Floyd Mayweather Jr. entered the ring at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night wearing a ski mask, which served as a perfect warning. He was about to commit one last robbery.
That was already known before the opening bell rang. What came as a surprise was the magnitude of the theft.
Cynical prognosticators — I was among them — described his novelty fight with mixed martial artist Conor McGregor as a mismatch between the greatest boxer of his generation and a complete novice.
The fight turned out to be something worse, a glorified sparring session involving an old man and a neophyte that produced a record gate of more than $80 million, according to Mayweather.
In the 40-year-old Mayweather’s defense, he said before the pay-per-view extravaganza that he wasn’t the same fighter he used to be. Many of us didn’t believe him. Up to this point, age hadn’t affected him like it did lesser fighters. He was saying that only to create interest in the spectacle by introducing an element of danger that didn’t exist, right?
So if I didn’t provide necessary caution and you purchased the $100 pay-per-view telecast as a result, that’s on me. I apologize. I failed you.
What the audience watched wasn’t a brutal unmasking of McGregor — that would have been bad enough — but instead a low-level fight that belonged on a minor card in downtown Los Angeles’ Belasco Theater if not for the name recognition of the fighters.
It was a strange fight. Mayweather basically gifted McGregor the first three rounds, later explaining that it was part of his plan to exhaust an opponent who was accustomed to fighting for only 25 minutes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“The whole game plan was to go out there and let him shoot heavy shots from the beginning, take him down the stretch and do what we do best,” Mayweather said.
Mayweather’s inactivity in the early rounds was nonetheless baffling. It wasn’t as if McGregor was doing anything special.
McGregor was upright and stiff in his southpaw stance, his movement reminiscent of lumbering former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. His arsenal was limited and he didn’t display significant punching power.
Mayweather described McGregor’s power as “solid.”
The momentum of the fight dramatically shifted in the fourth round, when Mayweather started advancing toward McGregor behind a high guard while landing punches. He didn’t lose another round.
Even then, Mayweather didn’t look like himself. He used to be boxing’s most accurate puncher, but missed often and missed by a lot. He was slow. He had trouble timing McGregor. He was uncharacteristically off-balance at times.
In retrospect, more should have been made of his two-year absence from the ring. He had a similar layoff earlier in his career, but looked as if he had never left when he returned from that temporary retirement to take on Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009.
“I’m older now,” Mayweather acknowledged. “I’m not the same Floyd Mayweather I was 21 years ago. I’m not the same Floyd Mayweather I was two years ago.”
Mayweather, who reiterated his intention to retire, also revealed he didn’t spar in the month leading up to the fight as a means of preserving his injury-prone hands.
However, he still had the endurance of a boxer, which McGregor lacked. By the sixth round, McGregor was completely gassed. He couldn’t hold up his hands to protect himself. He was huffing and puffing as he backpedaled around the ring, taking a shot here, a shot there. Then came the combinations, which signaled the end of the fight was near. In the 10th round, Mayweather finished McGregor with a series of right hands.
Mayweather won because of his composure, according to McGregor, who downplayed the longtime boxing champion’s physical attributes.
“He’s not that fast,” McGregor said.
He used to be.
The show was well-received by the pro-McGregor crowd. Perhaps the fans were relieved their fighter wasn’t embarrassed. Or perhaps they were mixed martial arts fans who didn’t realize that what they were watching wasn’t world-class boxing.
McGregor said he would be open to boxing again. He shouldn't be. He would be destroyed by a top-level fighter. This version of Mayweather would be, too.