For a little while, it looked like he was going to pull it off. It really looked like Conor McGregor was poised to score an upset victory over Floyd Mayweather Jr. in The Money Fight.
For two rounds, McGregor looked completely at home in the ring. In a performance reminiscent of his UFC career, he stalked forward, slung heavy leather and clubbed Mayweather on a few occasions. Mayweather was never truly wounded by McGregor's shots, but it wouldn't have been a stretch to say he seemed rattled by the Irishman's high-octane offense.
Then Mayweather started opening up in the third. Then he started landing in the fourth. Then he started landing a bunch in the fifth.
He was a snowball rolling downhill by the ninth round, when he staggered McGregor with a straight right to the teeth that McGregor never recovered from. The finish came in the 10th as Mayweather transformed his offense into a sustained blitzkrieg that didn't afford McGregor the chance to return fire, resulting in a TKO victory for Money.
How did it happen? How did such a strong start by McGregor go so wrong so quickly? Bleacher Report is here to look over the bout and pinpoint what, exactly, led to his defeat.
The Quantitative Data
Arash Markazi of ESPN.com was kind enough to post CompuBox's official statistics on Twitter. Check them out:
Obviously, numbers don't tell the whole story of the fight, but there are some interesting nuances therein to discuss.
As stated, McGregor's best rounds were the first three, and the statistics reflect that plainly. Mayweather threw a humble 28 punches in the first three rounds, landing 12, compared to McGregor's 115 (he landed 26). Mayweather flipped the switch after that, however, with his output increasing from 31 punches thrown in the fourth to 68 by the ninth.
Worth noting, however, is that as Mayweather's volume went up, McGregor's did as well, with the mixed martial artist out-throwing Mayweather in seven of the first eight rounds. That said, the difference in accuracy was profound, with Mayweather landing a whopping 53.1 percent of his punches compared to McGregor's 25.8 percent.
That difference in efficiency contributed to McGregor's failing cardio down the stretch, and it likely was the culprit behind the dubiously lopsided score cards turned in by the judges.
The Qualitative Data
The numbers certainly favored Mayweather, but his advantages weren't just on paper. Money, as he so often does, made the necessary adjustments to exploit McGregor's established weaknesses.
Whether it's in the cage or in the ring, McGregor is at his best in one specific situation: controlling the center of the stage with his opponent cornered. While he has some good tools to use when opponents don't fall in line with that strategy, he isn't nearly as effective. Patrick Wyman of Deadspin discussed this in his preview of the fight:
"Confidence defines McGregor's game, and when he's pressuring, he feels confident. When he feels like he's in control, he can push an incredible pace and bury his opponent in a steady stream of left hands.
"But that's also McGregor's downfall. If he feels like he's not in control—that the range at which the fight's being contested isn't his range, he doesn't have the timing and his opponent isn't afraid of his power—he burns huge amounts of energy trying to explode and force the big shot."
This breakdown was spot on and detailed what led to McGregor's downfall.
Early on, McGregor was in his wheelhouse, circling Mayweather, landing counters and forcing him to the ropes on a few occasions. Toward the end of the third, however, Mayweather began finding success as the offensive lead, and by the end of the fourth, he was in complete control. McGregor, despite landing a handful of solid counterpunches, was backpedaling for the remainder of the fight.
So how did it happen? How did one of MMA's most aggressive fighters get so easily corralled?
The answer, in large part, is footwork. Former McGregor training partner (and former IBO welterweight champion) Chris van Heerden pointed to that as a likely source of trouble for McGregor during an interview with MMAJunkie.
"His footwork is all over the place," he said. "... When I wanted to put Conor on is back foot, it was too easy. It was really too easy. And Conor is bigger than me. Believe it or not, I was surprised at the size of Conor, him being that big, how easily I could put him on his back foot. Because I knew my footwork was in place, and his wasn't."
After giving McGregor room to work in the early goings of the fight, Mayweather turned the tables by playing the bull to McGregor's matador. Sometimes he crowded him. Other times, he pressured from angles that neutralized that deadly straight left.
In both cases, McGregor wasn't given the opportunity to regain his momentum and didn't have the tools to create his own openings. By the fifth round, he was trying to juke his way around Mayweather, and when that failed, he pinned all his hopes on landing one big counterpunch.
That's not a good position to be in against one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time, and the result, of course, was a late technical knockout.
What Could Have Been Done?
While this piece is inherently going to be a negative one, make no mistake: McGregor looked surprisingly good against Mayweather and received praise from a number of past and present pugilists. He put on a performance that was far beyond what he should be capable of, and asking more of him would have been unreasonable.
The bottom line with this fight is that McGregor didn't have the pure boxing fundamentals and expansive arsenal to remain competitive with Mayweather for 12 full rounds. He looked good in Rounds 1-3. He had his moments in Rounds 4-6. But with every tick of the clock, Mayweather became more and more comfortable working around McGregor's attacks, which allowed him to do whatever he wished by the end of the contest.
There's no shame in that. Those two paragraphs could have been written about Andre Berto, Shane Mosley or any of the other 47 men that appeared on the losing side of Mayweather's pro ledger. McGregor took on a mission that nobody has accomplished and walked away with a massive check and bigger fanbase.
He may have lost the contest, but, in many ways, he still won the night.