This might as well be the combat sports version of The Kramer portrait from Seinfeld. Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather is a loathsome, offensive brute of a thing, yet nobody can find themselves looking away.
Some of Australia’s best boxing minds are predicting that McGregor, the Irish mixed martial arts star, won’t be resembling an oil painting when he leaves the ring in Las Vegas on Sunday (AEST), with Mayweather an overwhelming pick to not only beat his upstart opponent but embarrass him.
There’s always a puncher’s chance in the fight game. But nobody has been able to take it to Mayweather, the 49-0 five-division champion who has returned from a two-year retirement to try to take his record to a perfect 50 and bank $200 million in the process.
McGregor has fulfilled his end of the bargain pre-fight, hyping it beyond all imagination. Yet once the bell rings and he finds himself in a new sport against one of its modern greats, that’s where most are predicting the words to ring hollow.
“It’s not even close – I don’t think he could hit Floyd with a handful of rice,” says Noel Thornberry, who trained Alex Leapai to a heavyweight title shot against Wladimir Klitschko.
“People can change, but they don’t put that much emphasis on stand-up fighting in MMA. Mayweather has lived and breathed it. I know he’s 40 years old and has been retired two years, but it’s like getting the Brisbane Broncos to play the Sydney Swans in AFL.”
Glenn Rushton, who recently masterminded Jeff Horn’s victory over Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane, said he’d love to dream up a scenario where McGregor is competitive.
“If McGregor won, I’d be stunned,” Rushton said. “He’d have to pick up the corner stool and smash him over the head. I know everyone has a puncher’s chance, but I simply can’t conceive how he could win this fight.
“I see Mayweather winning a shut out. He’ll win every round. McGregor will come in and try to rush him with some big things. It will look a bit like the bull and the matador. Floyd will be precise. I can see him clipping him, controlling the gap, moving around.
“As the fight goes on, McGregor will start running out of options. He’ll probably try something, maybe crash-tackling him, a few tactics. I doubt he’ll go for the ear biting … that’s been done before. There might be an elbow, a headbutt, who knows?
“He’s got to do something. He’s a performer, but he’s a tough guy. My concern is that Mayweather won’t engage long enough with him in the pocket to get a KO, so that’s why I think it will be a clear points victory.”
The challenges awaiting McGregor are immense on his boxing debut. He’s an elite athlete in MMA, but there’s no guarantee that will translate in boxing, where the stamina and cardio requirements are brutal as fights click through the rounds.
Thornberry doesn’t think it will take long for McGregor to start showing signs of wear and tear. Once that happens, he says, Mayweather will clinically pick him apart, then potentially cut him down late in the bout.
“Conor McGregor will tire inside three rounds,” Thornberry said. “He’s just never boxed at this level before. They will blame it on his diet, all sorts of things. The truth of the matter is, he’s not a world-class boxer.
“He might land one punch. Floyd Mayweather has been punched before and by guys that crack a hell of a lot harder than him.
“They don’t stand in the danger zone in MMA. They stand on the outside, then jump in then get out. They wait and they wait and they wait. Floyd Mayweather will take him straight into the danger zone. After a few rounds, Mayweather will just walk him down and beat him up.”
Both trainers agree the bout has captured the imagination of each side of the combat sports divide. A circus in boxing is hardly a new concept, while McGregor has already won big with his $100 million cheque and priceless air time for self-promotion.
“He’s going to struggle immensely,” Rushton said. “But he knows he’s in for a huge pay day. He’s a smart guy.”
And Thornberry: “It’s interesting. People say it’s bad for the sport. The whole world is watching, so how bad can it be?”