”Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body while getting in position to punch with maximum leverage and not getting hit.”
There have been a few fighters in boxing history who perform to fit this particular definition of boxing. One of them used to be Floyd Mayweather Jr. However, this was not the version of Floyd who fought against Conor McGregor this past Saturday. This version was a boxer on a mission, fighting like a Diaz brother, bringing the fight to Conor McGregor and getting hit in the process.
In pre-fight interviews, Conor pointed out the Floyd has no KO power, he is smaller, older and that he runs away from opponents. Floyd would eventually prove him wrong.
Mayweather kept insisting: “This isn’t just a fight. This is an event. We both owe the fans and everyone tuning in a lot of excitement. That’s what we’re there to give them. I've said it's not going the distance and you can mark my words. I know he's going to come out and switch and go back and forth with stances. It's my job to execute my game plan and adjust if I have to.”
Here is one of the interviews:
Fans need to understand that Mayweather was in a lose-lose situation. Should he utilize his usual hit-and-run game in this fight, the result would be him winning a decision and there would be an enormous backlash from the boxing community. It would be a disgrace for boxing if a boxer with a 0-0 record could go the distance against one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Floyd’s new gameplan became obvious once he started the fight by putting his hands up in a high guard while positioning himself with his back against the ropes, expecting Conor to be aggressive. To his credit, Conor did not fall for the trap, and started boxing from a distance. Floyd, purposely, employed a seemingly passive tactic while coming forward during the first rounds.
This resulted in Conor connecting several times and winning rounds. The narrative that Floyd permitted himself to get hit in the head on purpose, to make Conor tired is, of course, not true. Conor was able to catch Mayweather and should get credit for that. His awkward karate-boxing hybrid style and his reach made it difficult for Floyd to adjust in the first two rounds. As mentioned before, it was to be expected that McGregor would have have some success against Floyd’s lead right hand. Conor is an expert in countering the punch. This would happen even if Floyd fought defensively, like he always does, although to a lesser extent.
Floyd had to create risk in order to knock Conor out. Conor is bigger and had never been KOd before. Mayweather had to fight this way, although he is not very effective when he is aggressive. He would never chose to fight like that against a dangerous top 5 boxer.
There have been several different theories on how McGregor was able to survive 9 rounds until his TKO loss in the 10th round. Here is Floyd explaining why it had to be the tenth round:
"Our game-plan was to take our time, let him shoot all his heavy shots early on and then take him down at the end, down the stretch. We know in the MMA he fights 25 minutes real hard and after that he starts to slow down.
You can see that Floyd was actively pressing for the KO after the 25th minute of fighting.
Part two of the Floyd Mayweather: Fighting Southpaws breakdown points out:
“Floyd’s main strength is his strategy and his ability to observe and examine his opponents. If they are faster than him, he beats them with timing, tactics, counter-punching and body-punching to slow them down. But, to determine the proper strategy, he needs to make them show their hand.
Floyd uses the phrase "I size them up," meaning he thoroughly examines his opponents to identify strengths and weaknesses, in his words to "make them show their hand.” For example, he needs to determine if they are “front-runners.” This is the term he uses to describe fighters who are strong in the early rounds but fade in the last.”
So, as expected, Floyd Mayweather studied Conor’s game in the first rounds and made adjustments. If you don’t believe it here is Conor himself explaining how Floyd changed his game plan three times during the fight.
CONOR DIDN’T FADE DUE TO LACK OF TRAINING OR CONDITIONING
There is no single reason that can explain why Conor faded in the later rounds of this fight. It was a combination of different factors:
First of all, Conor was hurt to the body from Floyd’s body punches. These punches will take the wind out of fighters, compromise their mobility, speed and explosiveness.
Look at Conor’s reaction when he got hit in the solar plexus:
Here is a highlight of the body punches landed by Floyd on Conor:
Also note that fighting going backwards is exhausting. During mittwork sessions fighters fade quickly whenever they have to hit the pads going backwards. Let’s not also forget that in fighting, whoever leads the pace lasts longer than the one following the pace. Floyd was leading the pace after the third round.
