Over time, Conor McGregor managed to convince so many people in the fight world that he could do the impossible, that he could solve a problem that other, actual experts had failed to. And you couldn’t blame them. You couldn’t fault the true believers in Mystic Mac. This man sees things.
So many times before, he’d predicted something absurd, and we’d stare in disbelief as he pulled it out of thin air.
He told us he’d knock out the legend Jose Aldo and then did it in only 13 seconds. He demanded and promised revenge on Nate Diaz months after looking outclassed and pulled it off — at a higher weight class as an added degree of difficulty. He vowed he’d be the first to wear two UFC belts simultaneously, and then knocked out Eddie Alvarez to make the record books. It got to the point that if he said something crazy and you doubted him, you’d eventually take the thought and turn it around in your mind, examining all sides until you began second-guessing yourself. Until you questioned whether you were the one living in an alternate dimension and that he was existing in the rational one.
Things returned to a normal order last night in Las Vegas. McGregor’s prediction — a knockout in less than four rounds — ticked away, unfulfilled. He didn’t finish Floyd Mayweather; he didn’t even win. The best boxer of the last 20 years got off to a slow start but eventually stopped McGregor in the 10th round when referee Richard Byrd stepped in to save the Irishman from an unanswered barrage.
The stoppage, even if McGregor mildly protested it later, was both fair and final. Yet here’s the thing: McGregor won. Not in the literal sense. In the record books, he’s now an 0-1 professional boxer. But figuratively, McGregor far surpassed the expectations of most, from his performance to his courage.
The “farce” decried by many never materialized. The “freak show” got real competitive, real quick. The MMA fighter turned novice boxer hung in with the now 50-0 superstar.
He lost, but McGregor never went down. Even at the finish, McGregor was standing; wobbled, yes, but proud and defiant, saved from his own bravery. And because of it, his legend will only grow, his stock will only rise.
“He’s a hell of a fighter standing up,” Mayweather said in the post-fight press conference. “It kind of shocked me.”
“He surprised me, he impressed me,” added Hall of Famer “Sugar” Ray Leonard on the FOX Sports 1 post-fight show. “He utilized his own style to keep Mayweather off balance for a few rounds.”
“I think (McGregor) started the fight very well, actually,” Showtime analyst — and McGregor sparring partner turned rival — Paulie Malignaggi said on the post-fight show. “It was tactical brilliance, almost.”
From most objective minds — those not so focused on the rival boxing vs. MMA narrative — there was mostly praise.
Officially, McGregor won only one round, the first, which he swept on all three judges’ scorecards, but many observers — including judge Dave Moretti — believed McGregor won the second and third as well. According to CompuBox numbers, McGregor out-landed Mayweather in both of those rounds.
“I think [the judges’ scorecards] are very biased,” McGregor said. “I’m actually shocked at that. I though I won the first three clearly. [Round] four could be argued. I thought I snuck in eight, and he won nine and 10, so in my mind it was 5-4. But in reality it means nothing. He got the win.”
Even in the immediate aftermath of the fight, McGregor had perspective on what had happened, what was fair and what he had accomplished. And looking forward, what mattered was that McGregor carried himself well, exceeded expectations, and kept multiple doors open for his own future.
He can return to the UFC and fight Diaz again. He can defend his lightweight championship. He can box again if he wants to; Malignaggi seems like an obvious route. The options are there; he has the opportunities of a winner.
If this all seems preposterous, of course it is. One thing we’ve learned about McGregor is that he’s not normal. That the rules don’t seem to apply to him.
He bends every basic truth, even the one that says Vegas is a city where the suckers always lose. The city in the desert is one in which winners and losers are usually clear and obvious. McGregor was supposed to be an easy payday for Mayweather, a sendoff with a nine-digit check attached to him, a patsy.
McGregor was always going to win, the recipient of a payday that may surpass $100 million after all the receipts from pay-per-view, the box office, merchandising and sponsorships are counted. It’s not Floyd’s $250 million and 50-0 record, but McGregor’s only 29 years old and still on the upswing.
His connection to sports fans is what ensures his future, even if this was not a typical McGregor crowd. The Irish that usually show up to support him were there, but not in their normal throngs, perhaps dissuaded by the mega-event’s astronomical ticket prices. T-Mobile’s final attendance was 14,623, short of a sellout, and short on the raucous atmosphere that usually accompanies a McGregor bout.
Yet McGregor showed up with a look of dogged determination and proceeded to give Mayweather his sternest test since he fought to a majority decision with the rugged Marcos Maidana in their first matchup. McGregor connected at a 26 percent clip, better than several of Mayweather’s recent opponents managed against him, including Manny Pacquiao (19%), Canelo Alvarez (22%), and Miguel Cotto (21%). He snapped Mayweather’s head back with left hands and jabs, and although he was unknowingly playing into a master’s long game—Mayweather clearly let the boxing rookie punch himself out before turning up the heat—it was still a surreal sight to see.
With McGregor, seemingly everything is. He’s a generalist that went in with a specialist and held his own. He willed a “freak show” into an actual match. He made a “farce” competitive.
Mystic Mac may have missed his prediction. He may have lost. But given everything he walked away with, he won, too.
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