Underdog Conor is fighting a losing battle in his bid to defeat Mayweather
If McGregor is going to get the better of his rival, he will have to employ an unconventional fighting style
The first thing most experts said when Mayweather vs McGregor was announced was that however the fight turned out, the press conferences were going to be interesting. From a sporting perspective such a reaction to any event would be disheartening on the face of things, but then what else is there to say about this fight?
A man with no professional boxing experience is going to try and beat arguably the greatest professional boxer of all time in a professional boxing match. The competitive justification? He talks a mean game, wears eye-catching suits and has achieved some incredible things in a different sport. Never in the history of fighting has anticipation for a contest been built to such a magnitude on the basis of such an incredibly thin "what if" narrative.
There's nothing wrong with this per say. The build-up to a mega fight is always enjoyable in itself and it will be wonderful to see the pair standing across the ring from each other before the opening bell on fight night, if only for the feeling of having lived through a strange piece of history, but I am decidedly less thrilled about the wave of negativity that will wash over both boxing and MMA the morning afterwards should the fight not live up to its groundless expectations.
With that in mind, being as generous as reason will allow, what's the best case can we make for Conor McGregor come August 26?
That he cannot outbox the best boxer alive is a statement that should not be controversial. Anything within the realm of traditional boxing that he throws at Mayweather has already been thrown at him many times before by superior fighters to little effect. If he is going to get the better of Mayweather at all it will be through employing a style of fighting that is wildly outside the norms of professional boxing.
Short of a borderline dirty manipulation of the clinch, in what exactly such a style would consist I cannot begin to say. McGregor defenders on this topic are quick to prophetically spout out words like distance, angles, stance and movement, but I've yet to see any particularly convincing theory developed around these loose ideas.
Even if we grant McGregor the benefit of the doubt here, the idea that whatever innovations he does come up with will be enough to trouble Mayweather for any extended period of time seems to rest on the assumption that the sport of boxing has developed so wildly inefficiently since Mayweather started training that it can be structurally rewritten from the ground up by a novice with a creative mind.
This is fantasy at best, and highly disrespectful to generations of boxers and trainers who've dedicated their lives to the science of pugilism. True technical progress in any sport develops in tiny increments and courtesy of athletes with years of specifically tailored training behind them.
If McGregor can be awkward enough to cause Mayweather any problems, he will have a short window of opportunity to do so before Mayweather adjusts and we realise why it is that none of his other opponents had bothered to try and fight in such an odd fashion before.
McGregor's own prediction of a knockout with four rounds might be seen as a tacit admission of this fact. Mayweather virtually never loses rounds in the second half of a fight while McGregor conversely has shown himself incapable of maintaining a pressure fighter's pace for more than 10 or 15 minutes, especially when faced with the kind of persistent body work Mayweather is all but guaranteed to throw at him. It is also worth noting that McGregor will need to roughly double his average punch output to be in the same league as any of the fighters who have caused Mayweather a modicum of trouble in the past.
McGregor's chances then rest more or less completely on an early knockout. In the world of MMA he doesn't usually have problems achieving them. Eighteen of his 21 career wins have come by way of KO or TKO and the power in his left hand is by now a thing of legend. The problem with legends is they usually outstrip the reality underlying them. Much has been made in the past few weeks of McGregor's sparring sessions with former two-time welterweight champion boxer Paulie Malignaggi, a now retired but formerly extremely solid technical fighter who was nonetheless always perhaps a shade below the level of Mayweather's typical opponents.
The sessions were supposedly far more intense than is the norm for training, with the results mostly swinging in McGregor's favour. He even managed to score a semi contestable knockdown in one of the later rounds and left Malignaggi's eyes visibly blackened in later interviews. We can glean from this information that he is not nearly as incompetent a technician as boxing purists have previously suggested, and that the fight thusly will not be the outrageous blowout many have predicted, however it also paradoxically might spell bad news for his hopes of a victory.
If McGregor can control the ring against an out-of-shape opponent much smaller than himself, land cleanly on multiple occasions and still fail to trouble him more than once over the course of 24 rounds, it suggests that his raw punching power might not be all that much greater than the typical Mayweather opponent, saddled as he is by a significantly thicker glove than is worn in the UFC.
One of the most frequent comments made by opponents of McGregor after the fact is that while his power is definitely good, it is his timing and his accuracy that really made the shocking difference in their fights with him. Now we may give McGregor the natural advantages in power and, if we're being generous, speed as well, but it is completely unrealistic to imagine he will best Mayweather in these other two areas. Mayweather typically out lands his opponent at a rate of approximately 3 to 1, putting him well beyond McGregor's own 1.3 to 1 stat in the UFC. The Irishman's timing and accuracy may be great, but Mayweather's has always been peerless.
All of this is to say that from the opening bell McGregor has the thinnest of puncher's chances at best, and they deteriorate significantly with every minute that passes thereafter.
In all likelihood, the bout will end either in a unanimous decision victory for Mayweather, something McGregor ought to but probably won't take pride in provided he can steal at least a round or two (to his credit he seems genuinely to believe he's going to shock the world and is not simply regarding the fight as the pure cash grab Mayweather is), or a late round stoppage in which Mayweather's consistent bodywork begins to pay real dividends as the fight enters its second half.
Could McGregor pull another Aldo out of the bag and render everything I've written redundant? Possibly. But in the world where he does it I want him captaining Ireland at the next World Cup, and perhaps when that's finished we can set him to work curing cancer or eliminating global poverty.