On Aug. 26, 2017, Conor McGregor made his professional boxing debut against the then two-year inactive Floyd Mayweather. The American boxer made the Irishman the 50th notch on his belt, taking him to the fabled 50-0 record after a 10th-round TKO win.
Now, little less than a year since the overhyped farce in Las Vegas, McGregor has announced his return to the UFC to fight reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018.
Mixed martial arts fans are very excited to see the enigmatic McGregor back in the Octagon, but will he eventually turn back to boxing?
Some claim that McGregor gave Mayweather a better fight than Manny Pacquiao did and that taking the professional boxer to round 10 was a huge achievement. However, the actual content of the fight shows a fighter who was unprepared for the demands of the pure sport.
When it comes to analyzing a past boxing match, the events of the fight and the performances therein can be mired by statistics. Unlike with mixed martial arts – particularly in the UFC – boxing doesn’t collect much by way of quantitative data, but some numbers are kept.
The key is to watch the pugilists in the fight, check the little statistics that are available, and learn how to interpret boxing information (perhaps take a leaf out of sportsbooks’ techniques on how to read historical fights in order to predict future ones). Simply seeing records and the grade of the opponent often doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t here, either, as while McGregor may have landed his gloves on Mayweather over 100 times, the vast majority of the punches were landed on the American’s arms.
Also, Mayweather quickly surmised that he could take risks and openly pursue McGregor in the ring – which he normally wouldn’t do – because his opponent wasn’t generating power by twisting his lower body when firing shots. This opened him up to more shots, but he never lost his foothold in the fight.
McGregor walked away with more money from one boxing match than he had done from his entire UFC career, but that wouldn’t happen again if he chose to return to the ring. As much as the Irishman was thoroughly out of his league and duly defeated, it did help to raise his and the UFC’s profile – even though the promotion stripped him of his two championship titles.
Nurmagomedov versus McGregor is an unmistakably huge fight. Since McGregor chose to fight Mayweather, Nurmagomedov has defeated Edson Barboza by unanimous decision and became the lightweight champion by defeating Al Iaquinta – also by unanimous decision.
McGregor, on the other hand, hasn’t had a mixed martial arts bout since November 2016. Since then, he has tried to refine his fighting repertoire down to just boxing skill and was defeated to earn big money. For almost a year ensuing, McGregor has been on hiatus, only returning to headlines when he threw a hand-truck at a bus transporting UFC 223 fighters to a promotional event.
Assuming that the two enter the Octagon in peak condition, it should prove to be an exciting fight of conflicting styles. McGregor finds success through striking, whereas Nurmagomedov likes to smother his opponents and test them on the ground.
UFC legend Georges St-Pierre – who claims to be interested in fighting the winner if the promotion will allow him to fight at a lower weight – says that he’s backing the undefeated fighter. As Nurmagomedov has never lost and McGregor has lost on the ground, where the Russian is very strong, the Irishman should be on the losing end of the fight.
However, McGregor has proven time and again that he can show up on the big occasions in the Octagon. On his night, he’s deemed to be unstoppable and has shown tactical nuance when up against tricky opponents, as shown by his display in the second fight against Nate Diaz. McGregor could find a weakness yet to be exploited in the undefeated Nurmagomedov, potentially with his powerful and accurate left hand. But, then again, Nurmagomedov’s striking defense has been solid thus far in his career.
When Conor McGregor left the UFC scene, along with Ronda Rousey going to the WWE and Georges St-Pierre disappearing after his cameo, the promotion lost a lot of star power all at once. They still boast a huge array of top-quality fighters and great match-ups, but the fan base missed the personality and indestructible nature of some of these stars.
McGregor’s return is very good for the UFC and a great move for him. He can now battle to extend his history-making legacy within the sport where he’s proven to be dominant. For the sake of his legacy, the UFC, mixed martial arts fans and boxing fans, the hope is that regardless of the result in the Nurmagomedov fight, McGregor will remain in the Octagon.