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Analysis: McGregor pulled off the impossible in landing Mayweather fight

Mayweather comes out of retirement to go for 50-0 against a boxing novice

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Julio Cortez / AP

Conor McGregor holds up his title belts early Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, after he defeated Eddie Alvarez during a lightweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

After a knockout victory four years ago in his UFC debut, the fourth fight on a 13-bout card that streamed on Facebook, Conor McGregor referred to himself as a champion and boasted about all he planned to accomplish.

Glimpses of the brashness that would turn him into the most popular fighter of all-time in mixed martial arts were ubiquitous, as the 23-year-old detailed all the fights he would win and all the money he would make.

“I feel like I stole the show, stole everything,” McGregor told reporters backstage in Stockholm, Sweden immediately after finishing Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds. “I’m going to steal all the money from the UFC, and hightail it back to Ireland.”

Some laughed off McGregor bragging as fluidly as he fought. Those with less of a sense of humor shook their heads, and wrote off the rookie as disrespectful.

Everyone outside of his teammates and his rabid Irish fan base was united in not taking him too seriously. That created a pattern that has played out continually ever since, where McGregor voices seemingly outrageous claims that the masses doubt.

But McGregor has lived up to every promise he’s made, and it might officially be time to erase skepticism as a reaction to his aspirations after Wednesday's coup. McGregor’s ambition hit its apex when he officially coaxed boxing great Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for a boxing match set to take place Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena. Financial details weren’t disclosed per a confidentiality agreement, but it’s a bout that may give McGregor a nine-figure payday after pay-per-view bonuses and endorsement deals — and he won’t be the higher paid of the two fighters.

Yes, the local 41-year-old Mayweather is undeniably the “A-side,” as he likes to say, but that McGregor can qualify as his “B-side” is nothing short of miraculous when looking back to the first time this fight was mentioned.

McGregor first broached the idea less than two years ago going into UFC 189, when he won his first UFC title by knocking out Chad Mendes. It’s likely Mayweather didn’t even know who McGregor was at that point.

Mayweather was coming off a win over Manny Pacquiao that sold a record 4.4 million pay per views and earned him $100 million in show money alone. McGregor had never headlined a pay-per-view before at the time, and had only appeared on one — UFC 178, which sold 205,000 pay-per-views and earned him $75,000 in show money.

After the Pacquiao victory, Mayweather stuck to his plan to retire after his next fight, a forgettable victory over Andre Berto in September 2015, but no one believed it would last. The prevailing thought was Mayweather would go for 50-0 before long, whether it came in a rematch against Pacquiao or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez or, for the wishful thinkers, a fresh opponent in Gennady Golovkin.

No one in his sport would have entertained the idea of Mayweather coming back to face someone with no professional boxing experience until McGregor became a shooting star too bright to ignore.

“I was watching some fight and I was telling Floyd, ‘This kid has a nice hand game,’” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said. “And Floyd watched and said, ‘He does have a nice hand game.’”

McGregor has honed a knockout power in the octagon almost as eminent as Mayweather’s impeccable defense in the ring. Resembling Mayweather’s ability to evade trouble, McGregor has timed and executed everything in his career perfectly.

He even used a defeat to his benefit, stubbornly insisting on a rematch against Nate Diaz that was unsolicited by the fans where he went on to avenge his only UFC loss. The Diaz duo of fights came after vanquishing longtime foe Jose Aldo in 13 seconds and before becoming the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold belts in two weight classes.

McGregor’s second-round knockout over Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight championship last November came just as easily as the Aldo victory. Then he took a half-year hiatus for the birth of his first child, Conor McGregor Jr., to give himself the most possible bargaining power with his brand at a record high.

Quite simply, McGregor has done everything he said he would do. And now he’s saying more.

“Conor told me this morning, ‘The McGregor clan has been overtaking villages for the last 300 years and Floyd’s village is next,’” UFC President Dana White said.

“He’s absolutely confident he will win this fight.”

Bettors, for one, are heeding McGregor’s words this time around. Mayweather opened as a minus-2500 (risking $25 to win $1) favorite at Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, but has gotten bet down to minus-1100 with all the action on McGregor, who’s now plus-700 (risking $1 to win $7).

At William Hill, 98 percent of the money is on McGregor. More intuitive gamblers will eventually come in on Mayweather behind the comprehension that McGregor is entering an entirely different sport against possibly the greatest athlete in the history of said sport.

It’s a super fight that doesn’t have much of a precedent, and it’s also out of the norm of combat sports history in another way. Prizefighting’s past is fraught with examples of an inability to match the two biggest-name fighters in the world against each other at the ideal time.

But McGregor has refused to believe in limitations since the beginning of his career. Fighting Mayweather is the final proof that he’s onto something.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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