I’ll admit that, for the first three (maybe four) rounds, Conor McGregor had me fooled. Despite an opening stance that more resembled a cat batting at string than a boxer, Mac had focus, balance, and seemed to be here to win. Of course he didn’t get his fabled KO in the second round—no one in the world expected him to—but he did land some clean, notable shots on undefeated, semi-retired champ Floyd Mayweather. He even had at least the semblance of a game plan, using his height and reach advantage to keep Mayweather at a distance with a steady stream of hard, straight jabs. He even switched his stance midway through round two, in a flashy move that might have put Mayweather in danger.
I say might; I say semblance. It was all a mirage, and I should have known better. Perhaps I was trying to will a good fight into existence, much the way this whole fight/hype train/first-semester-at-clown-college was willed into existence, against all reason. Perhaps it was the hope that I really was seeing history get made, that an Irish novice really would defeat the undefeated. Perhaps it was even the lingering discomfort I feel whenever I pay money to watch Money fight despite his myriad personal and professional flaws, which I’ve already written so much about. I didn’t want McGregor to win, as it would open the floodgates to a thousand shitty fights between boxers and MMA fighters for years to come, but I didn’t particularly want Mayweather to win either. So I thought, Hey, McGregor’s not doing too bad.
Just like everything else in this whole fucking year, I was looking at the flash, not the substance. I was seeing Mac’s ostensibly fancy footwork, his solid-in-theory jabs, and Mayweather’s comparatively light return fire. What I wasn’t seeing was that those feet weren’t really taking him anywhere, that those jabs and that one uppercut had not phased Mayweather at all, but Mayweather’s minimalist, purposeful punches in those early rounds were having a tremendous effect, seen in McGregor’s increasingly exhausted and bewildered expressions from the corner.
And by the time we noticed that McGregor’s plan was really just Mayweather’s plan all along, that Money had essentially rope-a-doped this fool, it was too late. Here comes round ten, where Mayweather chased a near-catatonic McGregor across the ring, battering him with headshots that Mac couldn’t even attempt to defend against, before referee Robert Byrd threw himself between the men and declared the fight over. As if there was any doubt. As if this really was a fight.
For a bizarre, funhouse mirror version of this bout, one need’ve only flipped over to HBO, where another All-Time Great, Miguel Cotto, emerged from a two-year hiatus for a gimme fight with a largely unqualified opponent, Yoshihiro Kamegai. It was a workout for Cotto, an obvious precursor to what he has announced will be his “retirement” bout at the end of the year against the winner of the upcoming Canelo-GGG fight. Still, even if Cotto at 36 (almost 37) years old wasn’t firing on all cylinders, he was firing on most of them against Kamegai, who thoroughly, disturbingly, refused to back down.
Never having been KO’d or even knocked down in his career, Kamegai seems built to take hits to the face, with a preternatural ability to roll with most punches and power through the rest, as if he were in fact a high-tech sparring robot who somehow got loose. Other than a bloody nose early on, Cotto’s flurries of hits and combos showed little impact on Kamegai, even though you could practically feel them through the TV. With every combination that ought to have ended the fight, if not a career, the Japanese fighter shrugged it off, ran back into Cotto’s pocket, shooting off just enough to keep the ref from stopping the fight, and at the end of it all just seemed happy to be there, fighting a future Hall of Famer. Cotto won every round according to this writer, HBO’s Harold Lederman, and one of the judges. (The other two judges scored one and two rounds, respectively, to Kamegai, though God help me if I could tell you which rounds.) Like MayMac, this was a weird on paper/weirder in practice fight—strangely thrilling and strangely boring at the same time. In 2017, I guess that’s as much as we can expect.