It’s worth noting as well, that Conor was way too muscular for a boxing fight. This prevented him from being loose when throwing punches. Muscle mass makes an athlete more explosive but is often counterproductive when it comes to speed and endurance.
Conor losing his composure could also be the result of him losing his confidence when he noticed his punches did not have the same effect on Floyd that they usually have in MMA. McGregor started pushing his punches too much, thus expending unnecessary energy. He was hitting Floyd with arm punches, without using his hips.
This exposed a lack of proper fundamentals. Hip oriented power, head movement and footwork are the first to go when a fighter who has not trained extensively in fundamentals gets tired.
In the end, the argument that Floyd won because Conor gassed out is not valid. Conor gassed out because Floyd kept pushing him to his limits.
CONOR IS NOT A POWER PUNCHER BY BOXING STANDARDS
Generally, boxers punch harder and Thai Boxers kick harder than MMA fighters. Perhaps not former boxers or kickboxers like Mark Hunt – and of course there are other exceptions – but fighters who have only competed in MMA typically don’t carry the same one-shot power. This is due to specialized training and the result of an evolutionary process where boxers who do not punch hard enough and cannot take punches, do not get to have a great career. The ones who make it to the top (again, with exceptions) generally can punch very hard.
Conor seems so powerful in MMA because he is a better boxer than most UFC fighters and also due to the fact that MMA fighters do not use head movement and cannot take a punch the way boxers do.
On the other hand, it is obvious that Conor was not able to make his power explode through the boxing glove’s padding. He looked like a point fighter in the fight, not to mention that his sense of distance seemed to be off.
The extra padding on the glove and the associated extra weight gives fighters a different feeling when punching. You need penetrating power to be effective with boxing gloves. It is a different type of power.
The purpose of the boxing glove is to protect the hand, not the face. Your hands feel safer with boxing gloves and you can strike a lot harder since you are not afraid that you will hurt your hand if you land on an elbow or a forehead. This allows boxers to punch more and harder than their MMA counterparts. This helps them develop power.
The disadvantage of this is that boxers are not as effective in MMA fights where they have to fight without boxing gloves. Their hands and wrists can get injured. The power is there but the knuckles are not conditioned to land on hard surfaces without the glove’s padding.
But before coming to the conclusion that suddenly Conor lost his power, also note that Floyd has a solid chin and can also take body punches like no other. That’s one of the things boxing selects for. You can’t be an elite boxer if you really take a good punch.
THE LOW BLOW DEBATE
The low blow debate centered around a punch that landed in the beginning of round 9. My first impression was that it was a legal blow but watching the clip in slow motion I now believe it was a low blow. The reality is that Floyd was not really hurt, as he was anxious to continue fighting, and was in fact smiling after the referee intervened.
Judge for yourselves. Here is a screenshot:
and a gif:
TAKING THE BACK
Conor kept going for a wrestling style back take throughout the fight. He kept going towards Floyd’s back and used it to land insignificant punches and mainly forced the referee to (slowly) intervene. The broadcasting crew did a horrible job accusing Floyd of giving his back when as you can see below Conor controlled the hip with his right hand and did not permit Mayweather to get back to position. Conor likely used this tactic as a counter to Floyd’s duck under defensive maneuvers. This move can be effective in MMA, but in a boxing match it mostly made the fight awkward.
In the sequence below, see Conor attack with a left cross, close the distance and then use his right hand to grab Floyd’s right hip (photos 4-6)
Here is the gif:
Conor is not Cain Velasquez, he does not know how to deliver punches from such a short range, and the position does not provide the ability to use proper leverage when punching. McGregor was just spending energy using this tactic.
Here is another example:
Again, no significant punches landed:
Another wrestling tactic McGregor kept using was to control Floyd’s hands with Russian 2-on-1 ties. Conor used his left hand to hug Floyd’s right hand under the armpit while controlling Mayweather’s wrist with his right hand. Here is an example:
Again, as shown in the gif above, Conor is just spending energy. Floyd is used to opponents leaning on him and pressuring him. These tactics did nothing to wear him down.
