares with the legendary Rocky Marciano, is a daunting task. Maybe even foolhardy.
But here we are in Round One and McGregor is sliding around the ring with his hands casually behind his back attempting to lure his opponent onto a punch.
He’s brimming with confidence and lands a few punches that wins him the opening stanza.
But Mayweather is no slouch. At 40, he’s forgotten more about boxing than the Dubliner has learned.
Mayweather has found ways of beating the very best. And in Round Two, as McGregor switches his punching style, does a little “Crumlin Shuffle” and even gets inside and roughs him up, you sense Mayweather is being as cunning as a big jungle cat, sussing out his prey, sensing his abilities, his speed and his reach.
In Round Three, McGregor fans raise the roof with a chorus of “Olé olé olé.”
As Mayweather struggles to find his range against an elusive McGregor, the Dubliner smacks him on the back of the head and is rebuked by the referee.
By now, McGregor is beginning to breathe heavily. His mouth is open sucking in oxygen.
His flamboyant, upright, no-guard posture is beginning to look less like swaggering bravado and more like a liability.
Mayweather begins to impose himself. He’s seen what the Irishman has to offer and, like a chess grandmaster, he employs a range of strategic counter moves, each one painful.
In Round Six, McGregor gets to stick his tongue out in defiance but Mayweather is a one-man juggernaut that just keeps rolling on.
By now, even those new to the sport can see the difference and anticipate the conclusion.
Blood appears around McGregor’s mouth. Mayweather, a ball of menace and controlled energy, picks his shots with ease and accuracy.
By comparison, McGregor appears to be flapping. His legs seem weak. His eyes betray the look of a man who’s had his hot cocoa and is ready for bed.
And still Mayweather keeps coming. This has been his plan. Allow the inexperienced McGregor to burn out his energy with wasteful punches early on and then methodically apply pressure and take him apart.
By Round Nine, Mayweather looks like a steamroller tearing into a building riddled with pyrite.
In Round Ten, as he punches McGregor around the ring, from one corner to the next, Robert Byrd steps in and waves off the assault, taking The Notorious into protective custody.
Afterwards, Mayweather gave McGregor credit for a game challenge. “He’s a lot better than I thought he was,” he said. “But I said I wouldn’t back up and that’s what I did.”
Beforehand, even those cynics who viewed this contest as a scam, gave McGregor a puncher’s chance.
And it seemed The Notorious knew his best chance would be to land one of his crushing left hooks in the early rounds.
When that didn't happen, a Mayweather victory was assured. But a TKO is not a knock-out. McGregor didn’t hit the canvas. He wasn’t concussed. He didn't see the “black lights.” He was still standing when the ref stepped in.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight, McGregor tried to make light of his defeat.
“I’ve been strangled live on TV and I’ve come back,” he said, complaining, but not too forcefully, that he should have been allowed “to wobble back to my corner.”
“It was some buzz,” he declared.
As Matthew Macklin said, “He gave it a real good go. Credit to Conor. He gave it everything he had.”