McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Already a sure-fire fiscal phenomenon outside the ring, what remains to be seen is how the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor match-up will ultimately unfold inside it, writes Ronan Mullen.

Before breaking down the tactical nuances that are likely to win the day, it’s important to first tally some of the nuts and bolts which underpin them.

While ostensibly all of the figures concerning this event are prefixed with a dollar sign, it is those which comprise the tale of the tape that will be of foremost relevance come opening bell.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Most among them signal a chasm in experience between the pair, no more so than the stark age differential. 11 years separate them in that regard, McGregor entering his athletic prime some eight years after Mayweather exited his.

Their résumés also speak volumes, the Irishman’s 24 outings as a professional fighter more than doubled by the 49-bout veteran.

And yet, save for an off-colour showing in his first battle with Marcos Maidana, Mayweather has looked more the grand master than the elder statesman in recent times, seeing off his last five opponents (average age 29) with customary conviction.

Although prominently featured in the pre-fight narrative, the size discrepancy is unlikely to bear much undue influence either.

Measured from the armpit to the end of the fist, McGregor’s reach exceeds that of Mayweather by three inches, and while against most this would represent a marked advantage, both men’s shared penchant for operating at middle distance should make it a relative non-factor on the night.

To a large extent, it could be argued that the most significant of all the numbers included in the tale of the tape is an altogether more intangible one.

Mayweather might be most widely known for the array of zeroes at the end of his bank balance, but it’s the ‘0’ in his record that is of primary concern this weekend. The following analysis will aim to pinpoint how he’ll set about protecting it, as well as the irregular manoeuvres McGregor might use to take it away.

The Lead: Mayweather's left v McGregor's right

While the intersection of this #MayMac Venn diagram is rather bare for the most part, speed is certainly something common to both competitors.

Battle lines shall be drawn accordingly, each aspect of the match-up juxtaposing the timing and accuracy of the Irishman against that of his American counterpart.

The lead is no exception. And while the multifaceted nature of mixed martial arts dictates that McGregor’s jab is incomparably different from the ramrod version common to boxing circles, Mayweather himself has never exactly been a vaunted exponent of the punch in its conventional form.

Indeed, despite boasting an esteemed amateur pedigree, Floyd has largely forgone the point-scoring lead upstairs during his stint in the professional game.

He prefers to instead make use of his metronomic check-hook, a shot which involves firing off whilst simultaneously using the left leg to swivel 180 degrees.

As illustrated in Clip 1, the benefits of the technique are twofold.

Along with warding off the possibility of a Marquez counter, pivoting in this fashion also presents a fresh angle to launch a second raid.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Even though it’s among the most distinguishable weapons in his armoury, don’t be surprised if the check hook stays in the holster more often than not this time around.

Whereas in theory it is tailor made for a bomber like McGregor, other lefties such as Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero have shown that the location of the right leg in the southpaw stance can impede the punch.

Expect to see the 40-year-old adjust accordingly, compensating for the relative absence of his hook by bringing his jab productivity up to par.

This in itself will be quite a departure for somebody who routinely chooses to employ his straight lead in single doses, to the body, and as a means of maintaining distance rather than setting up combinations.

Although seemingly not all that debilitating, its jarring nature usually proves enough to keep rivals honest on both sides of the ball.

That is to say, as well as wilfully slowing down their own advances, the keenness of Mayweather’s challengers to ward off his jab downstairs often creates gateways for his power shots to the head.

As illustrated in Clip 2, Ricky Hatton is among the victims who fell foul in that regard.

Despite the Briton’s relentless pressure paying dividends in the opening stanzas, Mayweather began to effectively use Hatton’s front foot style against him in the middle rounds, catching him with stick shots as he came in.

By round eight the American had brought his full offensive repertoire into play, peppering the then undefeated Hitman with straight rights before belatedly stopping him in ten.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

That being said, McGregor obviously presents an altogether more unorthodox proposition than Hatton.

And while the parlay of MMA striking into pure boxing isn’t necessarily a seamless one, there are certain crutches crucial to his success in the octagon that he’ll hope to lean on.

A powerful lead, of course, is chief among them.

