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Boxing

29th Aug 2017

The A-Z of Mayweather vs. McGregor fight week from Las Vegas

It was surreal

Darragh Murphy

You naysayers need to lighten up.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor was no more damaging to the sport of boxing than Tim Bradley’s split decision over Manny Pacquiao in 2012 and it was definitely not as much of a let-down as the drawn out Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao bout two years ago.

It was entertaining. It was a legitimate fight. It was decisive. And the build-up, which is half the fun for fight fans, was matchless.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work through several fight weeks in my time but what made the lead-up to Mayweather vs. McGregor stand out was the constant compulsion to pinch myself every morning, in absolute disbelief that this cross-sport clash was actually going ahead.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Monday and left on Sunday. I’m currently starting this piece while listening to the repetitive post-fight analysis from hoarse Irish voices in a bar at New York, New York.

Here’s how fight week played out for a young reporter in Las Vegas who couldn’t believe his luck…

Americans love McGregor – During my time in Las Vegas, I was told to try to talk to as many Irish fans as possible. That sounds relatively straightforward – look for the people in green with Irish flags draped over their shoulders and have a chat with them. Unfortunately and confusingly for me, plenty of those with tricolours on their backs were actually American fans of McGregor. The man has endeared himself to the American audience, which goes some way to explaining why he’s one of the pay-per-view kings right now.

Boxing’s weird – At all the MMA events I’ve ever been to, the crowd is always pretty close to full once the pay-per-view gets underway. Ahead of supposedly the biggest fight of 2017, the T-Mobile Arena did not start filling up until there were literally minutes left to the main event. Having spent so much on tickets, why fans didn’t want to get their money’s worth is beyond me.

Celebrities – A red carpet at a fight was a new experience for me. The presence of Bruce Willis, Jennifer Lopez and Don Cheadle was lost on me but I had a chat with Tyron Woodley on the stroll in and shared a lift with Georges St-Pierre, which was exciting. I’m told that a record number of private jets descended on Sin City at the weekend which tells you just how star-studded MayMac was.

Defence – Shock horror. A boxer with more than 20 years of experience is better at avoiding shots than MMA fighters for whom boxing is just a small portion of training. Mayweather, as he so often does, made it look freakishly straightforward in avoiding the power hand of his opponent and that really is just as impressive to watch as a knockout artist in action.

Eubank – The MMA media were treated to a new sensation as Chris Eubank, who was in Las Vegas for an unknown reason, quickly endeared himself to the likes of Ariel Helwani with several public appearances. His poetic ode to ‘The Notorious’ went down a treat as the former WBO middleweight and super-middleweight champion became an unlikely hero of fight week.

Fuck the Mayweathers – That viral video of Irish people using that quote as an everyday greeting definitely caught on in Las Vegas. Passing Irish strangers genuinely started using “Fuck the Mayweathers” as a sort of hello throughout the week.

Gassing – It was not just fatigue that resulted in the beginning of the end for ‘The Notorious’ but it definitely played a significant part in the shift in momentum of the fight. McGregor acknowledged his tendency to gas out at certain points during his candid post-fight press conference. “I think fatigue, it’s like a patch, there’s a patch somewhere in the middle. I’m thinking about the Diaz II fight, I have this patch where I must overcome, I get a little wobbly. But it’s more fatigue.”

Humility – Say what you will about McGregor but nobody takes defeats as humbly as him. He was aware of where he went wrong and was openly honest about it in the post-fight press conference. In reality, he couldn’t have been in better spirits as he congratulated Mayweather on a solid win and vowed to learn from his experience.

Irish confidence – Not one Irish fan I spoke to in the lead-up to Saturday night would even entertain the idea of anything other than a McGregor knockout victory. It was as if he was coming up against a bum with no chin, in their eyes, rather than the best defensive boxer of all time. And even though ‘The Notorious’ was the one who was stopped, there’s no doubt in my mind that that Irish confidence will be there the next time he fights, regardless of the opponent.

Judging – Come on guys. We can surely all agree that McGregor didn’t lose eight of the first nine rounds? Well two judges only awarded the Irishman the first frame so even if he wasn’t finished, there was no way back for him on the scorecards come the 10th round. Several media members had it 5-4 at that point while the most common view was that McGregor had won the opening three before dropping six consecutively. But 8-1 was rather jarring to see when the official judges’ scorecards were released.

Knock – McGregor loves a knock. He absolutely loves it and repeated it time and time again after the fight. And contrary to some commentators’ suggestions that they’d expected more of a competitor who was making his professional boxing debut against arguably the greatest defensive boxer of all time. McGregor never had Mayweather in trouble but he had his moments and he did a hell of a lot better than most anticipated.

