Date of publication: 2017-09-03 16:28
So while the punch stats look impressive on paper, Mayweather pressured McGregor like a fighter who wasn’t worried about getting hit back. Once he figured that out, the finish was simply a matter of time. Doing that required the kind of strategic sense that’s hard to find in MMA, though a few fighters have it. The kind of experience that allows fighters to develop that sense is hard to acquire, and the fewer rounds in any MMA fight makes it unwise to give away rounds to serve a greater purpose. Still, there’s a lesson in Mayweather’s strategic brilliance and information-gathering.
McGregor showed off two good things: a much-improved jab and strong footwork, both of which kept him at distance, moving, and stepping to angles in ways that papered over some of his other technical deficiencies, of which (by boxing standards) there were many. He did a couple of unorthodox things, including switching stances and working back-takes in the clinch.
But the vast majority of the borrowing is going the other direction. That’s fitting, and it’s entirely in keeping with MMA as an amalgam of best practices. It doesn’t make MMA boxing’s little brother it makes it what it’s always been, a flexible and adaptable sport that pulls inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Maybe it’s disappointing to martial arts enthusiasts that seemingly mundane fundamentals are the site of MMA innovation rather than the mystical or the exotic, but it’s inarguable fact.
By the fourth round, Mayweather had adjusted. He figured out McGregor’s distance and timing. He started to come forward and pressure, something he has done in bursts but rarely committed to for this long since his much days.
McGregor isn’t an accomplished puncher because he throws with enormous, shocking force, like Shane Mosley, Mike Tyson, or any number of MMA knockout artists. Instead, he’s a snappy puncher who has a knack for catching his opponents cleanly, from odd angles, and at the point in the arc of the punch where it has the greatest amount of force.
All of the Mayweather-McGregor narratives have, to a greater or lesser extent, some validity. How much is a matter of debate, and that debate—complex, and with no objectively “correct” answers—is where that inability to simultaneously consider two contradictory arguments comes into play. It’s just so much easier to pick one. Right now, the “moral victory” narrative seems to be winning by a landslide. If that helps wrap things up with a neat, tidy bow for viewers who felt they got their money’s worth, I suppose that’s fine.
On a technical level, Mayweather essentially fought a more extreme version of his fight. In the first three rounds, as he usually does, he gathered information. The pace McGregor pushed—he routinely threw 75 or more punches per minute—was superficially impressive. In the absence of offense from Mayweather, that was enough to win the rounds.
Expertise is a real thing. Mayweather is a master of his craft, with depths and layers of skill that are impossible to explain or even see to anyone who hasn’t watched a ton of boxing. McGregor discovered that firsthand in the ring on Saturday, and assuming he fights in the octagon again, hopefully he’ll carry some measure of that craft back to MMA with him. It will make him a better mixed martial artist.
For the most part, though, McGregor’s improvements and the limited success he had were due not to some mystical MMA wizardry but to boxing. He pivoted, turned, sidestepped, worked a jab, measured distance, and threw combinations.
Dolgopolov objected to the fact that news of the investigation had spread before the TIU had reached its conclusions, and he seemed annoyed by the line of questioning. All of his quotes are worth reading, but here’s a taste:
The irony here is that boxing technique is what’s currently disrupting the metagame of MMA, not the other way around. Don’t be fooled by the spinning kicks and occasional strange stance: McGregor’s success in his native sport is built mostly on his command of a few pieces of the sweet science, especially the angles on his counterpunching and his basic footwork. His trademark punch, the inside-angle counter left hand, is a boxing staple.
It’s even more bullshit afterward. McGregor didn’t disrupt anything. He spent a few months boxing, had a boxing match, and now he’ll presumably go back to MMA.
“Er, no, not really,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of friends on social networks. If you give your phone too many times, probably, but no, not that I remember.”
When Mayweather pressured McGregor, he took away his ability to land from angles and at the snappy part of the punch’s arc. He saw McGregor’s shots coming. Even though McGregor still landed at a comparatively high rate, his shots were devoid of power, and few landed without being deflected. McGregor simply doesn’t have the clean, fundamental punching technique to generate power in tight spaces.
And that’s just at the elite level. If you wanted to dig down into the contenders and prospects, you’d find still more evidence of the vast overall improvements in basic footwork and fundamentals. Boxing is an art with centuries of know-how about efficient, effective technique and in-fight strategy. Its best practices exist for that compelling reason.