By Benjamin Pullman
This was a show in a town that is famous for a show.
And it was a surprisingly good fight, especially if you consider that one of the boxers had never fought by the rules of this sport!
After allowing Conor McGregor — 29 and boxing professionally for the first time — to come at him with awkward, slapping punches early in their fight, Floyd Mayweather took control in the middle rounds.
He never looked back.
He bloodied McGregor with a barrage of right-handed bombs, leading the referee to stop the fight just over a minute into the 10th round on last night at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
The victory left Mayweather with a 50-0 record as a boxer.
Mayweather was expected to earn $200 million, but he also ended a career as a defensive master with a performance that was decidedly offensive.
Mayweather’s last big figt, against Manny Pacquiao two years ago, was a dud — dull and boring.
This was not.
“I think we gave the fans what they wanted to see,” he said in the ring after beating McGregor. “I owed them for the Pacquiao fight. I had to come straight ahead and give the fans a show. That’s what I gave them.”
Nearly no one thought that McGregor — a champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship who has a 21-3 record in the mixed martial arts — stood a chance against the greatest boxer of his generation.
Many purists saw it as nothing more than an exhibition. While Mayweather did all he could to hype up McGregor as a legitimate opponent, he also said that he had taken the fight for the money.
And many experts offered dire predictions — that McGregor would not land a punch, that he would be knocked out within a few rounds.
McGregor, a native of Dublin, can claim a moral victory. He won the first round on all three judges’ scorecards, and the second and third rounds on one card. Still, McGregor’s early success may have been nothing more than Mayweather’s baiting him into a trap — a rope-a-dope of sorts, as made famous by Muhammad Ali.
“Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot his shots early and then take him out down the stretch,” Mayweather said.
In the UFC, the longest fights are five rounds of five minutes. This bout had a maximum length of 36 minutes, and McGregor had been fighting for a little more than 28 by the time the referee called a halt. McGregor admitted afterward that he was fatigued, but he said he thought that the referee, Robert Byrd, had stopped him too soon.
“Let the man put me down,” McGregor said. “That’s fatigue, that’s not damage. Where was the final two rounds? Let me walk back to my corner and compose myself.”
Despite McGregor’s claims that he wanted to continue, Byrd appeared to step in just in the nick of time.
Shortly before that, Mayweather, standing tall, thrust his fist squarely into McGregor’s chin, and the Irishman stumbled backward. Mayweather continued to lurch forward, firing off peppery left-right combinations that left McGregor dripping with blood. He staggered into the ropes, and Byrd called an end to the fight.
“He’s composed,” McGregor said of the opponent he had promised to knock out within four rounds. “He’s not that fast, he’s not that powerful, but boy is he composed in there.”
Mayweather did not look quite as sharp as usual, eating shots as he drew close to McGregor. But Mayweather did not seem at all bothered by McGregor’s punches, though he occasionally appeared frustrated when they grappled and McGregor hammer-fisted him on the top of his head.
For as vulgar and as scolding as these two men were with each other before the fight, they were loose and jovial afterward. And why wouldn’t they be, given what the evening would do for their bank accounts?
Although there were many empty seats amid the crowd of 14,623, the bout was expected to surpass the record earnings from Mayweather’s fight against Pacquiao. That fight generated more than $600 million in revenue from a combination of pay-per view purchases, ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandise. McGregor was looking to pull in more than $100 million, around half of Mayweather’s projected payday.