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Boxing champ Keith Thurman on the ins and outs of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor

Keith Thurman v Danny Garcia Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It’s happening.

In just a few hours, Conor McGregor will be stepping in a boxing ring to take on Floyd Mayweather for the belt of the moneyweight division. This monumental moment in sports, that has captured the attention and drawn the interest of millions, is finally here and it will go down on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nev.

To breakdown all the chapters and layers of this cultural phenomenon, MMA Fighting caught up with arguably the best welterweight boxer on the planet and one of the most analytical minds of the sweet science. Current undefeated unified 147-pound champion Keith “One Time” Thurman weighed in on all of the ins and outs and the build up of Mayweather vs. McGregor.

The impact of Mayweather vs. McGregor on combat sports

Danny Segura: First thing, first. Are you surprised these two are actually fighting?

Keith Thurman: No, I’m not surprised that it got made. I mean it’s the year 2017 and hey, money talks.

This is not your typical boxing event, and it’s almost not your typical sporting event although it’s being placed as a typical boxing event in a typical boxing ring. What you’re witnessing is a crossover extravaganza. How much of a build up has there been in the past seven years or whatever, just throwing a number out there, of what is better, boxing or MMA? You’ve had some guys like Kimbo slice, rest in peace, that crossed over got defeated, won some matches, but nothing major came from it. But what you have here, and why this really manifested, and why Floyd even allowed it to happen is because his name is Floyd “Money” Mayweather, so whatever makes money makes sense to him.

Segura: Do you think this is the biggest fight in combat sports history?

Thurman: I don’t know, man. I mean, Muhammad Ali back in the day in Africa that was big. It was also broadcasted to everyone for free. But of our generation, my lifetime? Shoot, is this bigger than any fight Mike Tyson ever had? I would say so. I’m my lifetime, from 1988 to 2017, I would say this is the biggest event.

Segura: Do you think we’ll now see more MMA fighters crossover to boxing?

Thurman: It’s interesting. I do see the possibility for a few more crossovers in the future, but I don’t think they will ever be of this kind of stature. I don’t think it will ever be like this because, I mean, it’s Floyd Mayweather. He’s been at the top of the game for over a decade, you know, he’s dominated since he was an Olympian. So people really understand Mayweather and have watched his whole career manifest.

Mayweather is a truly rare athlete, he’s a rare specimen, and to have him go up against the most rumbustious, most entertaining, biggest loudmouth Irishman on the planet, you know. So I don’t think no matter what kind of crossover they do, I don’t think it could ever compare to this crossover. So I think it’s cool that this is the first time and the best you’ll ever get to witness. But then again, if they do some heavyweight crossover, that could be interesting. People love heavyweights and whenever those guys fight is just lightning and thunder. So that could be interesting, but just as overhype and everything, I don’t think anything can get bigger than this.

NAC approves the switch to eight-ounce gloves

Segura: Are you surprised the fight is happening in 8-ounce gloves?

Thurman: I told everybody that they would fight in whatever Floyd Mayweather wanted to fight in.

Segura: Have you ever seen a case where the commission overrides the rules regarding glove size?

Thurman: The funny thing is that I competed in Florida early in my career, and when I competed at a catch weight of 152 pounds, the commission gave my opponent the option of eight or 10-ounce gloves. So I will say that there are times where it becomes negotiable to say the least. I knew with Floyd and McGregor that a lot of people were intrigued whether it was going to be with eight-ounce or 10-ounce gloves.

Segura: Well, so is there a difference between 8 and 10-ounce gloves?

Thurman: It does make a difference. If it didn’t make a difference, heavyweights would wear 8-ounce gloves. The more ounces McGregor has to wear the more it will negate from his power. The more ounces Floyd has to wear, the more it can assist in his defense. Real fighters know that the smaller the glove, the easier it is to slip one in. You might have your guard up, but the punch might still come through and you might think you’re covering everything, but there is still that other inch unprotected.

McGregor’s beef with Paulie Malignaggi

Segura: So, the drama with Paulie Malignaggi. What did you make of that situation?

Thurman: You know how like sometimes people have beef but then you go and fight face to face and then you kind of squash your beef. Well, this is one of those situations where they had beef, they met each other, and now I think they got even more beef than they did before. That’s their own story. I think it’s kinda funny, and I wonder how personal it’s going to get for Paulie when he ends up commentating on the fight.

DS: What do you think actually happened in the sparring session?

Thurman: There are a lot of rumors about what really happened in that sparring session with Paulie. Paulie ultimately said that McGregor has some growth in his boxing technique but there isn’t really enough time to allow him to grow enough for the Mayweather fight. That sounds like a true statement regardless of whether the guy got beat up or not.