Levels – As if we didn’t know already, there are levels to boxing. McGregor could fight Mayweather ten times and he would be beaten ten times because ‘Money’ is incredibly skilled at the sport of boxing whereas McGregor isn’t. There’s more to boxing than just the ability to land punches. Anybody with decent power has the chance to knock somebody out but the true greats have the perfect combination of pacing, composure and the ability to download the patterns of an opponent on top of the basic technical traits. Mayweather is leagues ahead of everybody, not just McGregor.

Money Belt – That was a bit silly. Let’s be real.

Nine Fine Irishmen – It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the Irish in Las Vegas didn’t have tickets for the fight itself which meant that they had to rely on viewing parties, one of which was cancelled at the last minute. But Nine Fine Irishmen, the Irish pub in New York, New York, proved a saving grace as queues began to pile up at 2pm local time. 10 hours later and the pub was still jam-packed, with those in green drowning their sorrows rather than toasting a victory for ‘The Notorious’.

Oops – The week was not without its logistical gaffes. The main event was delayed for some time because viewers’ pay-per-view streams began crashing and there was one huge section of the T-Mobile Arena that remained empty throughout the evening due to the overpricing of tickets.

Paulie Malignaggi – He would simply not shut up until the very moment that I approached him for an interview at the undercard fighters’ press conference. Then it was radio silence for a few days. He’s back to his babbling ways again however.

Quite the grand arrival – It’s something of a tradition in the boxing world but MMA stars will not be used to the so-called grand arrival. It’s where both main event fighters are introduced to the fans at the beginning of fight week and McGregor took to it like a duck to water. While Mayweather remained on stage and spoke to reporters, ‘The Notorious’ was not going to pass up the opportunity to immerse himself in the travelling support. I have never experienced anything like the rushing and grabbing when McGregor took it upon himself to stroll around the perimeter which divided the media and the fans.

Robert Byrd – The referee did not have the best night, truth be told. The stoppage might have come a shot or two too soon and Robert Byrd let far too much go in terms of McGregor’s rabbit punching. The official would have been forewarned that McGregor would tread the line between fair and foul but if a point had been deducted for hitting the back of the head, there could have been few complaints.

Salesmen – The ability of McGregor and Mayweather to sell fights is likely on par with their combat skills. Throughout fight week, every outfit choice was a money-making scheme. The Paddy Power vs. Calvin Klein boxer shorts at the weigh-ins, the hat vs. whiskey at the post-fight press conference. Everything is an opportunity to keep that cash rolling in.

T-Mobile Arena – Without a doubt the best venue for combat sports that I’ve ever been in. They didn’t give us water, which was a bit of a dick move. But, for the first time ever at an event, there were no WiFi issues so I will forever love the arena for that. The staff were great and the evening went off without a hitch from a media point of view. We were thirsty though…

Undefeated – Most of the media in attendance focused on the valiant effort turned in by McGregor but what went under-reported was the legacy cemented by Mayweather. 50 times he put himself in the firing line and 50 times, his defensive mastery held firm. Say what you will about his entertainment value over the years but the man is in the GOAT discussion, like it or not.

Vacancy – With Mayweather now officially out of the fight game, there remains a vacancy for the biggest draw in boxing. It’s certainly too late in McGregor’s career for him to hone his hands to the level where he will be able to take the torch but it leaves the door open for the likes of Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko and possibly Gervonta Davis to step into that role in the coming years.

Weight – Conor McGregor’s weight dominated much of the talk early on in the week and Leonard Ellerbe’s reaction to the Irishman making weight was absolutely priceless. However what Saturday night proved is that size is much less important in boxing than skill, experience and composure.

X-Rated – Mayweather legitimately spent a lot of time at his strip club in the days ahead of the fight. It’s well documented that he’s a night owl who likes to spend the wee hours jogging through the Vegas darkness but the fact he was enjoying strip teases less than 48 hours ahead of fight night came as something of a shock.

You’ll never beat the Irish – The Irish fans simply don’t stop shouting. When their guy is being battered, their volume levels only rise as they attempt to shift the momentum of the fight. They were there to party and were a source of constant amusement and a tremendous storyline of fight week.

Zeros – McGregor will have banked about $100 million when all is said and done while Mayweather will almost triple that. Critics are not happy with the pair’s earnings but what more did they want? We got two months of an unmissable show and when fight night came around, it was entertaining. McGregor won a few rounds at the start before Mayweather’s class shone through. Mayweather and Pacquiao were criticised for making millions when their fight ended up being something of a snoozefest but at least there were some thrills in McGregor vs. Mayweather. Enjoy your millions, lads.