Published in ‘Mayweather VS. McGregor: Money Fight’.
“The public has been hoodwinked. It’s the biggest farce in boxing history,” says Peter Graham, former world champion heavyweight boxer, kickboxer and mixed martial artist.
“It’s amazing so many people think that Macgregor can win the fight. It’s a bookmaker’s dream come true.”
Peter is quick to list the reasons why McGregor doesn’t stand a chance.
“This is McGregor’s first boxing fight – ever. Apparently he’s had some amateur fights, but the record isn’t readily available. Even if he [had], Mayweather has fought the best amateurs in the world – and beaten them. The only time he’s had to take a knee was when he hurt his hand, hurting someone else.
“Forget about the fact that Mayweather is the best defensive boxer of his generation, McGregor isn’t even the best mixed martial artist of his generation. Mayweather has been fighting the best boxers in the world for fifteen years.”
Very logical, and very reasonable. However, Ben Edwards, former kickboxer and champion boxer about to make his professional debut as a mixed martial artist, views the match-up a different way.
“I don’t know why there’s so much hate,” says Edwards. “Get the fuck over it – it’s a bit of fun! It’ll probably the most watched fight ever, and that’s a great thing for [fightsports].”
Edwards is more enthusiastic about McGregor’s chances.
“I think he’s actually paying about five to one, which is probably about right. While any reasonable person thinks Mayweather is going to win, there’s a few things working against him.
“Firstly, Conor isn’t a boxer and he doesn’t have a boxer’s rhythm, which makes him hard to read. Not being a boxer but still skilled as a combat athlete could work to his advantage.”
“The other things is, if Mayweather hits you, you think, ‘I got hit.’ If McGregor hits you, you wake up ten minutes later. And history shows that McGregor has had problems with lefties in the past.
“He’s also got a couple of inches on Mayweather in terms of height and reach and after the weigh-in, he’ll actually enter the ring a lot bigger [than Floyd].
“On top of that, McGregor’s got nothing to lose! There’s zero pressure on him. Mayweather is essentially defending boxing. He’s coming off a two-year break; he hasn’t had a hard fight in two years since Manny Pacquiao.
“Sure, it was a hard fight, but ring rust is a real thing. Conor has been active. And at twenty-eight years old, he’s in his prime.”
To make any kind of prediction, you have to try and view the fight in terms of the variables at work. In this respect, Graham and Edwards are in agreement.
“You have to work exclusively on whatever code you’re being presented with,” says Graham. “Although I’ve done well as a boxer, it’s not like I only ever did one thing. I’d always been a striker.”
That said, the subtleties of technique are not directly translatable.
“To begin with, you have to change the way you stand; it’s a wider stance for MMA, because you have to be wary of takedowns, which aren’t a risk in boxing.
“There’s also slipping, ducking and weaving to deal with the higher volume of punches, because remember, that’s all you do. Many of the defensive movements in MMA aren’t relevant anymore.”
“I went from kickboxing to boxing; I didn’t find it that hard, to be honest,” says Edwards. “For every fight, you’re fighting someone with a certain body type and skill set and you change your game plan accordingly.
“Especially if you’re going from MMA – which is about six different sports in one, whereas boxing is one skillset. If anything, I think boxing’s easier. You don’t have to worry about takedowns, so you can commit to your punches.”
Both Edwards and Graham acknowledge the impact that age will have on the engagement.
“Mayweather may be forty, but forty in 2016 is not forty say, thirty years ago,” says Graham. “We know more about nutrition, training, sleep and supplementation. He has the money to get the best advice and people around him.”
Edwards makes an interesting counter point.
“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Fighters get old in one fight?” That’s especially true when you’re talking about reflex fighters. A fighter like Roy Jones Junior, who relied on his reflexes, aged very badly in the ring. On the other hand, while Mayweather does have the skills, he’s still relying a lot on his reflexes.”
Attempting to look into the history of MMA fighters who transitioned into boxing doesn’t assist in terms of un-clouding the crystal ball.
Most fighters are fighting for the money. Entry-level purses for the UFC are around ten thousand dollars a fight. If a newly-signed fighter can expect three fights in the space of a year, that income needs to be supplemented by other means.
Boxers take a substantially different career path to MMA fighters. While a boxer’s record may not appear as chequered as that of a comparable MMA fighter, that is often because their record is padded out with easier fights against less challenging opponents.
Promotions like the UFC are the destination for aspiring mixed martial artists. Conversely, boxers are often selected early in their careers and supported by ambitious promoters. It is in the promoter’s interest to protect their prospective champion and nurture both their development and reputation.
Farkhad Sharipov, bantamweight MMA fighter and former resident of Kyrgystan who now resides in the US, has an MMA record of 16-7. At thirteen boxing fights for four wins and nine losses, his boxing record is not quite as sterling.
“I’d never boxed in my life. I started when I was twenty-six years old. I only boxed once a week to get my hands better for MMA,” he says.
Sharipov understands the financial constraints of full-time fighting all too well. He works during the day as a real-estate agent while running his own gym and managing other fighters. Many of his boxing fights have been taken on short notice.
“I had only one or two weeks of training and I fought national champions, top guys, Olympians, Cuban champions, Pan American champions and none of them could finish me.”
Sharipov’s last foray was against the undefeated Jonathan Navarro, a matter of weeks before his next MMA fight. He had decided to take the six round fight as ‘sparring’. While proving himself a difficult opponent, he lost by unanimous decision, winning two of the six rounds according to the judge’s scorecards.
“Yeah, I took it for the warm-up,” he said. “I like to compete. I think with a few months’ notice I could beat most of these guys. My record is upside down but if you look at the fights, you can tell that some of them I was robbed, some I lost.”
Saul Almeida, Jose Aldo’s translator, has an MMA record of 18-8 with a number of significant scalps among them. His boxing record is 0-8, but doesn’t accurately reflect either his quality as a fighter, or his quality as a boxer.
“I do it for the experience,” he says. “I’m fighting really good guys. I can hang with them but I’m fighting in their backyard, if you want to put it like that. If it goes to decision, I know it’s not going to go my way… that’s how boxing works.”
Yevgeni Makhteienko boasts an 11-4 MMA record and has a boxing record of 8-6. What that record doesn’t explain is that he’s won a number of upset victories and lost by way of several controversial decisions. He’s only been stopped once, in the twelfth and final round by Karo Murat. Murat has contested titles at international level.
Oftentimes, MMA fighters are less-concerned about the blemish on their record and are grateful for the experience and the pay-day. A loss in the boxing ring doesn’t affect a fighter’s standing in MMA.
While this is true, McGregor is reversing this pattern; he’s stepping down from the pinnacle of one sport to enter another.
“As the saying goes, ‘money talks, bullshit walks,” says Peter. “If you offer anyone enough money, they’ll box. I don’t think it’s going to open the floodgates [of MMA fighters transitioning into boxing].
“Fighters want one of three things: fame, money, or titles. Promoters want one thing – fights that make them lots of money. McGregor – Mayweather is going to make everyone involved a lot of money.”
“I think the best analogy that I’ve heard is that they’re both swimmers and it’s going to be the best freestyler against the best breaststroker,” says Ben Edwards. “They’re both in the water, and there’s going to be a lot of crossover.
“Mayweather has the record and the experience, but he’s fighting a big, awkward lefty with crazy power. Conor’s definitely got a chance and it’s definitely going to be a fight.”
While Graham and Edwards may see the fight in different terms, there is one thing they agree on:
“You know what? I’ll still watch it.”