As Mayweather finishes brilliant career, McGregor's star continues to rise

At night’s end, Floyd Mayweather Jr. rested on his chair quietly as his defeated opponent, Conor McGregor, stood and spoke.

Mayweather’s post-fight news conferences usually aren’t like this. The star of the show typically doesn’t want to share his time with anyone.

This was different. This was the end.

And the man Mayweather defeated now stands as his successor, the king of combat sports.

UFC lightweight champion McGregor, 29, lost by 10th-round technical knockout in what ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. described as a “special-attraction” boxing match, but the memory of his valiant showing in light of making his pro debut against the now 50-0 Mayweather will be powerful.

“I always knew I’d give a good account of myself,” said McGregor, who not only out-jabbed Mayweather, but landed 111 punches on the 40-year-old in less than 10 full rounds – impressive, considering seven of Mayweather’s previous world-title opponents landed less than 100 on the elusive champion in 12-round bouts.

“It was a buzz. I enjoyed it. I hope you enjoyed it. It was a fun fight,” McGregor said.

For all the criticism McGregor received about his boxing skills, he found a way to entertain even though he was outmatched.

By Mayweather’s standards, he took the first three rounds off as McGregor pressed the action while the watchers wondered if Mayweather, at 40, and two years removed from his most recent fight, had turned old.

“The plan was to let him shoot heavy hands and take him down the stretch,” said Mayweather, who reached the fifth round and asked the boastful McGregor, “I thought you said it wasn’t going past four?”

By recording his first knockout victory since the surprise punch on Victor Ortiz in 2011, Mayweather’s approach won deep admiration from McGregor, who said he’ll return to the UFC, but first wants to further “study” Mayweather’s brilliance.

“You didn’t get rattled,” McGregor said to a listening Mayweather on stage. “You switched up your game plan three times. You were looking to box [early]. You got out-boxed. You looked to play against the ropes like you love to play. You were getting picked off there. You came in, hands up to your forehead, forehead dipped in to the chest and sat [on punches], not afraid to fight. Three game changes. That’s what a great champion does. Much respect.… Hell of a fight.”

McGregor said after Mayweather rallied to rock him with multiple blows in the sixth round, he felt a “patch” of fatigue in the ninth, when Mayweather pounded him with right hands, forcing McGregor to desperately hold the former five-division world champion and slow the punishment.

There’d be no more of that in the 10th, because Mayweather connected with three more of his 152 power punches as the Irishman gasped and retreated, then ducked and hid without any indication he would answer the final punches of Mayweather’s career, causing referee Robert Byrd to stop the bout.

“He’s a smooth operator in there,” McGregor said in praise.

Mayweather charged to the top rope to survey an audience that wasn’t ripped off after all. Although the T-Mobile Arena attendance of 14,623 proved that Mayweather manager Al Haymon priced his tickets too high (the arena’s capacity is close to 20,500), Mayweather said the live-gate figure is near a combat-sports record $80 million, and Showtime’s pay-per-view buys could also break the record 4.6 million who watched Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao in 2015.

“There was a little disrespect and disregard for my skill,” McGregor said about the lead-up to the bout, admitting it affected him before he found a way to cope with it by “working my ass off.”

The entertaining action also helped salve Mayweather’s reputation. The fighter who over-promised and under-delivered so often in the past shrugged off some McGregor rabbit punches and displayed boxing’s artistry.

“I’ve had some great fights, and I’ve had some boring fights,” Mayweather conceded. “But I will always be remembered as a winner.”

The timing couldn’t have been better in the year of a boxing renaissance that has seen 90,000 attend young heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s victory against Wladimir Klitschko, Jeff Horn’s upset of Manny Pacquiao and the Sept. 16 Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez middleweight-title showdown.

Earlier Saturday, ESPN announced a new four-year deal with powerful boxing promoter Top Rank, stealing some of HBO’s top talent to help expand the sport’s audience with 16 scheduled shows in the deal’s first year.

McGregor’s narrative of exceeding expectations continues. An official at UFC owner WME/IMG said the company hopes he’ll return to fight for the UFC again this calendar year, with the close of a Nate Diaz trilogy among the possibilities.

McGregor will likely earn more than $100 million for Mayweather, and his UFC purses should continue to climb thanks to this surge of mainstream exposure.

“Conor is an incredible fighter, willing to put everything on the line,” UFC President Dana White said, pushing for his No. 1 draw to close his boxing interest for good. “He’s a mixed martial artist who uses all of his weapons. Tonight, he just used his hands.

“I’m so proud of Conor. Completely different fight than I thought it’d be: Ten rounds with the best.”

As the night closed, Mayweather and McGregor embraced and each extended their index finger upward.

“So many obstacles, so many things to overcome,” McGregor said of his boxing experience. “I’m just relishing in it now. Options will present themselves.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

An earlier version of this article said referee Tony Weeks stopped the Mayweather-McGregor bout in the 10th round. The referee was Robert Byrd.
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