NEW YORK — UFC star Conor McGregor sauntered into the interview room at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to address the media following his half-hour verbal battle with Floyd Mayweather during their recently completed four-city, international media tour.
McGregor was all smiles and still shirtless but wearing the white mink coat adorned with a serpent that he said he bought earlier in the day on Fifth Avenue. But once the discussion of his attire and that evening’s wild tour stop ended, he turned a bit more serious when questioned about how the mixed martial artist could possibly beat — or even compete with — Mayweather, the undefeated, undisputed greatest boxer of his generation, in a 12-round junior middleweight boxing match.
After all, McGregor, while a superstar in the world of MMA, is a boxing novice with no experience and taking on the 49-0 Mayweather, an all-time great who has beaten a who’s who of future Hall of Famers — Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya (already enshrined), Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and others — and rarely even been tested during a 21-year career in which he has won world titles in five weight divisions.
Granted, Mayweather is now 40 and will step into the ring with McGregor coming off a 23-month retirement for the megafight on Aug. 26 (Showtime PPV) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Still, there’s no logical reason to think a pro debuter is going to beat an all-time great who had shown no signs of degradation in his skills when he easily outpointed Andre Berto in September 2015 and retired as welterweight world champion.
That is until McGregor and others involved began to make his case.
“He’s going to feel like he’s wrestling a bear when he holds for the first time. No matter what skill set you posses, you grab and hold. When he tries to grab and hold me he’s not just grabbing and holding a boxer. He’s grabbing and holding a serious specimen in the clinch. He just does not understand what he’s in for.”
“I hope he brings it. I’ll be prepared. He’ll either come forward and be aggressive and get hit and then run, or he’ll run and be hit and go aggressive. I’ll be prepared for everything,” McGregor said. “Make no mistake, he’ll be sparked unconscious. I understand small details only me and the opponent see. I’m very confident that whether it’s a ring or an octagon, where I’ve spent most of my time, I know how to move around the ring and find my way to the knockout victory.”
McGregor said boxing will be a breeze compared to the physicality of MMA.
“There’s no padding on the elbows or the shin bone or the foot,” McGregor said of MMA. “It’s like going through a car crash as far as a five-minute round in MMA. That’s why this [boxing] game it’s easy. I’m telling you right now, I’m getting in super shape and I don’t believe I’ll have trouble. You mean [in boxing] they can’t elbow me and kick me and choke me and I get to put on bigger gloves? No problem. So I’m just a happy young man filled with confidence.”
Following the end of the media tour, McGregor set up training camp in Las Vegas, where he continues his crash course in boxing, which will include sparring with former two-division world titleholder Paulie Malignaggi.
McGregor, who turned 29 last week, said his size and strength advantage over Mayweather will be a major difference in the fight.
“He’s going to feel like he’s wrestling a bear when he holds for the first time,” McGregor said. “No matter what skill set you posses, you grab and hold. When he tries to grab and hold me, he’s not just grabbing and holding a boxer. He’s grabbing and holding a serious specimen in the clinch. He just does not understand what he’s in for. He is not going to keep me off him. He’s too small. I’m gonna have my way with him. I’m coming for him.”
There are many who believe Mayweather will simply toy with McGregor as he has done with most of his opponents, who have often looked as though they have given up once Mayweather has opened an obviously big lead.
Showtime Sports general manager Stephen Espinoza, one of the driving forces in putting the fight together, says he believes McGregor will at least make it interesting no matter what happens.
“I think it will be exciting,” he said. “Conor’s got nothing to lose. When you’re losing to Floyd and down 6-2 after eight [rounds], at a certain point there are some fighters who seem to go into cruise control [because] at that point there’s not really much they can do. So they ride it out. I don’t see Conor going that way. A, that’s not his style, and B, he’s got nothing to lose. He’s going to go back to UFC as a worldwide superstar no matter what happens.”
Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, who has been an integral part of Mayweather’s team throughout his career, said he is also not listening to the critics who say McGregor has no chance.
“I’m not going to never say a guy don’t have a chance. As long as guy has two hands, anything could happen,” Ellerbe said. “Anything can happen in these fights. Floyd is a professional with a tremendous amount of experience who has seen everything, but there are certain things in a fight — you could hurt your shoulder. Anything can happen in a fight. There have been times when I know for a fact Floyd’s been buzzed in a fight and you never even knew it.”
“Either he’s gonna get me or I’m gonna get him. It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. Once you get that mentality it’s OK.”
Because McGregor is under contract to the UFC, he had to lobby hard to convince UFC president Dana White to make the fight. White has seen McGregor do many things he was not supposed to do, such as knock out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds at UFC 194 in 2015.
White says he is well-aware of McGregor’s lack of boxing experience and technique, but after the things he has accomplished in UFC, he would never count him out.
“He’s a very unique individual. That’s why I call him the ‘Unicorn,’ because he’s unlike any other fighter I’ve ever dealt with in my entire career,” White said. “His belief in himself is unbelievable, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When we first found Conor you don’t know if the guy can fight. But, boy, we knew he had the personality and he was hilarious and fun to be around. Once he got in front of the public, we felt he could be a big star. But could he fight? He always believed in himself. As we started to build Conor McGregor, [we said], ‘We’ll see how this one goes,'”
McGregor kept coming through in big fights that White said he was not necessarily supposed to win. He cited wins against Aldo, Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez as examples.
“That’s what makes this fight so intriguing,” White said. “I stopped doubting Conor McGregor a long time ago. This guy, in my history with him, has done everything he said he would do, including picking the round that he said he would do it in. So I don’t know, but we’ll see how this thing plays out.
“At the end of the day, Conor McGregor is a fighter, not a boxer. In a 12-round fight, Conor McGregor, who is the bigger, younger, stronger guy, needs to hit Floyd Mayweather, and he needs to hurt him. I don’t see him outpointing Floyd in a boxing match. I see him turning it into a fight, roughing Floyd up. I believe in this fight that Floyd is going to fight traditionally like Floyd fights. Best defensive fighter ever. I think he’s going to stay on his toes, move around a lot and use the ring to stay away from McGregor. I think McGregor goes straight after him, tries to rough him up and tries to knock him out.”
“I stopped doubting Conor McGregor a long time ago. This guy, in my history with him, has done everything he said he would do, including picking the round that he said he would do it in. So I don’t know, but we’ll see how this thing plays out.”
White offered a reminder that not only does McGregor have tremendous power, but that he is also a southpaw, which he believes is a fighting stance that has troubled Mayweather here and there, such as in his 2006 win against Zab Judah (but not at all against other southpaws such as Pacquiao, Robert Guerrero and Victor Ortiz).
“If you want to look at one thing, you could say it’s [McGregor being a] southpaw,” White said. “McGregor, he hits like a truck. When McGregor hits people he hurts them, and when he hurts them he finishes them. So in a 12-round fight, is Conor ever going to hit Floyd once? I believe he will, and he will more than once. And we’ll see what happens when Floyd gets hit.
“If you’re looking for boxing technique from Conor McGregor, you’re not going to get it. You’re not going to see it. But the kid can fight. When he hits you, as soon as he touches guys, they’re hurt. If Conor McGregor didn’t have the punching power that he has, we wouldn’t even be talking right now. There wouldn’t be the interest there is.”
For his part, Mayweather is convinced he will prevail but was philosophical about how it will go.
“Either he’s gonna get me or I’m gonna get him,” Mayweather said. “It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. Once you get that mentality it’s OK.”
The animated McGregor, was more outspoken.
“I look forward to Aug. 26 because the whole world is in for a shock,” he said. “He’s a scared man. When he wakes up after the KO, maybe if he wants the rematch he might have to do it in the Octagon.”