One of the most talked-about sporting events of the summer also will be one of the more unique contests of all time when undefeated 11-time world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. squares off against mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday night.
The scheduled 12-round boxing match will be contested at 154 pounds, with Mayweather coming off a nearly two-year retirement in pursuit of a 50th consecutive victory and a payday of at least $100 million.
McGregor stands to make at least $75 million for his first foray into boxing since turning his focus to MMA at age 16 in his native Ireland.
“From a business perspective, this is a great fight for both sports,” said Nick DiSalvo, co-owner of the Maine-based New England Fights MMA and boxing promotion. “I have friends and family who have no interest in combat sports who are excited for this fight. I feel that whatever brings the attention of the general public to a combat sports event is a good thing. I think you’ll see pay-per-view and box office records shattered this Saturday.”
Mayweather, who has won professional boxing titles in five different weight divisions, is considered a heavy favorite in many circles.
“Mayweather is probably one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time and having fought the elite fighters in five weight divisions and they couldn’t get to him, I don’t think Conor McGregor is going to get to him,” said Bobby Russo, owner of the Portland Boxing Club and a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
“He’s also a tremendous counterpuncher. He’s not a big puncher, but I do believe he’ll knock out McGregor. He’ll catch him on the chin.”
Mayweather, 49-0 with 26 knockouts, also figures to benefit from his experience in the ring against McGregor, the current UFC lightweight champion and former featherweight title holder who is 21-3 in the MMA cage.
“For anyone to think Conor McGregor can enter the sport of boxing as a pro debut and be competitive, let alone defeat, the best boxer of the past 15 years is nothing short of delusional,” said Peter Czymbor, owner of Boston Boxing Promotions and NEF’s boxing matchmaker. “If this was an MMA fight, McGregor would kick, tackle and choke Floyd Mayweather out inside one round. However, it’s not. Mayweather will be able to toy with him and finish him off whenever he feels like it.”
McGregor’s hopes are based on several factors, including what should be an overall size advantage to go with a powerful left hand that has secured 18 MMA knockouts. McGregor reportedly weighed 164 pounds as fight week began while Mayweather already had completed his weight cut.
“With the difference in size, McGregor can almost punch right through his gloves and put him away,” said Professional Fighters League MMA veteran Bruce Boyington of Young’s MMA in Bangor, who predicts Mayweather will win by decision. “It’s that much different.”
At 29, McGregor also is 11 years younger than the 40-year-old Mayweather.
Then there’s the question of how this fight will be contested.
“McGregor is going to have to stick to clinching and dirty boxing to have any chance in this fight,” said DiSalvo. “It’s obvious from the brief sparring video with (former two-weight boxing champion) Paulie Malignaggi that that’s his game plan. He has to really rough him up in close quarters, throw him off his game and force Mayweather to make mistakes.”
Such close-quarters fighting may lead to other issues.
“I have my fingers crossed that it doesn’t become a farce by something crazy happening like McGregor fouling him,” said Russo. “The other distinct danger is head clashes because the MMA guys tend to run in with their heads and a clash of heads could end the fight, which would be anti-climactic and leave people bitterly disappointed.”
Russo worked the corner of a similar boxer-vs.-MMA bout earlier this year when former New England middleweight boxing champion Russell Lamour Jr. of the Portland Boxing Club fought Boyington in Lewiston.
That fight, which like the Mayweather-McGregor matchup, featured a lefthander (Boyington) against a righthander (Lamour) and ended as a second-round no contest after both combatants were injured by clashing heads.
“I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the same thing happen in the fight between Mayweather and McGregor,” said Boyington. “There’s a likely chance that some head butts are going to happen whether Mayweather tries to avoid it or not, because with the way an MMA fighter fights I think dirty boxing’s going to play a big role.
“McGregor’s got a different mentality than the strict boxer Mayweather is and I think that’s going to change how this fight goes in favor of McGregor. Mayweather’s known for being so defensive and elusive and successful but he’s never had to fight anybody like McGregor who really brings a different style.”
While Boyington ultimately predicts that Mayweather will win by decision, he and others within the mixed martial arts community have seen the charismatic McGregor come to dominate their sport and would not be surprised by anything he achieves in the boxing ring.
“I’m with Mystic Mac this weekend,” said NEF co-owner Matt Peterson. “I appreciate the obstacle he’s up against and that the traditional analysis says that he has no chance whatsoever, but Conor has transcended combat sports — and sports and culture in general — and if anyone is capable of accomplishing the impossible on Saturday, it’s him. I’m Team McGregor all the way.”