The key things to watch for in the first rounds of the Mayweather-McGregor fight

It’s happening. Now pay close attention.
It’s happening. Now pay close attention.
Image: Reuters/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
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We’ve talked about the business.

Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Manny Pacquiao sold 4.4 million pay-per-views. Some say his match with Conor McGregor could surpass 6 million buys, and be watched by nearly one in six Americans. It is already looking to be the biggest boxing betting event of all time, more than three times the size of Mayweather-Pacquiao in 2015, according to UK bookmakers Paddy Power.

We’ve talked about the fight prep. About the loud press conferences and the glove sizes and the chances of McGregor doing the unthinkable and winning, even by losing.

Now, let’s talk about what happens when the bell rings.

Styles make fights

McGregor is a UFC fighter, first and foremost. This is his first pro boxing match. No one knows what the hell he’s going to do when he steps into the ring for the first time as a pro. “At the start of the fight… he’s going to be very fresh and very awkward for someone like Mayweather,” said Michael “Venom” Page, a mixed martial arts fighter making the transition to boxing. “As I would be for any boxer.”

In the first round, look to see how much McGregor has adapted to the boxing game. Are his hands up high? Is his stance wide and low like a boxer’s, or is he standing up tall like a UFC fighter? Does he pretend to kick to throw Mayweather off?

McGregor is also a southpaw, meaning he leads with his right hand. A lot of experts say Mayweather struggles with southpaws, though his trail of victories over them and his undefeated record in 21 years of pro boxing would suggest otherwise. So look to see if McGregor’s jab is getting through.

You may not have heard of Mexico’s Jose Luis Castillo. A lot of boxing purists think he beat Mayweather in a hard-fought contest back in 2002, when Mayweather was only 25. How did Castillo (almost) do it? He told Sports on Earth: “He also had very good speed and quickness but I just kept putting pressure on him as much as I could.”

In UFC, where the rounds are longer and there is more forms of attack to worry about, McGregor is still a relatively high-pressure fighter. If he can transfer that to the boxing ring, he might give Mayweather trouble in the early rounds.

Do the gloves make a difference?

Both fighters agreed to fight in 8-oz gloves, rather than the 10-oz gloves that are more usual in boxing at this weight. McGregor is a hard puncher and smaller gloves offer less protection to the fighter who gets hit, so this helps make the match that much spicier. The first few hard shots from McGregor will be crucial.

(McGregor’s Irish fans are certainly betting on him bringing the power. They have cut the forced the odds of a knockout victory for their man in the first five rounds from 33 to 1 all the way down 16 to 1.)

Look at Mayweather’s reaction. Did McGregor’s big shots hurt at all? Is he bothered by them? And most importantly, did any get through? McGregor has never faced someone like this before. Mayweather has one of the best defenses in the history of the sport. Ricky Hatton, the British boxer who was undefeated and a big hitter when the two met in 2007, recounts the fight:

I couldn’t have hit him with a handful of confetti and even when I got a shot through it half-caught his shoulder or he half-rolled it or he moved half a step back or half-slipped out of the way.

His timing was incredible. If I had him on the ropes and threw seven or eight punches, he blocked about six of them and then hit me with a haymaker.

If McGregor can’t translate his power to boxing gloves and can’t land a punch, this will be—as the critics say it will be—a very boring ass-whupping.

Does Floyd still have it?

Mayweather is 40. He hasn’t fought in two years. He’s a multi-millionaire. All of Mayweather’s skills—his timing, his footwork, his head movement—haven’t been tested in a few years. The first rounds are where the Irishman might take advantage. “Everyone expects Mayweather to win,” retired British boxer Carl Froch told the BBC. ”But McGregor is 29. He is young, fit, hungry and confident…Mayweather could just come unstuck early on and might get caught with something. That’s the big concern. It’s a fascinating match.”

But, then, McGregor is not used to boxing. It is a lot of work on the upper back, arms, and shoulders just to keep your hands up for 12 rounds. And that is before you worry about someone trying to take your head off.

Look to see how hard McGregor works in the first three rounds—he might going for the knockout as he has promised, in the hopes of avoiding a long fight. Or he might be thinking smarter than he acts, and trying to save himself a bit.