Fight Tactics: McGregor needs to be all the way in or all the way out

Dubliner will have to use his MMA skills and extra weight to wear down Mayweather

As fool's errands go, making a case for Conor McGregor against Floyd Mayweather should come with a free jester's hat. At least according to the boxing community, whose most charitable prediction on a sliding scale of imminent embarrassment for the Irishman is that he will be schooled by the imperious headmaster. At the more damning end of the scale, the Irishman will pummel thin air from first bell to knockout.

Of course McGregor’s chances are vanishingly small. He faces an unbeaten all-time great who is risk averse to the point of monotony and who specialises in nullifying his opponent’s weapons.

But is McGregor really as hapless as many in boxing are claiming? And does it even matter?

So unquenchable is the thirst to hear McGregor’s next quote, to see his next left shoot spray into the air, the Dubliner could dismantle a mop in the octagon – after slaying it verbally of course – and his army of hopelessly devoted would turn up and proclaim him the messiah, as well as a very naughty boy. This is the reason we are enjoying the vivid colours a “ludicrous mismatch”, which is expected to earn the former plumber $100 million.


But, yes, it still matters. For anybody interested in competition and sport, it matters that the sizzle of McGregor's words – so mouthwatering – signify steak. And for his multitudes, a loyal and sensitive bunch, they would like nothing better than to paraphrase Roy Keane and accuse the knockers and mockers of not even knowing how to spell MMA, never mind appreciate one of its best exponents.

So, in a glass-full scenario, what can we expect? In promising to "paint many different pictures" in the ring, McGregor is repeating a line he used in the build-up to his fight against Jose Aldo. But if his own knockout power meant he didn't even get the chance to mix his colours that night, the span of his career shows that he possesses superior boxing for his own sport.

And it is largely based on this that a body of pro-McGregor opinion has sprouted limbs and is bounding gaily around the internet. This creature is difficult to trap, as it’s based mainly on conjecture and nebulous terms like ‘angles’, ‘unorthodox’ and ‘awkward’. So let’s creep up slowly.

McGregor has a chance, it declares. The two Floyds? They are underestimating him. Shucks, they hardly knew he could fight before signing on the dotted line. And McGregor is the real alpha male. As former UFC fighter Brad Pickett said, if they are fighting over a pig, it's McGregor who is eating the ham sandwich.

And it's clear why he didn't bring in a specialist boxing coach, somebody like Freddie Roach. What would be the point? He can't turn into a boxer overnight. He must stay true to his MMA roots. He must use his strength in the clinch, honed over countless hours on the wrestling mats, to lean on Mayweather and weigh on his arms.

Mayweather is 40 and will be almost 20lbs lighter. He could get tired. Inside, he must dirty box and try to bully Mayweather, and if he isn’t all the way in, he must be all the way out, where he must maintain a distance that is unconventional in boxing. In MMA, they call it ‘kicking range’ – alas, there are no kicks allowed – and it’s from there that the Irishman . . . well, this is where it becomes difficult.

What McGregor would like to do, as he does so successfully in the octagon, is aggressively bait Mayweather into leading, and create an opening for his best weapon, usually delivered with unerring accuracy and timing: the counter left. However, in luring the unwary, McGregor often relies on his array of kicks; and so it is here, against a fellow counter-puncher whose speed, patience and powers of concentration are almost supernatural, and who can sue if he is struck by foot or shinbone, that the imagination grinds to a halt. And so what is left, if based on the available evidence McGregor is not a volume puncher or a fighter who steps into the pocket to throw blitzing combinations? The lottery of a puncher’s chance?

Well, there is the fighting talk. And when it comes from McGregor or his camp, it always seems that bit more seductive. "They [the Mayweathers] don't expect to win, they expect this to be an absolute walk in the park," John Kavanagh has said. "I don't expect this to be the hardest fight of all time for Conor. I expect him to go in there and completely dominate. So one of us is living in a delusion."

If he is to prove his qualities, it’s far from dominance McGregor needs. Survival for 12 rounds will be a huge victory.