Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017 | 2:10 a.m.
The joke everyone made about a problem Conor McGregor may encounter fighting Floyd Mayweather came true. The UFC lightweight champion appeared to suffer from a momentary lapse where he forgot what sport he was competing in during his boxing debut Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Instead of being comical or disastrous, however, it wound up as brilliant. Early in the fifth round, McGregor clubbed Mayweather with a hammer fist, a mixed martial arts strike, before hitting him with one of many, also illegal punches to the back of the head.
As referee Robert Byrd separated the fighters and warned McGregor, Mayweather shook his head and scowled. Upon the restart, the 40-year-old local boxer charged at McGregor with the ferocity of a rabid wolf and winged haymakers like he was in a bar brawl.
These were the types of moments that had become all too rare throughout the back end of Mayweather’s legendary career. These were the types of moments McGregor coaxed out of Mayweather before he was eventually finished via TKO at 1:05 of the 10th round.
“I gave the fans what they wanted to see,” Mayweather later reflected on the fifth round, where he also appeared to shove McGregor after the bell. “I pushed him and told him, ‘You still ain’t knocked me out. I thought you said it wasn’t going past four (rounds)? Show me your real power.’ That’s all. It was just trash talking that fighters do whether it’s MMA or boxing....When the best compete against the best, we want to be pushed.”
Those who predicted Mayweather vs. McGregor would be an embarrassment or disgrace to boxing — “Oscar de la Arums,” as UFC President Dana White dis-affectionately referred to them — might want to hide out for a while. It was nothing of the sort.
In fact, it went down as one of Mayweather’s more entertaining fights. The victory was worthy of being both Mayweather’s last and the one to push him to 50-0, past Rocky Marciano’s historic record.
Mayweather expressed confidence that the bout broke both the all-time high $72 million gate and 4.6 million pay-per-view buys record set in his May 2015 win over Manny Pacquiao. And, unlike the Pacquiao fight, the fans that fostered those numbers weren’t complaining because they received an engaging performance from Mayweather.
A pessimist would say Mayweather only delivered on that front because he was completely unthreatened by McGregor. But those same pessimists were the ones saying McGregor wouldn’t win a round, and by most accounts, including judge Dave Moretti’s scorecard, he won each of the first three.
“The disrespect for my skillset took me back a little bit,” McGregor said, “but I always knew when the fight came around, I was going to show up and put a good account of myself out there.”
Although judges Burt Clements and Guido Cavalleri gave McGregor only the first round, statistics made it clear they were mistaken. McGregor outlanded Mayweather 26-12 in the first three rounds, according to CompuBox, as a hush and air of “what if” spread over the crowd of 14,623 in attendance.
In total, McGregor landed 111 punches over less than 10 rounds, or 30 more than Pacquiao managed against Mayweather in 12 rounds.
“I’m so proud of Conor tonight,” White said. “It’s not the fight I thought it was going to be. It was a completely different fight than I expected. When you get into professional boxing, you start with four rounds, then go to six rounds. He went 10 rounds tonight with arguably the greatest to ever do it.”
McGregor gassed out after his successful start, with Mayweather solving him like a children’s puzzle. But Mayweather has pieced it all together against everyone he’s ever fought.
He tore apart the game plans of boxing luminaries like Pacquiao and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez much faster than he did McGregor’s. Intentional slow start or not, there’s something to be said for that.
“When we say we’re going to do something, sometimes it doesn’t always pan out but I thought tonight was one of those nights where it was a big win for boxing in general,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said.
So many of boxing’s biggest fights over the last decade have ended in controversy or disappointment. Mayweather’s win over McGregor had neither, and gave him a fitting exit out of the sport.
After most of his other recent fights, fans that didn’t stick around to boo during the traditional post-fight interview in the ring were already filing out of the arena. But on Saturday, almost everyone stayed in their seats clapping, cheering and taking in all the atmosphere from a finally-satisfying Mayweather showing.
“Everyone in this room that watched me fight knows that I could have easily outboxed Conor McGregor, counter-punched him all night,” Mayweather said. “That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to go out with a bang. I told you guys I wanted to come straight ahead. I felt like that’s what I owed to the fans for the Pacquiao fight.”