The biggest surprise of what was promotionally dubbed the Fight of the Century was never expected to be the result. The millions tuning in were fueled by curiosity, not necessarily searching for competition. It wasn’t a matter of who would win, rather it was whether or not the hyped circus would be a farce.
Surprisingly, what Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor delivered at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night was a compelling bout that engaged, entertained, and delivered, even if Mayweather’s TKO win in the 10th round was, more or less, the result that was expected the moment this fight was announced.
Mayweather, now 50–0, refused to acknowledge the significance of the record to a pressing Jim Gray, clearly understanding that this fight was an inappropriate way to break Rocky Marciano’s hallowed wins record. But, he said of McGregor afterward, “He’s a tough competitor. I thought we gave the fans what they wanted to see.”
McGregor began his professional boxing career by playing the role of the aggressor. He used his left jab effectively, infusing the contest with a different pace and rhythm than that of most Mayweather fights almost immediately, even if, aesthetically, he looked stiff and slow. But for Mayweather, who was back in the ring for the first time since his retirement two years ago, the plan, he explained postfight, was the same as always: Rely on patience and precision. And, as always, it worked.
By the end of the fourth round, McGregor’s stamina was visibly declining. His gloves transformed from tools into weights.
In Round 6, Mayweather began unleashing his signature combinations, those designed to score points and bait opponents. At the fight’s midpoint, the American’s victory, at least on points, seemed as likely as always. But as the fight went on, it became one of the more aggressive Mayweather performances in years. After the fight, Mayweather mentioned that he wanted to end the match early to make up for his disappointing bout with Manny Pacquiao in 2015. By the 10th round, McGregor looked dazed. The combination of fatigue and Mayweather’s technique caught up to him, but as he stumbled around the ring, taking heavy shots to the chin without throwing a punch in return, referee Robert Byrd stopped the fight and called it for Mayweather.
“I thought the ref would just let it go,” McGregor said after the fight. “Let him put me down. Let the man put me down.”
Throughout the fight, there were moments when it looked less like a boxing match and more like an semi-organized street scrap. Multiple times, McGregor threw a UFC-style hammer fist to the back of Mayweather’s head, prompting warnings from Byrd. Mayweather’s countermove was to lean down and put his head by McGregor’s waist so as to bait him into either wrapping him or punching him in the back of his head. At some points, Mayweather even turned his back toward McGregor, almost as if he were posting him up, looking to draw a penalty.
Mayweather finished the fight landing 53 percent of his punches; McGregor, despite faring well and landing some surprisingly heavy shots in the early rounds, ended the match like every Mayweather opponent: swinging at a ghost. He landed only 26 percent of his punches. “He’s a lot better than I thought he was; he used different angles,” Mayweather said. McGregor not only won some rounds, he achieved the moral victory of not having his lights turned out, like many thought he would. He even adopted a fun-loving spirit in defeat during the postfight interviews, during which he joked(?) with Mayweather, who was nearby. “He’s not that fast, he’s not that powerful, but boy, is he composed,” McGregor said.
From the ridiculous and troublesome press tour around the world to the anticlimactic entrances Saturday night (McGregor wore an Irish flag and Mayweather a ski mask), everything leading up to this fight had felt overtly incendiary and disingenuous. Even Mayweather’s declaration after the fight that he was really done fighting is one that few will believe until he turns down money for a rematch. But for now, the circus is closed.