Aug. 26, 2017, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada: Conor McGregor runs towards his corner at speed as referee Kenny Bayless holds a dazed Floyd Mayweather Jr. following a third round stoppage. The crowd simultaneously pick their jaws from the floor as a legion of Irish fans sing and cheer in unison. Green, white and gold tricolors are hoisted in the air while those in attendance soak up the atmosphere of what will go down as one of the most extraordinary nights in sporting history.
Quite the fantasy for many fans of the outspoken and high achieving Irishman, granted. Despite the probability of such an outcome being considered as far fetched, it is certainly not impossible: yes, highly unlikely, but not completely outside the realms of reality.
Presenting a cogent rationale for a straight forward victory for Floyd Mayweather Jr. does not require a great deal of effort – the 40-year-old defensive master has amassed a perfect 49-0 professional boxing record, and beaten some serious competition in the process. Names such as Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti and (an albeit over the hill) Manny Pacquiao have all tried and failed to beat the defensive genius. Logic dictates that McGregor has an uphill task at best.
The aftermath of a scenario where a Mixed Martial Artist with zero competitive, professional boxing experience hands one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen his first career loss is hard to imagine. Should a victory be even moderately convincing (for example, a well-timed and landed punch over a slip in contrast to freak, accidental contact) the sport of boxing would have serious questions to answer.
For example, the argument that boxing is a falling superpower which has succumbed to an over saturation of titles and an underwhelming propensity for mismatches would be amplified. Questions around just how the greatest fighter of his generation in Mayweather could lose to someone who is effectively not a boxer would also be raised. Many inside the boxing community have been dragged kicking and screaming into this circus; to respected voices in boxing such as Max Kellerman, Teddy Atlas and Larry Merchant the fight is an insult to the sport. It is hard to imagine the autopsy into the fight following a victory by McGregor over boxing’s star man.
On the other hand, this fight is to many boxing purists and pundits, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what they see as a clear gulf in the levels of skill involved when comparing “The Sweet Science” to the perceived raw, savage brutality of MMA. While the requirement to be versed in a multitude of disciplines in Mixed Martial Arts would negate this argument from the perspective of an MMA pundit, for many in boxing, it is irrelevant. Boxing needs this victory over McGregor just as much as MMA needs the victory over Mayweather.
While former heavyweight boxer Ray Mercer enjoyed a victory for his sport over MMA by knocking out former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in his MMA debut aged 48 and Randy Couture showed the world how effective a ground game is against ring legend James Toney (who never managed to land a single punch), Mayweather vs. McGregor is in another stratosphere altogether. What separates this fight from the other two aforementioned examples is that Mayweather is not just favored, but it is beyond comprehension that he will lose.
So what if the impossible happens?
Conor McGregor will enter the reckoning as the greatest combat sports athlete of all time and will be heralded as the patron saint of the UFC. McGregor would likely become the most recognizable face in sports and boost his legend and bank balance to insane levels. Given the money which will be thrown at him for a) a rematch with Mayweather or b) a fight against another top tier boxer, a return to the UFC would be highly unlikely. Endorsements, sponsorships, movie deals etc would be flying at him from all directions possible.
WME-IMG’s circa-$4 billion purchase of the UFC would be seen by many as a masterstroke and the sport of MMA would benefit from an increase in fan base and interest. While a victory for “The Notorious” will unconditionally be a good thing for the owners of the UFC, the obvious downside would be that they would, as pointed out above, lose the star who made it all happen in Conor McGregor.
Floyd Mayweather, unless completely outboxed (definitely beyond the realms of possibility) or seriously injured by McGregor would likely demand a rematch. The star’s record breaking feat of 50-0 would be lost, but a rematch would potentially do better financially than the first bout (if that was considered to have been a contest).
Boxing would take a blow which would send shockwaves to through the sport, which many already believe is on in the decline. Irreparable damage to the reputation of boxing could potentially force changes to the current structure of the game, however. Mayweather, despite having his fair share of negative criticism in the boxing world for many reasons, is widely considered as one of the greatest technical exponents of the sport: losing is not an option.
And how will McGregor beat Mayweather?
For those, like myself, who have a massive interest in both sports, it is hard to see a way in which McGregor can outdo the magic of Mayweather inside the ropes. The 40-year-old may have 11 years on the Irishman, but that can be seen in 11 years of 21 where he has not just beaten, but at times embarrassed, his opponent. McGregor, who will have a considerable amount of his power negated by the 10-ounce gloves he will bring into the ring, will find it hard to get inside Mayweather and will have little to no experience of how to cut the ring off against the elusive “Money”. However, as the 29-year-old has proven time and time again, he cannot be completely written off. This one is hard to argue in his favor
However, should McGregor have the blessing of the boxing and MMA gods and find the perfect shot come Aug. 26, it is safe to say that the world will never be the same again.