When thinking of Floyd Mayweather in full flow, the only thing more elusive than his boxing style is the truth. It’s the thing he often seeks to avoid, disguise, bend and reformat. He has his own truth; the truth that suits him; the truth he has used to shape the narrative of his 49-0 and 21-year professional boxing career.
Yesterday (July 11) in Los Angeles, Mayweather said, with a straight face, that his mission to reach 50-0, and therefore eclipse Rocky Marciano’s undefeated record, could very well be derailed by Ireland’s Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist and boxing debutant he fights in Las Vegas on August 26.
It was an assertion repeated until it became a mantra and was done so not because ‘Money’ Mayweather has all of a sudden become humble and self-deprecating, nor because he has grown to respect a man he has previously derided for coming from “the MMA”. It’s not even a fib told for the purposes of selling a product – a fight. That might have been the case if it didn’t already stand to become the highest-grossing boxing match of all-time, both at the gate and on pay-per-view. In actual fact, the real reason Floyd Mayweather has taken to kindly going all Dana White and promoting Conor McGregor for the next seven weeks is because Floyd Mayweather knows that if he doesn’t he is on a hiding to nothing. After all, if he’s going to receive even the tiniest shred of credit for doing the inevitable on August 26, the night they crossbreed and cash out, he must first manipulate the narrative and make a dangerous boxer of McGregor.
“The last time I checked, he’s still a professional fighter,” Mayweather said yesterday in Los Angeles. “He’s a stand-up fighter and the only time he took an ‘L’ was when he was on the ground. He never took a loss standing straight up.
“He’s a guy I know I can’t overlook. One shot can end your whole career and he’s a tough competitor. I understand that.
“I’ve been doing this over twenty years. I’ve been here before. But he’s tough. He’s a warrior. The best must fight the best. The fans demanded this fight, McGregor wanted this fight and I wanted this fight. August 26 is going to be blood, sweat and tears from the opening bell.”
When Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez faced Mayweather in 2013, the fight was sold with the help of the Mexican’s 43-fight undefeated run, his greater size and his superstar potential. Fast-forward four years, however, and McGregor, a man 0-0 in boxing, is labelled a danger to Mayweather, in a boxing ring, on account of the fact he has only suffered defeats in fighting competition when taken to the ground and choked or arm-barred. Talk about changing tack. Talk about falling standards.
It gets stranger, too, when Mayweather, uncomfortable riffing on MMA (a sport Mayweather admits was only on his radar when Royce Gracie was grappling on VHS tapes), uses reference points and prior opponents from his own career to highlight McGregor’s supposed threat.
“He really wants to win bad,” said Floyd. “With other fighters it plays out two ways when you’re facing Floyd Mayweather. You get some guys who play it safe and some guys, like (Marcos) Maidana, who go straight for the kill. I think he’s (McGregor) more like the Maidana type. He’s going to come out and go for the kill. He’s a heavy hitter, so I’ve got to be cautious.
“Because I’m older, I can’t move like I used to move. It’s going to basically be a toe-to-toe battle. It’s going to be exciting. He’s going to come and fight. He’s upset. I’ve seen it before. When these fighters get upset with me, they come out and try to kill me.”
To use the same term, “fighter”, to categorise both McGregor and Maidana is to call Odell Beckham Jr and Cristiano Ronaldo a pair of footballers. It works on some days, in some crowds, in a certain context, but it’s also, in reality, just plain wrong. Worse, Mayweather suggesting McGregor might somehow consult the Maidana template having never before boxed professionally is not only disrespectful to a boxer like Maidana, a former world champion who has fought professionally since 2004, but is also a desperate attempt to reduce and simplify two very different combat sports down to the lowest common denominator: punches aimed at faces.
“I’ve dealt with every style I’ve faced but McGregor’s style,” added Floyd. “That’s why it’s so interesting.”