In the sequence below, Conor pushes Floyd’s head down and gets the Russian tie, as if he were going for an arm-in guillotine, and then lets the head go. Not a bad move for MMA but no significant use in a boxing match, especially with gloves on.
BODY PUNCHES ARE CONOR’S CRYPTONITE
Conor has a solid chin but fades when he gets hit to the body. In round 2 of the second Diaz fight Conor was beating Nate to the punch until he was hit with a couple of body shots and he suddenly started getting hit with more punches everywhere.
It was plain that Mayweather would work on the body, and he did so by landing several straight right hands as can be seen in the highlight clip shown in the section on Conor's cardio above. Let’s examine three such examples of body punches.
Floyd lands mostly right hands, but he also uses jabs to the body, as in the following sequence:
See Floyd taking advantage of Conor’s karate stance, changing levels and landing on his ribs. He immediately pulls back out of range afterward.
In the next sequence Floyd changes levels and lands a lead right hand to the body. As he pulls back, Conor attacks with a hammerfist that misses. McGregor’s commitment to attacking with hammerfists in a boxing match was puzzling to say the least. The padding on the side of the hand does not allow the hammerfist to land firmly in any way.
Notice that Floyd has to actually turn his chin to his left to make Conor’s hammerfist miss. Here is the gif:
Conor was trying to use hammerfists instead of hooks and uppercuts whenever Floyd rolled under punches or used head movement. Here is an example:
Below is an interesting combo. Floyd pushes Conor’s right hand down with his left and lands a straight right to the body. Conor’s southpaw stance makes it difficult to block right hands to the body and the liver is exposed. McGregor keeps connecting his forearms to block the punches, actually trapping Floyd's hand between them a couple of times. In this sequence Floyd continues with a jab and a right cross.
CONOR’S CHANGE OF STANCES
After the fight, many complimented Conor McGregor’s stance switching. But, truthfully, he did so very ineffectively. He used a Taekwondo-like switch which is great for kicking but insignificant in boxing as your feet land in the same area. And besides, Floyd is more effective with orthodox fighters, so switching gained no advantage.
A karate style change of stances would likely be preferable, to close the distance stepping forward. Conor’s best punch when switching stances was a left jab to the body. This move helped him close the distance and gain leverage as he landed the punch.
As shown above and below, Conor faked a right jab, switched stance, landed his foot forward and connected with a left jab taking advantage of the momentum:
Then, there is this instance below, where Conor switches to a low orthodox stance, steps forward, crossing his legs, and lands in a southpaw stance to Floyd’s right. McGregor has his hand down and Floyd catches him with a right cross before Conor can land his left hook.
Notice how Floyd follows Conor’s movement and his footwork in doing so using a jumping pivot:
RIGHT PIVOT TO RIGHT OVERHAND, LEFT UPPERCUT
In the sequence above, Conor iss able to step his right foot to the outside of Floyd’s left foot, pivot right and move forward closing the distance. While doing so, he attacks with a right overhand and a left uppercut which seem to connect. This is a very technical move by McGregor.
PULL TO RIGHT CROSS VS JAB
The sequence above shows a rare application of Mayweather’s famous pull counter against a southpaw’s left hand. The counter is a pull-back to avoid the left hand, making an opponent miss while Mayweather comes back with a right. This counter is often used by Floyd against orthodox boxers and can be examined here:
Usually (as described here) against southpaws, Floyd slips or ducks under the incoming left hand. But against Conor, Floyd was able to apply the counter successfully. Notice how, against an opponent this long, Mayweather had to pull all the way back to make him miss, and came back landing a beautiful right hand. Here are gifs from two different angles:
CONOR’S SUCCESS WITH UPPERCUTS
Most credible analysts never predicted Conor wouldn’t land a punch (unless they were part of the HBO, De La Hoya or Arum teams).
The article, Game Changer: Conor McGregor’s Left Hand elaborated on this issue:
“Although I believe that Floyd Mayweather Jr. will win in a dominant fashion this Saturday, in a boxing fight many things can happen and Conor – like all of Mayweather’s previous opponents – has a puncher’s chance.”
