In Defense of Conor McGregor

(Guest editorial by Ben Sutherland)

Following the announcement that the mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor has finally been inked, many people have been quick to write McGregor off.

The fight makes good business sense, no one expects him to win, and so a loss is minimally damaging to his reputation. Regardless of the outcome, he will come away showered in praise for taking a risk and will have a fat check in his back pocket. However, McGregor certainly doesn’t want to lose on the biggest stage of his career and isn’t just going to lie down in the fight. 

Mayweather is clearly the overwhelming favorite. McGregor has never set foot into a professional boxing ring, while Mayweather is arguably the best boxer of his generation. It is an obvious mismatch and the general sentiment in the boxing media is that this fight probably only has one outcome. I am not saying for one second that McGregor has anything more than a minuscule chance, but here is why I think it is foolhardy to say a win is impossible:

The first obvious advantage McGregor holds is age. McGregor is currently 28 years old, while Mayweather turned 40 this year. McGregor is in his fighting prime. Mayweather is way past his. It has to be said that in top-end sport these days, 40 is slowly becoming the new 30. Bernard Hopkins was over 50 when he retired from boxing and even at the end of his career was still fighting at a respectable level. Shannon Briggs provides another example of life after 40, although recent allegations against him make that more dubious. The 12-year age gap is perhaps less significant than it might first appear, however, the advantage here is clearly with McGregor.

Over the last few fights of Mayweather’s career, his punching power slowly eroded and that makes things tougher for him. His last knockout was against Victor Ortiz 6 years ago, and even that was controversial. This is good news for McGregor: the longer he can hang around, the higher the chance he has of catching Mayweather with that famous left hand of his.

The next advantage McGregor holds is size. He has Mayweather beaten in every department. He is taller, heavier, and has a longer reach. 154 pounds is the magic number both fighters will look for on the scales. Clearly the weight of professional fighters fluctuates a lot, so it is hard to estimate the exact weight of either fighter at this current moment. However, McGregor routinely made 145 pounds, but has gone as high as 168 pounds in his first fight with Nate Diaz. This gives McGregor two advantages: not only will he be bigger than Mayweather in the ring, but he can also make the weight better. In his last fight against Berto, Mayweather weighed in at 146. That was in 2015, since then Mayweather has hardly ballooned, but he has definitely put on weight, which makes it all the more difficult to get down to the light middleweight cut off that he had to make several times in his career. Cutting corners in this department could lead Mayweather to gas in the back half of the fight, making him more vulnerable to McGregor’s wild punches. 

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The height and the reach also factor in. McGregor officially stands at 5-feet, 8-inches, one inch taller than Mayweather. This difference is trivial, but it shows up most significantly in the difference in the reach of the two fighters. Mayweather’s official reach measurement is 183cm, 5cm (about 2 inches) shorter than McGregor. That is a noteworthy differential and means McGregor has a reasonable chance of catching Mayweather a couple of times. This of course doesn’t make a McGregor win likely, but if Mayweather is in range then he has a chance. 

This brings me on to McGregor’s main party trick: his left hand. As we saw against Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez, it is devastating. Of course, there are levels. MMA and boxing hold themselves to two very different punching standards and McGregor isn’t Gennady Golovkin. However, the left hand means McGregor has a puncher’s chance. If he could rock Mayweather, the whole dynamic of the fight changes. Especially if Mayweather has underestimated McGregor and has subsequently prepared insufficiently.

Mayweather has looked his most vulnerable, if only for brief moments, against the likes of Marcos Maidana and Ricky Hatton. These boxers came to fight. They walked forward and tried to rough up Mayweather rather than letting him ride out the fight in his usual technically perfect and defensive style. McGregor fits this bill…