McGregor danced, Mayweather retreated. McGregor swatted, Mayweather covered.
For the first three rounds at the T-Mobile Arena here Saturday night, the celebrated mismatch between the boxing champion and the mixed martial artist didn’t look much like either sport.
Then Mayweather finally lost patience with the circus and turned it into a sham.
The boxer boxed, and the MMA guy felt it. The boxer got stronger, and the MMA guy wilted. Mayweather began pounding in the fourth round and didn’t stop. He pounded and charged and pounded some more until he finally beat McGregor into a bruised and swollen submission with a 10th-round technical knockout to win a fight that was closer than it should have been but every bit as silly as expected.
Said Mayweather: “I think we gave the fans what they wanted to see.’’
Said McGregor: “It was a good fight, it was a bit of fun. The boxing game is a lot different from the mixed martial arts game.’’
McGregor was scrappy. Mayweather was a little slow. The night was briefly interesting. But, in the end, it was just a boxer knocking the snot out of a guy who doesn’t box.
Mayweather beat his way through the constant jeers of a crowd of 14,623, several thousand short of capacity. That crowd serenaded McGregor with “Ole,’’ and chanted “Conor’’ and roared with every McGregor connection. Mayweather also beat his way out of what would have arguably been the biggest upset in sports history.
In other words, he did what everyone thought he would do against a guy boxing professionally for the first time in his life, only it took a little longer and, in the end, seemed appropriately awkward.
Mayweather, who promises he is retiring, is now 50-0.
McGregor, who was feisty enough to probably warrant another appearance in another similar sideshow, is 0-1.
“Conor McGregor is a fighter, and we saw a fight tonight,’’ said Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship, where McGregor works his day job. “I don’t know if it was the best boxing match you’ve ever seen, but we saw a fight.’’
But we knew it would look like this, right? So then why did we get so excited?
The fight’s first nine minutes showed why. Everyone was rooting for the unexpected, everyone showed up to see something they had never seen before and, sure enough, McGregor gave it to them by acting like a street fighter who had no real plan or clue.
He didn’t so much hit Mayweather as slap him. He landed several of his punches in the finest MMA style, illegally on the back of Mayweather’s head as they clutched.
“A lot of rabbit punching, a lot,’’ said Mayweather.
McGregor never hurt Mayweather. He never even seemed to stun him. He only annoyed him while Mayweather sat back and let his plan take action. That plan was one predicted by many, to let the guy who isn’t used to longer fights simply tire himself out with all the useless thwacking.
“Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot his shots early, then take him out down the stretch,’’ said Mayweather. “We know in MMA he fights for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, he started to slow down. I guaranteed everybody this wouldn’t go the distance.’’
McGregor agreed he was tired, but didn’t agree that the fight should have been stopped. It was ended by referee Robert Byrd without McGregor ever hitting the canvas. But clearly, McGregor was beaten up and exhausted, and the right decision was made.
”I thought it was close and I thought it was a bit of an early stoppage, I was just a little fatigued,’’ said McGregor.
He claimed he was robbed of a chance to finish the fight. But seriously, he was lucky he lasted so long.
“Let the man put me down, that’s fatigue,’’ he said. “Where was the final two rounds? Let me walk back to my corner and compose myself.’’
Countered Mayweather: “No, the referee saved you.’’
In the end, McGregor’s best asset was his ability to get his hands on Mayweather, landing 111 punches, which was more than nine of Mayweather’s previous opponents in fights that lasted 12 rounds. So he was tough. But Mayweather was in a different league, landing 170 punches and showing, once again, that his biggest strength is that he just cannot be rattled.
“He’s not that fast and he’s not that powerful but, boy is he composed in there,’’ said McGregor.
Mayweather walked into the ring wearing a black ski mask, and, perhaps fittingly, he left with a bunch of loot, perhaps in excess of $300 million while McGregor will take around closer to $100 million. So even if the fans didn’t quite win, the boxers did, as this will probably end up being the richest fight in history, with an expected record of 5 million pay-per-view buys
“If I see an opportunity to make $300 million or $350 million in 36 minutes, why not?’’ said Mayweather, who was fighting for the first time in two years.
They made money, but not a lot of memories, even if folks involved in the event didn’t agree.
“Tonight was one of those nights when it was a big win for boxing in general,’’ said Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather Promotions CEO.
Nah, it was just one of those nights when boxing was more show than substance, particularly in the crowd, where LeBron James shook hands with Mike Tyson, and where Bigfoot showed up in full Sasquatch clothing to peddle beef jerky.
Little of that Hollywood stuff occurred in the ring. It was a fight that wasn’t much of a fight. It was a fitting ending to a two-month promotional journey that was more about smack talk and showmanship than boxing. It might not be what everyone paid for, but it was what everyone deserved.