Conor McGregor’s intense exploration to find the limits of his ability have told him one thing – if you’re prepared to continually ask the hard questions of yourself, you will find a way, writes Dr Ed Coughlan.
The unpredictability of sports is what holds our fascination. We may have great insights and experiences to sway our opinion one way or another, but more often than not, the favourite wins.
To follow this logic, Floyd Mayweather Jr will convincingly beat Conor McGregor this weekend in Las Vegas. End of story.
Yet, it is not that simple.
Conor McGregor’s story to this point is the stuff of a Hollywood scriptwriter’s dreams. Working class, unemployed tradesman claiming benefits commits himself to becoming a mixed martial arts fighter and in the space of five years becomes a multi-millionaire global persona with all the trappings of success at his disposal.
As an athlete, he has garnered respect from all corners for his thought-provoking approach to how he trains. Along with his coach, John Kavanagh, they have brought an artistry and introspection into the preparation process. Choosing to shun tradition and culture for a more scientific, measured and common sense approach. At the heart of their partnership is an appetite to question everything.
This strong and admirable characteristic of McGregor, to challenge the world order and seek a better way of doing things, illustrates significant forethought of planning before engagement. A desire to be efficient in everything he does, such is his drive to master his fighting craft.
Which is why it is so disappointing that he has chosen to conduct himself in such a repulsive manner in the promotion of this fight and many others before. Conor McGregor had an opportunity to change the game for the better. His influence could have taken the fighting industry to unheralded respectability. Instead, we only get glimpses of this in his post-fight interviews, where he shows a sense of class and honour in what it takes to put your body on the line in the most violent of situations.
If we can get past the sideshow that both men have put on over the last couple of months, and that is a big if, the legitimacy of the contest is very real.
This is not some ridiculous exhibition match, the likes of which Muhammad Ali and others have engaged in several times down through combat history. This is a fight, pure and simple.
There are no combined rules in a vain attempt to create a hybrid sport. This is a classic boxing match governed by the same code of conduct as any other fight.
In fact, if it involved anyone else other than Conor McGregor, it would be impossible not to think that this is a monumental farce to make a lot of money for a lot of people with nothing to show.
And yet, for me, that doesn’t matter. The fact that there are no championship belts on the line doesn’t sway my interest away from this historic sporting event. As a boxing fan, not a boxing expert, the fascination with this fight lies in the contest between two contrasting approaches in how to prepare for battle.
Floyd Mayweather Jr is deservedly regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Pound-for-pound, he may be the best we have ever seen.
His fight against Ricky Hatton in 2007 may be the best illustration of his fighting prowess. Hatton, a notoriously dogged fighter came into the contest undefeated with 43 wins, 31 by knockout. Yet, he was methodically taken apart over nine rounds before his eventual knockout in the tenth. Mayweather, for his troubles, had not a blemish on him.
There is no doubting Mayweather’s toughness either, defeating all-comers across 49 bouts to date. Not to mention his ring smarts, best illustrated by his unapologetic cheap shot on Victor Ortiz to end their bout in September 2011 in controversial fashion.
His Pretty Boy nickname comes from the fact that relative to most boxers, he rarely gets hit, because of his exceptional evasion skills and defensive abilities, in boxing terms. His training camps are legendary for the displays of physical endurance and the outrageously precise hand speed he displays across countless pre-ordained boxing drills.
Floyd Mayweather as a boxer has it all. The best that the boxing world had to offer could not defeat him, and so he retired two years ago. His retirement, but more importantly the fact that all he knows is boxing, may be his downfall in this weekend’s fight.
Everyone else he has fought has followed a traditional boxing path to the ring. The evasion skills and defensive abilities mentioned earlier are programmed for predictable boxing movements. The kinds of movements Mayweather has trained for and fought against all his life.
How will he cope with a fighter who does not move in a predictable pattern? McGregor does not pre-programme his movements. The opposite in fact, choosing to allow his perception of the action directly in front of him to dictate his response.
The difficulty in committing to such an organic approach to combat cannot be overestimated. To hone one’s instincts to such a heightened state of readiness so as to trust them to respond effectively, efficiently and decisively to what happens an arms-length away from your chin is a speciality in itself.
Mayweather can boast world-class reaction skills himself, but to predictable shots, from telegraphed angles. We can expect McGregor to throw punches from places that no seasoned boxer would think to hit from, because they wouldn’t find themselves in such unconventional body positions in the ring.
McGregor’s intense exploration to find the limits of his ability have told him one thing – if you’re prepared to continually ask the hard questions of yourself, you will find a way.
If movement is one aspect where the fighters may differ. Speed is another. Mayweather will back his hand speed to overcome McGregor’s reactive instincts. Yet, the Notorious one has a philosophy to counter such an eventuality. Following his 13-second, first round knockout defeat of José Aldo in 2015 to claim the UFC featherweight championship, he summed up the result succinctly by saying “timing beats speed, precision beats power”.
There is no doubting the fact that McGregor will need his timing to be at its very best if he is to stand any chance against Mayweather. His precision to land meaningful punches will also need to be laser sharp. For if either his timing or precision is off, even by the smallest amount, he will get hit repeatedly as Mayweather comes at him, as well as getting caught constantly on his way back out of any exchanges.
But, I can’t see that happening.
In his own words, Conor McGregor is not here to take part, he is here to take over. The obscene money he is set to earn regardless of the result will no doubt be childishly flaunted across his social media to further create the 21st-century caricature of excess that so many people aspire to.
My only hope is that somewhere along the way, the purity of his philosophy that underpins his training, coaching and performance — which I understand is a more accurate reflection of the man he is in private — will influence the clown he chooses to show us in the media.
If this transformation were to happen, even more people might appreciate what he’s doing and in time might be brave enough to challenge the stifling traditions that suffocate their own sports.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
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