Paulie Malignaggi was a retired fighter that went into your training camp out of shape. And whenever you call somebody into your training camp, you have to understand that you will be in better shape than they are. And another thing is that I’ve never sparred a single sparring partner for 12 rounds. So you don’t make the guy that just got off a plane and who’s not ripped and shredded like you are, you don’t make that dude spar 12 rounds with you.

For example, back in the day when me and Shaun Porter were sparring partners before we were battling for these titles — and it looks like he might end up being my next opponent as a rematch — I was preparing for Marcos Maidana, that’s why we were sparring because of Porter’s aggressive style. That was before Maidana pulled out. Me and Porter never even sparred 10 rounds, we would only spar a maximum of five rounds at a single time. We would always spar four rounds and then my other sparring partner would come in next. So being able to get the best of a sparring partner in a training session, I mean, and you’re talking about a retired fighter. When I look at the photos of Paul Malignaggi in that training camp, he was overweight, but still went 12 rounds with the guy. So it is what it is, he’s not fighting Paulie, he’s fighting Mayweather.

Segura: Did McGregor’s side break any code or etiquette by releasing the photos and sparring footage?

Thurman: A little bit, yeah. But at the end of the day, this motherf*cker is trying to create hype to make this fight worth watching. So you see Paulie Malignaggi on the ground and you’re like, ‘oh he’s messing up this world class fighter; I can’t wait and see what happens when he fights Floyd.’ So with that going on, I’m not really going to, I mean, it’s not my thing. But man, if you don’t want them to be releasing shi*, don’t give them anything good to release.

The breakdown

Segura: Is there an actual chance here for McGregor to pull off the upset?

Thurman: Well, it’s a fight, and when you’re in a fight, there is always a chance. Especially because, you don’t have to call McGregor a boxer, but you have to admit he’s used to hand-to-hand combat and his preference is hand-to-hand combat, not submissions or anything like that. We can say that McGregor has hit enough people in the face that it’s a skillset.

For me, he became a boxer when he defeated Nate Diaz. The reason I say that is because whenever he struck Nate Diaz with a straight-left hand that knocked him down to the ground, he (McGregor) didn’t take advantage of the MMA rules, which allow him to keep attacking Nate Diaz while he’s still on the ground. He simply stood up and kept telling Diaz, ‘stand back up, stand back up.’ I’m wondering why the referee ain’t just giving them a 10 count, and if he doesn’t stand up in 10 then the fight is over, so that looked like a boxing match to me.

So what I’m intrigued in seeing is, what happens when McGregor lands that straight left? Can he land the straight left? Muhammed Ali said, ‘yeah, Frazier is strong. But he ain’t going to hit me, so it doesn’t matter if he can’t hit me.’

Segura: Do you think there could be a case where Mayweather is the one that scores a stoppage?

Thurman: Mayweather hasn’t knocked anybody out since what, Ricky Hatton? Victor Ortiz was a freebie, hands down. So I’ve made this statement a lot the many years I was rising through the ranks and I wanted to have an opportunity to put my skills against Floyd Mayweather, the best boxer of our generation. I always said, ‘you don’t have to be scared of Floyd knocking you out.’ I mean, you can look forward to a 12-round fight with Floyd. I mean, I’d put my grandma in the ring and not think she’ll get knocked out, so that’s not the question. The question is, can you beat the man?

Segura: So this could be a long night for McGregor. Do you expect his conditioning to be ready for a 12-round bout?

Thurman: A lot of boxing guys believe that McGregor doesn’t have a 12 rounds in him. If Floyd targets the body in the early rounds, some believe McGregor will gas out in the later rounds because he gassed out in Nate Diaz fight. In my opinion, he gassed out in both fights, but he handled it better in the second fight, although he was still gassing out towards the end of that fight. So I hope his team really upped their strength and conditioning, especially the conditioning part, in preparation for this fight.

Prediction

Segura: So who wins this fight and how do you think it goes down?

Thurman: I never really care about fights that I’m not involved in so the outcome can be anything for my concern. I’d like to stay open minded, but I think a defensive 12-round victory for Floyd. I don’t see McGregor winning a 12-round victory. I don’t see McGregor walking away with seven out of 12 rounds.

As long as you get seven of the 12 rounds in the books on the judges scorecards, you have a unanimous decision. So I don’t see McGregor achieving that. Floyd Mayweather boxing’s style is one that makes sure no fighter achieves that because that’s his goal and he knows you’re not allowed to win seven rounds. You can win five rounds and look good, but he doesn’t allow you to win six or win seven. So yeah, McGregor needs a knockout to really shock the world.

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