The Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor world tour was an illuminating experience for Paulie Malignaggi.
An award-winning commentator and analyst for Showtime, Malignaggi had a front-row seat for the much-discussed four-day, three-country tour — which saw the Mayweather vs. McGregor spectacle promoted with extravagant stops in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, and London. Malignaggi covered the first three legs of the tour on-site for Showtime, giving the retired ex-champion his first real taste of the McGregor show in action. And the experience left Malignaggi with one big takeaway about the Irishman — a takeaway that changed, if ever so slightly, how Malignaggi views the Aug. 26 mega-fight.
“There’s no doubt in his mind,” Malignaggi said of McGregor on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “When I first saw the fight signed, I thought to myself, ‘Conor has to know he’s going to lose. I mean, subtly, he’s got to believe he’s going to lose.’
“I thought he was doing it a lot for the money. I thought, ‘there’s no way this guy really believes he’s going to win.’ But through the press conferences day in, day out, day in, day out that I was at, I really noticed something in Conor’s character. This guy is a winner through and though, which I always believed he was. But this guy believes he’s going to win this fight. Now, whether it sounds ridiculous to the boxing fans or ridiculous to anybody else, it may sound ridiculous even to me or somebody else, he believes it whole-heartedly in his mind.
“There’s nothing this guy hasn’t been able to achieve in his life when doubt was pressed onto him. So in his mind, he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing his whole life: proving the doubters wrong, proving the odds wrong. And in his mind, he’s going to do it again, and he whole-heartedly believes that. I could tell there was emotion behind that trash talk, there was passion behind that trash talk. There was passion behind what he was saying. You can only be that passionate if you believe in where you’re going, what you’re doing.”
Malignaggi, a former two-weight champion boxer who retired in March, said he enjoyed the press tour and felt like both fighters, at times, got under one another’s skin. He called the second stop, in Toronto, the best press conference he has seen in his life, and ultimately felt like McGregor’s youthful exuberance and natural charisma led to Mayweather enjoying himself in boxing more than he has in years.
Malignaggi also confirmed that he will fly to Las Vegas on Wednesday to begin his role as a sparring partner for McGregor ahead of Aug. 26. And while he still feels like Mayweather has the advantage in the fight, Malignaggi won’t follow the lead of other prominent boxing analysts, many of whom have implied or outwardly stated that McGregor has no chance to pull off the mother of all upsets.
“What I’ve been saying from the start, you need to look if Conor can have certain moments in the fight,” Malignaggi said. “I don’t think you can just outright say, ‘Conor wins the fight;’ it’s just outright too much of a jump. But here’s where you can start to think Conor wins the fight: you look for Conor to have certain moments in the fight, whether he can get Floyd’s attention, maybe land a particular punch or particular shot or particular combination. Figure out ways where Floyd’s falling for certain things, because Floyd is so smart, he doesn’t fall for very many things. Figure out ways where you can set certain traps for Floyd and land a couple of shots here and there.
“And here’s what happens: you have a moment here, you have a moment there. Sometimes, especially when you punch as hard as Conor McGregor, sometimes a moment becomes a bigger moment. Sometimes a bigger moment ends the fight. So you look at it like this: can Conor have a moment or two here and there? Because overall, the control of the fight, I believe, will be Floyd’s. Floyd fights for control and I believe Floyd will be in control.
“Obviously, Floyd has more pros going into this fight because it is a boxing match,” Malignaggi continued. “But when a guy hits as hard as Conor McGregor, all he needs to do is look to grab certain moments in the fight. A moment here, a moment there. Can he turn one of these moments into a bigger moment that can possibly turn into real danger for Floyd Mayweather? And that’s kind of how you want to view the fight, if you’re looking at Conor McGregor’s chances of winning the fight. Because if you just look at it, ‘oh, Conor can win the fight’ — it’s not that simple, it’s not that black and white. There’s a lot of grey area in there. You probably favor Floyd Mayweather in the fight. But there’s intangibles that I just spoke about, that you think that maybe Conor has a chance.”
McGregor, 29, is the reigning UFC lightweight champion and has finished seven of his nine UFC victories by first- or second-round knockout, including his infamous 13-second stoppage of Jose Aldo at UFC 194. In the process, McGregor has broken countless financial records and established himself as the biggest financial draw in the history of mixed martial arts.
So on the off-chance that “The Notorious” lands a big punch and upsets Mayweather on Aug. 26, Malignaggi doesn’t think the outcome would be the doomsday scenario many boxing experts have predicted it would be.
“I don’t think so, because I think then we’d get to keep Conor McGregor,” Malignaggi said, laughing. “We’ll steal him from the UFC, because then he’ll realize how much money he can make in boxing, especially with a win over Floyd Mayweather, and he’ll say, ‘you know what, I kind of like this paycheck. I might hang around for a little bit.’
“But first things first, let’s see how the fight plays out. I think there’s ways and possibilities to where, even if you lose the fight, if he performs in a decent manner, he’ll come out with an optimal positive of the two. People will come out of the fight talking better about him than about Floyd. I think the only way Floyd comes out of this fight with positive press is if he absolutely annihilates Conor McGregor. He has to absolutely annihilate him, and he has to absolutely give him no chance of any inkling of a moment in the fight. If Floyd absolutely annihilates McGregor, then Floyd comes out with positive press.
“But if Conor even has certain moments in the fight and still loses, people will talk more about McGregor than Mayweather after this fight, because this is Mayweather’s domain. He’s supposed to dominate. Conor is not supposed to do anything, so anything Conor achieves in this fight is positive for him.”