No, Floyd, that’s not why it’s so interesting. The shit-talk from both sides – okay, mainly McGregor – makes the charade mildly interesting. The style thing, though, the thing Mayweather pretends people give a damn about, is, in truth, the very thing that makes the fight itself feel so icky and weird and wrong. Potentially a bit of an eyesore, too.
Rest assured, there is, despite Mayweather’s proclamations, no overwhelming desire to see Floyd’s slick, counter-punching style methodically pick apart the unruly, gunslinging style of Conor McGregor, a UFC champion who claims he will “paint many different pictures” (by which he means adopting a boxing stance, a thai-boxing stance, a taekwondo stance, a karate stance, a capoeira stance and a greco-roman wrestling stance) on August 26. But Mayweather, unfamiliar with most of those aforementioned styles, will continue to ignore this truth and will continue to describe McGregor as a fighter and a warrior because it’s all he knows. It’s all that works.
“He’s a warrior, he’s a fighter,” he said.
“He does have a chance,” the boxer continued. “Every time two warriors go out and compete, anything can happen. We saw two weeks ago a guy (Jeff Horn) who started boxing at eighteen, a teacher, beat one of the best fighters of all time, Manny Pacquiao. Anything can happen in a combat sport. McGregor’s young; he’s in his twenties, I’m in my forties. He’s active; I’m not active. I’m surprised the odds aren’t a lot closer.
“It will be a competitive match-up. I truly believe this guy will not lay down like everybody believes. He’s got good agility, a long wingspan and he can box. I’m 5’8 and he’s 5’9. I have a 72-inch reach and he has a 74-inch reach. He’s younger. Everything is leaning towards Conor McGregor, to be honest.”
It was at this point you realised Floyd Mayweather was not only bluffing but struggling; struggling to convince the sceptics, of which there are many, and struggling to erase the looks of indifference and impatience that surrounded him in LA.
Hardly a surprise, either. When a five-weight world boxing champion states, with no hint of sarcasm, that everything “leans towards” the mixed martial artist they are about to box in a boxing ring with boxing gloves and boxing rules, that’s one thing. But when it’s broken down to the extent that a two-inch advantage in reach and a one-inch advantage in height is offered as a legitimate reason for this edge – as well as the fact he has only suffered defeat when strangled – you know we’ve entered uncharted territory, if not a bizarre parallel universe.
Mayweather, in time, started to realise this. Sensing things were getting farfetched and out of hand, he decided to focus on his favourite subject – himself – and the possibility that his fiftieth, irrespective of its questionable virtues, could very well be his last.
“I’m not the same fighter I was twenty-one years ago or ten years ago,” he said. “I’m not even the same fighter I was two years ago. I understand that. But I have that fighter’s mentality.
“Training camp is gruelling. I can’t do it anymore. I’m just going to the gym and working hard every day. It’s rough. This has to be my last one. After taking a couple of years off, I was okay, but then we somehow ended up making this fight happen and now I really know that this is it. Deep in my heart, this is it.”
There you go, Floyd. Now you’re getting it. Don’t sell this beast on the perks of your opponent, sell it on your own deficiencies. That way it’s tough to argue. We know Floyd, at 40, should still be plenty good enough to beat 99% of the boxers on the planet, let alone a mixed martial artist, but at least the idea of deterioration in someone so reliant on perfection is a concept we can get behind and explore. One that can lead to speculation and debate. One that shifts the intrigue from let’s-see-a-guy-in-a-capoeira-stance-confront-a-painfully-defensive-boxer-and-make-tons-of-money to let’s-see-what-Floyd-has-left.
“I just know,” he said. “I’m no different to any athlete who has competed at the highest level. When Jalen Rose got older and was playing in the NBA, was he still playing the same way he was when he first got in the NBA? Absolutely not.
“You have to change with time. You know your body is physically changing. You’re getting older. You have to do things different. I’d get an injury when I was a younger and it would go right away, but, when you get older, you’ve got to get a massage or sit in a hot hub or take some time off.
“I’m not the type that’s going to sit here and tell you something I don’t believe.”
No, Floyd, of course not. Perish the thought.