By Jason Keidel
Fight Night is nigh upon us. Just 24 hours until Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor duck under the ropes and finally face each other, sans microphones, posses and safe distances between them.
After all the gaseous monologues, bluster and bombast, maybe a breakdown is in order.
Punch stats show that Mayweather is easily the hardest fighter to hit, by the greatest boxers in the world. So it’s hard to imagine McGregor, who is in his first prizefight under Queensbury rules, landing combinations with ease or impunity.
Unless Mayweather has gotten old, older than he realizes, older than he’s allowed during his interviews over the last month. By the time he steps in the ring, it will be nearly two years since Mayweather has boxed professionally – 714 days, to be precise. That’s an epic hiatus for a 30-year-old, much less 40, Mayweather’s age on fight night.
Even somewhat diminished by age, Manny Pacquiao was still one of the five-best fighters on the planet when he fought Mayweather. Yet according to official CompuBox numbers, Pacquiao landed 81 of his 429 total punches, connecting just 19 percent of the time, including nine – nine! – percent of his jabs. (Mayweather landed 34 percent of his total punches.)
If you’d rather dismiss Pac Man as old and injured, then let’s look at a younger, stronger, healthier opponent who many thought would give Mayweather more than he could handle. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who is fighting Gennady Golovkin for boxing’s pound-for-pound throne, faced Mayweather four years ago, and the Mexican icon didn’t fare much better than the Filipino legend.
Indeed, Alvarez – widely known as a complete fighter, equal parts power and precision – landed 117 of 526 total punches, connecting on 22 percent of his jabs. Canelo found Mayweather’s face on just 15 percent of his jabs, and 31 percent of power punches. Mayweather dominated the younger, naturally larger Alvarez even more profoundly, landing 232 of 505 punches (48 percent), including 93 of his 175 power punches (53 percent).
No matter your revisionist version of Pacquiao or Canelo, both will wind up in Boxing’s Hall of Fame. And Mayweather handled them with relative ease.
Boxing purists give McGregor no shot to win the fight. Fine. But it’s unfair to suggest he can’t take a punch, particularly one from Floyd Mayweather Jr, who hasn’t knocked anyone out in over nine years.
Indeed, McGregor enters an octagon for a living, takes thunderous kicks, fists, and elbows to his face from the toughest martial artists in the world, but can’t take a few jabs from a 40-year-old who hasn’t truly stopped someone in 11 fights, since Ricky Hatton, in 2009? (Don’t count Victor Ortiz, who had his hands down and wasn’t expecting the punch that floored him in 2011.)
Another fact, one that seems lost on the public and pundits, could play a major role on Saturday night. Out of thousands of opinions and soundbites, not one pundit has pondered this. Stamina. Not that McGregor is out of shape, but there’s one sound he’s never heard in a fight…
A bell for round six. Or seven. Or eight.
So, it’s stamina, conditioning, and pacing that will separate these two fighters. As wonderfully fit as McGregor clearly is, you can’t prepare for a long fight without being in long fights. There’s no roadwork, heavy bag or sparring sessions that condition you for the sweaty, gasping minutes of double-digit rounds. It’s hard to imagine a fresh-faced, stoic McGregor, not gasping for oxygen, as he enters Round 10.
For all his faults and foibles – and they are myriad and troubling – Mayweather has his mail forwarded to the speed bag. Renowned for ad hoc, midnight jaunts to the gym, Mayweather is 24/7 fit. While many iconic fighters are known for ballooning bellies between fights, Mayweather is never corpulent or careless when it comes to his physique. Perhaps he doesn’t always respect people, or the law, but he respects his sport. The greatest homage to your sport is preparation and performance.
Though I don’t profess to be Bon Vivant, Burt Sugar, I made my bones as a boxing writer, back when it still owned the back page and your Saturday night. And while it’s lost some of its heft, boxing still has historical prerogatives, more than a few fans and fugitives from the old days. Even today, nothing drains the adrenal gland like Fight Night. Say what you will about the merits of this fight, no one questions the talent of these fighters.
A resounding salute to Conor McGregor for entering a ring instead of octagon, for conceding every advantage he would have in his realm and agreeing to fight the best boxer of this young century on his turf and terms. But while we give the nod to McGregor for courage, he should be nodding deep into a 12-round fight. Maybe he won’t be floored by the old man’s power, but Floyd Mayweather Jr has enough jabs and counter rights in his quiver of punches.
Expect both fighters to feel each other out for a few rounds, before easing into the styles that made them stars and champions. Expect the classic bull to charge the quintessential matador. Then expect an endless assault of jabs and lead rights to pop McGregor’s face, watch his eyebrows balloon, then slowly leak blood into his wide eyes until his sight will be questioned by the media, the masses, and then the referee.
Count on McGregor to be tough and talented. But expect Mayweather to be better.
Mayweather by TKO in 9th round.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.