By Michael Donovan
You can take all the other elements of boxing — keep your gloves up, throw a jab, condition properly, don’t have sex a month before the fight so as to preserve your precious bodily fluids — and put them in a box.
The most basic in this most basic sport it:
Hit and don’t get hit.
And that’s why it is almost impossible for Conor McGregor, an UFC comet, to beat Floyd Mayweather tonight.
Money, as Mayweather has dubbed himself, is the greatest boxer of his generation in this crucial area.
And how does he compare, in particular, to the man known as The Greatest of All Time, three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali?
In preparation for an upcoming biography of Ali, the Wall Street Journal asked CompuBox Inc., which provides statistical analysis of fights, to review Ali’s pro fights, count every punch, and compare him to other great fighters, past and present, creating data that was not available during Ali’s career.
In Ali’s case, the numbers are especially deceptive. Ali threw a lot of jabs for defensive purposes, and he wasn’t terribly concerned with whether they landed. Late in his career, he parked himself on the ropes and let opponents bang away until they grew weary. The rope-a-dope technique, as Ali called it, may have helped him win a fight or two, but it was as bad for his statistics as it was for his long-term health.
Many will be surprised at how poorly Ali rated statistically. First, consider Mayweather: In his 49 fights as a pro, Mayweather has landed about 46% of his punches while his opponents have landed only about 22%, giving him a ranking of plus 24%. No active boxer comes close. Neither does Ali.
For Ali, CompuBox found complete footage for 47 of 61 fights. In those 47 bouts, Ali landed only 33.5% of his punches, while opponents landed 35.2%. That gives Ali a rating of minus 1.7%
The numbers suggest that Ali wasn’t even the greatest fighter of his era. CompuBox gathered punch data from a sample of other historical fights and found that Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Larry Holmes all rated higher than Ali. Mike Tyson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Wladimir Klitschko, Sonny Liston, Lennox Lewis, and Evander Holyfield outscored Ali, too. And Mayweather topped them all.
There are at least two lessons.
First, Ali’s greatness defied statistical measure.
Second, while anything can happen in a boxing ring, it’s difficult to imagine Mayweather being out-boxed tonight.