Though not exactly in the realm of that howitzer left hand, McGregor’s right has still proved to be a potent shot. Indeed, so broad is the threat of his leg strikes that he is more often than not afforded the luxury of loading up with all punches, content that his opponent can’t cover every base.

As illustrated in Clip 3, this was borne out most patently in his recent series with Nate Diaz, McGregor forgoing the more typically faint jab in favour of a lead uppercut in the first instance and a body shot in the second.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

McGregor’s varied looks served to keep Diaz honest, permitting the archetypal counterpuncher to actually initiate exchanges.

Needless to say, the Marquess of Queensbury won’t permit quite the same strategy, meaning McGregor will have to be cannier in his approach, incorporating his right hand more so as a decoy than would ordinarily be his wont.

As elaborated upon further in the next section, if somehow he is the man who would be king, his left hand will take the crown.

For that reason, it’s imperative he brings it into play at every juncture, using his jab to end raids rather than instigate them.

That too is a tactic with which McGregor is already familiar, Clip 4 portraying his ability to follow up a left with a strong right lead.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

The Cross: McGregor's left v Mayweather's right

Gaining the upper hand with the outer hand will undoubtedly be a crucial staging post this weekend. However, like in all clashes of southpaw and orthodox fighters, it’s the cross that truly holds the key.

From the Dubliner’s perspective, and as touched upon above, the supplementary make-up of his jab means his left hand serves something of a dual role.

That is to say, in addition to being the main source of power shots, it’s also used to set up a variety of combinations.

And yet, while McGregor’s counterpunching style so often prioritises quality over quantity, that he is facing the preeminent counterpuncher of a generation may necessitate a marked change.

Given the dearth of openings he’s likely to be afforded, it’s crucial that he seeks to score punches in bunches as opposed to loading ‘Aldo-esque’ home runs.

Mercifully, as exhibited by his combination finish in Clip 5, he’s not just a one-shot wonder, the 29-year-old’s perfectly timed left hand seen here to segue into a further three-punch flurry.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Another significant tool in this respect is hand-speed, something which he has in abundance.

Contrary to Eddie Alvarez, however, Mayweather is one of few that can surpass him in that department.

John Kavanagh et al will obviously have made suitable allowances, aware that their charge needs to be creative when it comes to making his fast hands a factor.

Fellow southpaw Zab Judah laid something of a blueprint in that regard, pushing Floyd close during their tussle for the IBF Welterweight Championship in 2006.

On that occasion, the Brooklynite swept the beginning of the contest thanks to a varied and unpredictable blend of offence, using speed to bring left hands into play at every turn.

Unlike the bulk of Mayweather’s adversaries to date, Judah was content to concede the middle of the ring in the early going, trusting that his own manoeuvrability would allow him to box well on the back foot.

As seen in Clip 6, by inviting Mayweather to press the action initially, Judah assumed the role of counterpuncher, his left hand seemingly linked by tripwire to Floyd’s leads.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

What’s more, while Mayweather has been able to subdue the power of conventional clubbers, fighters whose strength is rooted in speed have proven tougher nuts to crack. Once again, Judah is case in point.

Having boxed a picture-perfect opening three rounds, Zab staunchly planted his feet in the fourth. Clip 7 is another example of his effective aggression, wherein a feigned jab fashions the avenue for a forceful cross.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Nevertheless, the fact that you can count on one hand the amount of times Floyd has been knocked on his heels speaks for the exceptionality of Judah’s performance during the first 12 minutes of their meeting.

The remaining 24, in contrast, went a bit more to script.

Indeed, if Judah’s cross was central during the opening act, Mayweather’s ultimately stole the show. As seen in Clip 8, by the fifth round he began tagging the now wilting IBF champion with bracing regularity, a pattern which continued through to the final bell.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

The CompuBox figures were testament to Mayweather’s general dominance from that point, deeming him to have landed 145 (49%) of his power punches compared to Judah’s 49 (36%).

In many ways, the numbers frame the importance of Floyd’s right hand better than words ever could.

In that contest he favoured his cross over his lead at a rate of almost 2:1 (215:109), this compared to his southpaw opponent who eventually threw 173 more jabs than him in the final reckoning.

