Tuesday 16 January 2018

'This could spell the end for boxing' - Former Irish pros not in favour of Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather fight

Conor McGregor will fight Floyd Mayweather on August 26 and Eric Donovan (inset) is not impressed
Conor McGregor will fight Floyd Mayweather on August 26 and Eric Donovan (inset) is not impressed

Eamon Carr

Conor McGregor has 36 days left to perfect the tactics that will see him crowned King of the Ring. Boxing aficionados dismiss the upcoming fight in Las Vegas as a mis-match between a fighter with a gifted jab and one with the gift of the gab.

Undaunted, the Dubliner vows to achieve what 49 top professional boxers have failed to do, beat Floyd Mayweather Jr, the man regarded as the best boxer of his era.

In his undefeated reign as world champion at five weight divisions, Mayweather Jr has beaten such formidable talent as Manny Pacquaio, Marcos Maidana, Saul Alvarez, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosely, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya.

McGregor has never boxed professionally. Despite his record of 21 wins and three losses in Mixed Marital Arts, Conor is a boxing novice.

This fight, and his share of an estimated $500 million purse, will make ‘The Notorious’ a very wealthy man.

A win will see him enter the history books as the man who denied Mayweather a record-breaking unbeaten 50, one win more than the legendary Rocky Marciano.

Astute RTé boxing analyst Eric Donovan, a five-time Irish national champion, doesn’t fancy McGregor’s chances.

“The evidence against him winning is staggering,” he says. “But one punch can decide a fight, so even McGregor has a one per cent chance against Mayweather.”

Not everyone welcomes the possibility of a freak win for McGregor.

“If he does win, and beats the greatest pound-per-pound boxer of his generation, it could be the end of boxing,” declares Donovan.

Mayweather is 40. He hasn’t boxed for two years. He’s coming out of retirement for a fight that could become a bigger betting event than the Super Bowl.

He believes he knows what awaits him.

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“He’s taller, bigger and has youth on his side,” he says of the Dubliner. “He’s awkward. I’ve been asked if I’m worried about elbows or kicks but I’m just going to let the referee do his job. I don’t think about his prediction (of a knock-out), I told him I have a granite chin. I’ve never hit the canvas.”

When the fight was announced in June, McGregor was a 10-1 outsider. Those odds have since dropped dramatically.

But some of the experts have difficulty assessing the fight.

Firas Zahabi, head coach at the gym where Joe Duffy, the Donegal MMA fighter who once forced McGregor to submit, describes the fight as a

mis-match.

“Neither one belongs in the other’s arena,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Who wins? A lion or a shark?’ If it’s in an aquarium, the shark. If it’s in the jungle, the lion.”

Much is made of McGregor’s powerful punch. He’s supremely fit and has impressive foot speed and a two-inch reach advantage. Might this be enough against a boxer who’s renowned for his defensive capabilities and strategic cunning in the ring?

Top coach Phil Sutcliffe, a double Olympian with Irish amateur titles in three weight divisions, who remembers McGregor training in Crumlin Boxing Club “from when he was about 10 until he was 17”, is unsure.

“He was always a great trainer,” says Phil. “He put in the work. You’d show him something and he’d keep trying it until he could do it. He was also a nice kid. No one really knows how good a boxer is until he boxes as a senior and Conor didn’t give himself a chance to become senior.

He went into the MMA. Who knows? He could catch Mayweather with that backhand. He’s strong as an ox and has a good punch. That left hand is like a ramrod. He always had power. Whether he can take one is another thing.”

Phil, who’s coached professional champions, explains the difficulties McGregor will face on August 26.

“Mayweather is one of the best elusive fighters we’ve seen in the world,” he says. “He’s fought all the greatest and hasn’t been beaten. Oscar De La Hoya had the fastest hands I’d ever seen, even faster than Sugar Ray Leonard, and he found it very hard to get near Mayweather.”

Mayweather hasn’t fought since September 2015 but Sutcliffe says, “He stays active. He loves the gym. He spars for craic.”

While Mayweather will want to preserve his unbeaten record, Eric Donovan says: “It’s hard to know how seriously he’ll take his preparation. You’d wonder how seriously he’s taking McGregor’s challenge.”

Andy Lee, who represented Ireland at the Athens Olympics, had 35 professional fights before he won the WBO world middleweight title.

“Everything points to Mayweather winning the fight,” he says. “The best boxers in the world have all tried to beat him and have all failed.”

Lee’s experience at the highest level is exceptional. “Much as I’d like to see McGregor win, I just can’t see it happening,” he says. “I think his best chance to win is to stay ‘awkward’, train and intend to fight like a MMA striker. If he tries to refine himself and become a boxer, he’ll lose definitively.”

“Mayweather has beaten every boxing style,” he adds. “But he has never faced the awkward MMA style. It’s a different rhythm, one that Mayweather will not be used to facing.”

As we’re seeing with talented Olympic medal winners, Katie Taylor, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes, the switch to the professional code is usually a long arduous process. It takes boxers time to build up their stamina and adjust to the demands of rounds against hard-hitting opposition.

Ricky ‘Hitman’ Hatton, was unbeaten in 43 fights before he lost to Mayweather in 2007.

I hope McGregor knocks him out,” he says. “But you have to say, “How can somebody who has not had one pro fight to his name fight the best of all time?”

“McGregor will be out of his depth,” says Eric Donovan. “Mayweather has embarrassed them all. He’s outboxed former Olympic champions.

“It’s a shame that what promises to be one of the greatest fights in a decade, the upcoming clash between Gennady Golovkin (37-0) and Saul Alvarez (49-1-1), the best middleweights in the world, is being overshadowed by this circus,” he adds.

Double Olympian Mick Dowling, who won nine national amateur titles and boxed 50 times for Ireland, is another who believes Mayweather-McGregor is an unnecessary distraction.

“I feel it’s an insult to the professional boxers at the top who are being denied the opportunity to fight Mayweather for that sort of money,” he states.

Reluctant to engage with the event as a sporting contest, Mick adds: “While I admire McGregor as an athlete and wish him well, I’m totally against the foul language he uses. The greatest showman of them all, Muhammad Ali, talked himself up and talked others down but never once did he use foul language.”

The consensus among the experts is that the unpredictable nature of boxing means McGregor has a slim chance of achieving sporting immortality and setting himself up for further lucrative multi-million dollar fights.

“Anything could happen on the night,” says Phil Sutcliffe. “Conor will be the most unorthodox fighter Mayweather has ever fought. He trains the Crumlin way. I would be great for him and Ireland, if he does it.”

As the world knows, following the pair’s headline-grabbing four-city whistle-stop face-offs, Conor talks a good fight. He also has bullish self-belief, something that’s vital in sport.

The carefully staged build-up is expected to make this the most lucrative boxing event ever.

It will attract boxing fans, MMA fans and people who are simply craving spectacle and controversy.

Some speculate this could be the most explosive boxing event since a frustrated Mike Tyson bit a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

While Mayweather says: “A fight like this can only happen once in a lifetime”, with a determined Conor McGregor involved, people expect the unexpected.

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