LAS VEGAS -- So let's be clear. At one point -- no matter what two of the judges scored -- Conor McGregor likely won the first 3 rounds of the superfight against Floyd Mayweather on Saturday night at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas. That alone is stunning. McGregor, a boxer by training, was able to keep boxing's foremost practitioner off balance and at bay for a good half of their fight. He changed speeds, angles and pace beautifully, despite being in alien territory. Already a worthy Mayweather opponent on showmanship alone, McGregor became a worthy one in the ring as well.
It was dismissed by most as a farce and circus, and I admit I was once one of those people who framed it as such. Studying McGregor's fights and listening to his pre-fight approach, however, changed my mind. The UFC champ did not bring in a boxing coach to become a classic "boxer" -- instead, he kept his standup style so he would be totally comfortable. He wasn't going to box; he was going to fight. His way. And that he did. It was just not enough for such a level of professional intensity, as Mayweather won by technical knockout in the 10th round.
As for Mayweather, it was the consummate performance for one of the most consistent boxers in history, as his record now stands at 50-0. He never had a "bad night," came up short, or made an excuse for not being prepared. Few, not even Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Robinson, can say that. While some boxers brag about maiming their opponents, Floyd's quote on arrival day was that the key to fight week was "keeping your composure." Not the type of thing that sells a pay-per-view, but preserving every ounce of energy is vital to late-round stamina.
Mayweather has been behind (in reality, if not on the judges cards) in fights against Oscar de la Hoya, Zab Judah and now McGregor. He came back to win all three going away. His plan, going back to his first super fight -- against Diego Corrales in 2001 -- is to take his opponent "into deep water, and drown him." Mayweather's energy usage and in-ring patience allowed him to swim into those deep waters, while McGregor floundered right in front of him.
What a show. Mayweather defeats McGregor by TKO. pic.twitter.com/OH3zxJwsfw- CBS Sports (@CBSSports) August 27, 2017
What was unexpected was that, while the fighters delivered, it was the officials who came up short. Referee Robert Byrd inexplicably warned McGregor that there should be no "grappling or wrestling" during the pre-fight instructions! Having agreed to all standard Nevada State Athletic Commission boxing rules, McGregor (and the UFC) deserved more respect.
Anyone who has seen Mayweather fight knows how rough he can be on the inside. While McGregor did hit Mayweather with some illegal shots, they were no different from many Mayweather opponents who are frustrated by him turning his back. And while it was "boxer vs. cage fighter," it was the boxer who was jamming his forearm into his opponent's neck. Byrd never warned Mayweather for that.
To his credit, Byrd did an excellent job stopping the fight. I was on the ring apron calling the card with Sugar Ray Leonard for international television after calling the prelims on FOX. We had an up close view of McGregor's wobbly legs in the ninth round. His knees had buckled without any Mayweather pressure as he circled back near his own corner. The electricity had suddenly drained from his body. A good referee takes this into account when a man is taking punishment on the ropes, and by the 10th round, it was obvious McGregor had no chance of recovering. The stoppage was sound, and humane.
The other issue is the scoring. We can look back and like to think that McGregor took an early lead in the fight, but the judges were not allowing it to happen. Only Dave Moretti's card reflected reality, giving McGregor the first three rounds. Judges Guido Cavalleri and Bert Clements gave McGregor only Round 1, with Mayweather sweeping the rest. Turns out, McGregor never had a chance. Boxing owed its guest a better chance.
It's easy to be cynical, and see Mayweather/McGregor as nothing but a brazen cash-grab, which, of course it was. But we know this already. Most bought into this to see Mayweather get beat up, just as they bought Mayweather-Pacquaio for the same thing. This, in its own weird way, was a more honest fight. This was a leap into the unknown, and it was better than expected.