Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist, is probably the most captivating and marketable combat sports athlete on the planet. But Conor McGregor, the boxer, unveiled on Saturday (August 26) in a Las Vegas boxing ring, is an altogether different proposition.
He wanted to be a boxer. He perhaps still wants to be a boxer. Yet we now know McGregor can’t punch like a south-bound freight train, or move in a whirl like a humming bird’s wing, or bob and weave, or fake and deceive. He couldn’t pass the test.
Well, you might as well quit, if you haven’t got it.
That’s not to say McGregor should give up his boxing dream – if, indeed, such a thing actually exists – purely because he lost his professional debut against arguably the finest boxer of the modern era. To suggest that would be unfair. It would also downplay a lot of the good stuff he showed on Saturday night: the toughness, the fighting spirit, the ambition. Certainly, though, in the cold light of day, having witnessed a 40-year-old Mayweather roam forward, oblivious to what was coming back, and toy with McGregor for the best part of half an hour, it’s clear the Irishman, if he wants to be the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor we all know and love, needs to find his way back inside an Octagon.
So great is his star appeal, money can be made in both arenas – boxing and mixed martial arts. I don’t doubt that for a second. But the difference in McGregor, when his hands are in four-ounce gloves rather than eight-ounce gloves, is as large as his latest pay-check. In the former he is a swaggering, all-conquering giant, a champion capable of mentally disrobing an opponent pre-fight and then brutally and swiftly cutting them down to size on fight night. The latter, however, strips away this confidence and exuberance and instead casts McGregor as an unsure, nervous boxer with questionable technique and composure that will take years to improve. That version of McGregor wasn’t nice to witness. He was brave enough, sure. Game enough, too. But I don’t watch Conor McGregor fight to see him back-pedalling and toughing it out when his legs are shot and his punches are weak. I expect more from him than that. His victories aren’t moral victories. They are total victories.
What’s more, at no point during the nine-and-a-bit rounds he spent boxing Mayweather did I find myself wanting to see McGregor do any of this again. Not against Mayweather, not against anybody. I didn’t even gain enough from the spectacle to make a grudge match between McGregor and a retired Paulie Malignaggi seem appealing. It makes sense, I guess; the storyline is in place; there is history, needle. But for as long as it remains a boxing match and Conor McGregor looks to dabble in what he calls “half a fight”, I have no real interest in seeing it. Not when his skills are so rudimentary and the purpose so cynical. Not when he’s such an eminently watchable force of nature inside a cage.
So, here goes. In a futile attempt to keep Conor McGregor on the right side of the fence, read on for five mixed martial arts fights that make sense in 2018.
Nate Diaz III
This is the one McGregor wants. It’s the only one he discusses, the only one with wheels in motion. McGregor, after all, isn’t stupid. He knows the value of a trilogy. He knows he and Diaz are inextricably linked. Best of all, he knows Nate Diaz’s stock has increased exponentially since choking out the Irishman in March 2016 and then going the distance with him five months later. A rubber match, therefore, is box office gold. It splits opinion. It provides answers to questions. It will also make both a lot of money.
The winner of Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee
Far from household names beyond MMA circles, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will have to earn their shot at Conor McGregor the hard (old-fashioned) way. They fight for the UFC interim lightweight title on October 7, but that alone probably won’t be enough to tempt McGregor away from bigger names and paydays elsewhere. It is he, remember, the champion, who is calling the shots; rankings, where McGregor is concerned, are effectively redundant at this point. That said, Ferguson and Lee do have one thing working in their favour: both are entertaining characters, in and out of the cage, who would go after McGregor like he stole something.
Max Holloway II
These two have history, of course; McGregor defeated Holloway by decision in August 2013. Since then, the gifted Hawaiian has won eleven fights on the bounce and emerged as the best featherweight on the planet (having dethroned former UFC champion Jose Aldo in June). This would be a high-quality matchup, presumably taking place at lightweight rather than featherweight, and would look completely different to the fight they produced four years ago when both were still finding their feet in the sport.
McGregor teased the idea of moving up to welterweight before deciding to become a boxer for one extravagant night in Las Vegas. So, if a viable option before, you’d assume it’s an even greater possibility now, in light of McGregor’s penchant for risk-taking and his thicker boxing body. The concern, though, from Mystic Mac’s point of view, is that Woodley, an enormous 170lber, is simply too big at this point – and a wrestler to boot. Stylistically, that means a headache, which is why McGregor might wait for a new 170lb champion to be crowned before embarking on an ambitious pursuit of a title in a third weight class.
This one probably needs time to boil, but there can be no doubt a potential lightweight clash between Conor McGregor and Justin Gaethje would be one of the fights of this year, next year or any year. Their styles would mesh in the best (and most violent) way possible and, once in punching range, this thing would resemble the coming together of two all-terrain vehicles. Takedowns would be a dirty word, backwards steps would be frowned upon, perhaps soundtracked by boos, and neither man would stop until the other was on the floor and the lights were out.