Is Mayweather-McGregor a referendum on boxing, and other burning questions about Saturday’s fight

Photo: Reymarc Dayauon

How long will it last?

Let’s copy from the betting market and say nine rounds. The over/under opened at 9.5 rounds in June, with the “over” slightly favored. That has now flipped, with the “under” 9.5 rounds at minus-170 (risking $1.70 to win $1) and the “over” coming back at plus-145 (risking $1 to win $1.45) at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

In exact-result wagering, Floyd Mayweather by ninth-round TKO is the most likely outcome at odds of 16-to-1. The odds imply only a 27 percent chance that the fight goes the full 12 rounds to reach the judges’ scorecards. That might sound surprising given Mayweather’s track record. He has only stopped two opponents in the past decade, with his most recent knockout coming in 2011 against Victor Ortiz (who wasn’t paying attention when the fight resumed after a penalty stoppage in the fourth round). Mayweather decked Ortiz, who had his hands down, with a left hook and justified the borderline dirty shot by referencing the sport’s “protect yourself at all times” creed.

Mayweather’s most likely path to victory against Conor McGregor could more closely resemble his TKO victory over Ricky Hatton in 2007. For nine rounds, Mayweather picked apart Hatton, who was visibly exhausted by the decisive 10th round. Hatton could no longer effectively mount any defense, and Mayweather finished him with one final flurry of punches. Mayweather hasn’t pulled off a completely clean knockout since 1999 against Justin Juuko, and it’s difficult to imagine McGregor falling victim. Despite fighting in gloves weighing 4 ounces throughout his mixed-martial-arts career—compared with boxing’s standard 10-ounce gloves—McGregor has never been knocked out.

How can mcgregor actually win?

Catch Mayweather cleanly once. Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not. McGregor’s best fighting attribute is undoubtedly his preternatural power, a skill that should conceivably translate from the octagon to the ring. But Mayweather has built his career on making big punchers look foolish.

From Diego Corrales to Manny Pacquiao, boxers who won championships by knocking out most opponents in their way have been totally flummoxed by Mayweather. He simply doesn’t get hit. Many boxing historians discount Mayweather’s assertion that he’s the greatest of all time, but no one could deny he belongs in any conversation regarding the best defensive fighters of all-time.

The thing about defense, though, is that it’s predicated on quickness, and quickness fades. Mayweather hasn’t fought in two years, and he has turned 40 years old since his last bout. McGregor, on the other hand, is in the prime of his career at 29. If Mayweather moves a split-second slower or tires a smidgen earlier than he used to, McGregor’s chances to land increase significantly.

McGregor has knocked out eight of his 11 opponents in the UFC including Jose Aldo, who was ranked as the top pound-for-pound fighter and looked almost as invincible as Mayweather before the loss. McGregor scoring a flash knockout feels far more feasible than outpointing a technician like Mayweather in an unfamiliar sport.

what would it mean for boxing if mayweather lost?

Plenty of embarrassment and some hurt in the immediate aftermath, but in the long term, the effects should be negligible. Boxing has been proclaimed dead more times than Jason Voorhees, yet it always comes back—and Mayweather has played a major role in a few of those resurrections.

There was widespread indignation after his September 2013 win over Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, which grossed a then-record $150 million in pay-per-view sales. Many swore off ever purchasing another fight after Mayweather outclassed the previously undefeated Alvarez in a bout perceived as boring. But those threats proved empty less than two years later, when Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao made $600 million off of pay-per-view. Similar post-fight outrage ensued, yet Mayweather vs. McGregor is expected to produce a similar buy rate.

Going back even further, the entire Mayweather regime was never supposed to happen. Pundits proclaimed boxing had hit its peak during the heyday of the heavyweight class in the 1990s. Yet history has shown that, regardless of any single result, a fascination to see the best fighters in the world compete against one another will endure. Boxing might never regain the mainstream appeal it once commanded, but it has a stronghold in certain communities that will continue to keep it alive.

what would it mean for the ufc if mcgregor wins?

The Vegas-based promotion would almost certainly get a boost, but it might be less significant than many expect. It was just a year ago, after all, that WME-IMG bought the UFC for $4 billion, an unprecedented price tag that proved the promotion was no longer a fringe sports franchise struggling for relevance.

UFC President Dana White and Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe have both declared that Mayweather vs. McGregor isn’t a referendum on boxing vs. mixed martial arts. Rather, it’s a boxing match fans wanted to see so badly, disparate camps converged to put it together. Still, we won’t be surprised if the winning side gloats on behalf of its sport, especially if it’s McGregor and the UFC. A boxing novice beating one of the sweet science’s greats would provide too much of a bragging opportunity to pass up.

And the UFC could use the momentum. With the likes of McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar inactive within the octagon, the UFC hasn’t seen a single pay-per-view cross the 1 million buys threshold this year. It’s not a major concern, as these things tend to rise and fall on a continual loop, but a McGregor win could help kick-start the next rise.

what's conor mcgregor's future?

The tide seems to be turning toward McGregor retiring from fighting, or at least mixed martial arts, after facing Mayweather. His original statements when the brash prospect first broke into the UFC now sound ominous: His game plan was to get in, get rich and get out. And he’ll be incredibly rich after the Mayweather fight.

There aren’t any matchups in the UFC that can give him anywhere near the nine-figure payday he’s expected to earn on August 26. Even White, once adamant that McGregor would defend his UFC lightweight title before the end of the year, has softened to concede that the Irishman “might never fight again.”

McGregor might be more likely to box next at this point. If he were to beat Mayweather, a rematch could be demanded. There’s also a rivalry possibility with former boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi, who flew to Las Vegas to help McGregor train but bolted when he felt mistreated.

Mayweather vs McGregor August 26, card begins at 3 p.m., tickets $500+, pay-per-view $89.95+. T-Mobile Arena, 702-692-1600.

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