And while power unquestionably represents McGregor’s best chance of equalising that accuracy on May 2, it is worth noting at this juncture that Mayweather is not exactly feather-fisted himself.

Although his brittle hands have robbed him of the raw knockout potential that saw off the likes of Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales, he has still showcased enough to keep much bigger men in tow during his journey through the weight classes.

That being said, power is nonetheless a secondary resource in his playbook; unerring precision is very much the rock upon which he has built his church.

Unquestionably the most versatile weapon in the 40-year-old’s arsenal, his right hand’s effectiveness is predicated on the variety of circumstances under which it can arrive.

As seen in the previous clip, one way he opts to set off the cross is by stepping into range behind it once he deems an opponent to be off balance. Ever the artful dodger, he also regularly uses subtle body movement to entice opponents into harm’s way.

Clip 9 contains some perfect examples of what can be described as a ‘pull counter’. Having drawn Mosley’s leads, Mayweather swings his body back in a pendulum motion to avoid them, enabling him to then commit his full weight to the return right hands.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Defence: A step too far

If the tenets of boxing can be boiled down to ”hit” and “don’t get hit”, Grand Rapids’ own personifies them in living colour.

Indeed, so proficient is Floyd Mayweather in the art that he was christened ‘Pretty Boy’ upon his entry into the sport.

That moniker may have faded in the intervening years, but his ability to evade punishment remains unparalleled.

Although head movement is generally considered Defence 101, Mayweather’s punch evasion techniques encompass the entire upper body.

As seen in Clip 10, rather than merely bobbing side to side, he pivots his hips, enabling him to either slip or deflect Carlos Baldomir’s blows both upstairs and down.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

His legs have also long since been paramount to his impregnability, allowing him to control territory throughout his career. But as previously noted, recent outings against Maidana suggest he may be short some flexibility of yore. The Argentine, a fighter not renowned for his quickness, managed to effectively close distance throughout their 24 rounds.

McGregor, himself infinitely more fleet of foot, will thus fancy his chances of doing the same.

Contrary to popular belief, however, Mayweather is wholly capable of holding his own in the centre of the ring. And although his current tendency to stand and trade is likely a by-product of his decreased mobility, he’s never been one to shirk a battle in the pocket.

Clip 11, for example, dates back 13 years to his 2004 bout with another lefty in DeMarcus Corley.

By mixing it up inside, Mayweather knew that he could smother the D.C. native’s longer reach and, in so doing, set the table for his own responses.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Like all counterpunchers worth their salt, Mayweather’s first line of attack is his defence.

If lateral movement is his most reliable tool in that respect, the ‘shoulder roll’ is the one with which his he his most widely associated.

This technique involves holding the right hand tall and the left hand around the midsection, thus allowing the lead shoulder to protect the chin.

The mechanics are used to full effect in Clip 12. Having caught Mosley’s shot on his left arm, Mayweather swivels to return the favour with his right.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

The method is not airtight, however, and has been susceptible to both orthodox jabs and straight left hands in the past, most notably versus Oscar De La Hoya.

The knowledge that his strongest punch doubles as the kryptonite for his opponent’s go-to defensive manoeuvre should give McGregor some solace, in that department at least.

And yet, it’s likely to be McGregor’s broader unfamiliarity with ring real estate which will prove his undoing. Indeed, while most aspects of MMA stand-up can be at least superficially equated to boxing, defensive acumen is not among them.

Incalculably more experienced boxers have discovered Mayweather’s defence to be too tight a bind, future hall of famers who banged the pre-fight drum finding themselves dancing to the beat of Mayweather’s come first bell.

McGregor, normally the exception, will be no different.

Final verdict

Not since a pair of heavyweights stepped through the ropes at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1971 has boxing perforated the global consciousness to quite this extent.

On a night when somebody’s O had to go, it was Kentucky’s Muhammad Ali who succumbed, forgoing his unblemished record to one Joe Frazier.

The sporting gravitas of Mayweather-McGregor couldn’t be less similar, yet the pre-fight narrative of back-foot boxer versus front-foot aggressor is a tale as old as time.