The key to beating Mayweather this Saturday does not lie in Conor trying to rough him up. In the past, all of Floyd’s opponents have tried to do so, without any significant success. If he chooses to pursue a pressure fighting tactic in the first rounds, Floyd will weather the storm and make him spend all his energy. Don’t forget this is a 12 round fight.
On the other hand, this is an intriguing stylistic match-up because, as previously analyzed here, one of Floyd Mayweather’s main attacks is the lead right hand. And all of Conor’s opponents who dared attack with a lead right paid for it.
Conor’s timing when countering the right is excellent, and means his left hand is almost certainly the main way he can win this fight.”
In fact, Conor was successful in landing on Floyd, but not by using his usual counter left hook. This time he used a counter left uppercut. It was a beautiful technique and one of the most technical punches to ever land on Floyd Mayweather.
Most likely, McGregor and his team decided to employ uppercuts to counter incoming lead right hands, due to the fact that Mayweather preemptively rolls under and pivots after landing lead right hands. Here is an example:
Early in the fight, Conor was successful in landing a left uppercut right hook counter. Here is the first angle:
See Floyd going for the lead right hand. McGregor was able to move his head to his left and land an uppercut. Mayweather was moving in the same direction as the follow-up right hook, thus minimizing its impact. This is a great technique as shown in several angles of the clip below:
Here is another similar exchange (rd 2, 2:28)
McGregor also uses a similar counter to slip the right hand and land left body shots instead of left uppercuts:
Conor landed a significant number of body-shots on Mayweather throughout the fight, but did not seem to do any damage.
Below is a more complicated exchange. Floyd goes for a jab, right cross combo. Conor slips the right cross and comes back by landing a left hook/uppercut punch. Floyd also lands a glancing left hook at the same time.
Here is the gif:
Conor was not always able to use his hips to generate power in this fight. The punch in the gif above lands, but it’s mostly an arm punch.
Due to the complexity of the sport, MMA is more of a technique based art while boxing is more based on taking advantage and developing sport specific attributes. In boxing, the ability to take a punch or last for 12 rounds is as important as the application of techniques. Deficiencies when it comes to a boxer’s athletic attributes play a major part in boxing gameplans and opponents work to exploit them. More details on sport specific attributes can be found here. Although written for BJJ this information is applicable to all forms of fighting.
The narrative that Conor only lost due to him gassing and not due to Floyd being a better fighter is wrong. To quote a Lennox Lewis tweet : “Floyd has beaten 49 other pro boxers that didn't gass out... don't hang ur hat on this... it didn't matter”
It was obvious that the 40 year old, smaller, retired boxer hits harder than Conor, can take a punch better than him and also has better boxing specific conditioning. All of Conor’s mistakes were the results of the pressure which was applied on him by a better fighter.
Here is another tweet:
Boxers are conditioned to go 12 rounds. All FM had to do was take him to deep water & drown him... any good boxer would have done the same! https://t.co/4sEBNnLBVs— Lennox Lewis (@LennoxLewis) August 27, 2017
Conor very probably made a serious mistake by not hiring a specialized boxing coach with experience in championship fights to help him prepare. Instead, his MMA team came up with an amateurish gameplan of using rabbit punches, hammer-fists, stance switches and wrestling moves. Experience is important, and an MMA striking coach is not as effective as a coach specialized in boxing.
On the flip side, McGregor’s boxing venture is a part of boxing history and he is way richer. Even getting this fight is a great honor, no MMA fighter was ever able to do that.
As far as the stoppage debate is concerned, the referee saved McGregor from getting knocked down. As a fan of MMA, it would be a shame to see Conor knocked out on the canvas like Manny Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Márquez
Images like these are very powerful and it’s for the better that Conor was able to avoid this conclusion.
The referee stopped the fight after at least 16 punches landing on Conor. Here is the gif:
As a final, final thought, Conor performed just as expected, had his moments, the fight was exciting, and there is no shame in losing against one of the greatest boxers of all time. Hopefully this will help MMA fighters appreciate the sweet science, work more on footwork and head movement and learn to apply boxing mechanics in the cage.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).