Akin to the wild conjecture surrounding McGregor this time around, in 1971 it was presumed that Frazier’s best chance of victory was by curbing Ali’s enthusiasm with a cannonball left hand.

And while Smokin’ Joe did make his hook a factor in proceedings, it was his intensity and work rate which truly won out, allowing him to overwhelm his adversary down the stretch.

Given that McGregor lacks the aptitude for ring generalship which Frazier displayed on that night, he will have to endeavour to disrupt Mayweather in other ways.

Instead of trying in vain to cut the ring off like Joe did with Ali, he would be better served attempting to pre-empt Floyd’s movement through motion.

While volume and work rate represent his best chance of victory, over committing on those fronts could, by the same token, prove fateful against an accomplished counterpuncher.

McGregor v Mayweather: The Definitive Tactical Preview

Balance, therefore, is key. In other words, although it is in McGregor’s best interests to outwork Mayweather, that is not necessarily tantamount to pressing the action. If anything, he must invite Floyd to close the distance.

By forcing him to initiate exchanges, he can nullify the threat of reply. Once in the pocket, and safe in the knowledge that Mayweather will likely lead off one shot at a time, McGregor needs to plump for volume.

Whereas boxers function in three-minute increments, he needs to scale it down even further, operating exchange-by-exchange, each separate dual representing a fight within a fight. Whether he has the discipline remains to be seen.

The latter, of course, is a question that certainly cannot be asked of his opponent.

Even if Mayweather inexplicably comes up short this weekend, it won’t be for lack of mental fortitude.

The fact that he can hopscotch between corner men, from father Floyd Sr. to uncles Jeff and Roger and then back again, shows that, above all else, he backs himself to adjust in heat of battle.

Despite likely being under instruction not to, McGregor’s instinctual tendency to aggress means he is still liable to blink first should any sustained lulls emerge.

In these instances, Mayweather’s single punch hand speed should shine through. Pot-shots on the back foot score points, but they won’t be enough to deter McGregor’s overtures.

Unlike most counterpunchers, he has the capability to switch tack and turn the tables. Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez can attest to that.

Those two recently met at the middleweight limit, and yet it’s not so long ago that both found themselves being pushed back by a man who walks around at 147 pounds.

As such, should the 40-year-old establish his timing in the early going, don’t be surprised to see him actively walk his junior down sooner rather than later.

He hasn’t scored a genuine KO since that of Hatton a decade ago, and while many seem to discount the prospect of Mayweather breaking that sequence, it seems clear where the smart money lies.

After all, despite promotion to the contrary, the reality is that this match-up shall be decided on skill rather than will.

More on this topic

Conor McGregor appears to announce UFC return in DublinConor McGregor appears to announce UFC return in Dublin

'It hurts me to my soul': McGregor regrets disappointing fans over pub incident'It hurts me to my soul': McGregor regrets disappointing fans over pub incident

McGregor expected to be charged over alleged assault in Dublin pubMcGregor expected to be charged over alleged assault in Dublin pub

Phone smashing case against Conor McGregor dismissedPhone smashing case against Conor McGregor dismissed

More in this Section

Pepe still has plenty to do, admits Arsenal boss EmeryPepe still has plenty to do, admits Arsenal boss Emery

Granada stun Barcelona to move top of LaLigaGranada stun Barcelona to move top of LaLiga

Farrell urges England to tap into nation’s love for big tournamentsFarrell urges England to tap into nation’s love for big tournaments

Lukaku on target as Inter return to Serie A summit with Milan derby winLukaku on target as Inter return to Serie A summit with Milan derby win


Mulranny, in the shadow of the Nephin Beg Mountains on the north shore of Clew Bay, is a hill-walker’s paradise.Old Irish goats deserve to be nurtured

In awe of nature’s bounty on a glorious September dayIn awe of nature’s bounty on a glorious September day

Rotten by name but certainly not by nature.Islands of Ireland: Rotten to the core

There’s a revealing story well told by the writer Alice Taylor about the day a neighbour gave a present of a poached salmon to her family.Alice’s salmon of knowledge

More From The Irish Examiner