How top MMA trainers would prepare Conor McGregor for Floyd Mayweather


When it comes to Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor, there is no shortage of topics to discuss.

Every Instagram post is a headline. And you can bet all these different angles of coverage will tirelessly seek out your eyeballs between now and the night of the fight.

Today, we’re talking about the fight itself. Specifically, how a very good mixed martial artist can approach the task of fighting a world-class boxer in his own arena.

What can McGregor do, if anything, to even the playing field? What does he actually bring to the table that Mayweather hasn’t seen? What will happen when the fight actually starts and what, ultimately, will be the final outcome?

ESPN spoke to some of the best coaches in MMA to get a sense of what McGregor’s strategy and chances are, against the five-division world champion Mayweather.

Conor McGregor will go from MMA to boxing, to face Floyd Mayweather, arguably the best fighter of his generation. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Firas Zahabi, Tristar MMA

Conor is the better fighter and Mayweather is the better boxer. In my opinion, neither one belongs in the other’s arena. It’s like, “Who wins, a lion or a shark?” Well, if it’s in an aquarium, the shark. If it’s in the jungle, the lion.

The one X factor is we still don’t know the limit of Conor’s left hand. Will it knock someone out as efficiently as it does in MMA? He was born with a gift. That’s a gift. Nobody ever knows how that’s done. It’s a mystery, that kind of power. Boxing coaches have tried to duplicate it. We’re not crazy, we’re trying to figure out how that’s done, what it is exactly that makes someone hit that hard — and no one truly knows. No one can say that has been discovered.

Mayweather has seen that before, at the highest level, and dealt with it beautifully many times over. Conor’s going to try to land the left hand. He’s not going to jab Mayweather to death. He’s going to bully him, drive his forearms into his face. Don’t forget a boxing match is 36 minutes. That’s really a lot longer than we’re used to in MMA, and we’ve seen Conor get tired in the past. If it goes into the later rounds, it won’t be pretty.

I don’t think it will go 12 rounds. Either Conor catches him early or Mayweather puts him away in the later rounds.

Jason Parillo, RVCA VA Sport

If McGregor starts fading at any point, I think Mayweather will try to have a “showtime” moment. I’m sure he schools guys sometimes in the gym, talks s—. I could see him trying to make that type of example out of Conor.

Do I think McGregor has something special to him? He wouldn’t have the attention that’s on him if he didn’t. Is he heavy-handed enough to hurt somebody? Yes. But the way I look at it is that Canelo Alvarez and Oscar De La Hoya were professional punchers and focused on nothing but punching their entire lives. McGregor’s been putting as much focus on everything else.

Mayweather is 40 years old and he’s been out of the ring, but I never saw that slight loss, that second of a reflex — I just never saw it. The guy is f—ing Gumby. He’s got the reflexes of a cat. You have guys who have 30 to 40 professional wins, fast as lightning, and Mayweather makes them miss all day long and then makes them pay.

You’ve got to remember, all our MMA champions go for is 25 minutes. This fight is another 11 minutes. That will come into play. If [McGregor’s] got grit and the beard to do it, he could put it on [Mayweather] and smother him, punch his arms, whatever he can hit. McGregor’s actually got the foot speed for it as well, to walk him down a bit. It gets confusing trying to talk about this though, because we know McGregor is a good MMA boxer, and god bless all the MMA guys that McGregor has knocked out, but they’re not Jose Luis Castillo or Oscar De La Hoya. This fight seems to be a lot about money.

Justin Buchholz, Team Alpha Male

Go in there, get in his face right off the bat and try to win a round. First three rounds, win one of them by just being aggressive.

Floyd can fight in the clinch and he’ll stick his elbow up in your face. But we’re talking about an MMA fighter with McGregor. And you see this sometimes in boxing — Bernard Hopkins will be in a clinch, the referee will be on one side and on the other side Hopkins is hitting the dude illegally in the hamstring. Dirty tactics. Come in with your head. We’re MMA fighters, we train that s—. We train to tie guys up and overhook their arms and wear them out. Conor has a very big frame, and you’re talking about a little guy in Floyd.

Don’t get knocked out. McGregor will be thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna hit Floyd with the jab,” and Floyd will come back with a double right hand that will f—ing rock him because he’s so fast. People like to say Floyd doesn’t hit hard. What do you mean Floyd doesn’t hit hard? Are you f—ing kidding me? Who knocks out Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez? Nobody knocks those guys out. But ask Canelo if Floyd hits hard. Because Canelo stopped throwing punches on him. Of course he hits hard, he’s a master of boxing.

That’s why I’d say, when Floyd starts picking him apart, McGregor needs to turn it into an MMA fight at the risk of being DQ’d. If it’s Round 4 and you’re saying, “We’ve got no chance, this guy’s picking us apart, we don’t even want to move in there because we’re going to get knocked out” — next time you get into the clinch, double leg him. It’s better to get DQ’d than knocked the f— out. And just think about how easily Conor can manipulate Floyd’s body weight. You’ve got a master of boxing against a guy who is overmatched as f—, but the one time that guy puts his hands on him with the intent to do something that’s not completely handicapped by rules, he’d throw him down and your best boxer in the world couldn’t do s—.

Mike Winkeljohn, who trains Holly Holm, believes Conor McGregor must take advantage of “offline angles with his footwork” to have a shot against Floyd Mayweather. Steve Snowden/Getty Images

Mike Winkeljohn, Jackson-Wink MMA

Floyd is going to go into his shell and hold his shoulder high. You can’t do that in MMA and you can’t do that in a street situation, but in boxing it’s a beautiful thing.

He has a god-given knack of not getting hit and using his defensive ability so well. Conor’s got the power though. I think Conor is a big, strong fighter who has speed and is a little slicker. What Conor can bring to the table is maybe some offline angles with his footwork that comes out of MMA and will be something Floyd might not be used to. Attack where Floyd can’t hide behind his shoulder.

We’re going to know one way or the other right away. Conor comes with a game plan of attacking Floyd in a way he has never seen before. Once it fails, or I should say “if” it fails, then it will fall into a traditional boxing match, which obviously favors Floyd. I’ll tell you what though, Conor’s got a smart camp and they’re going to come up with something. It might be worth putting some money on Conor as the underdog.

Robert Follis, Xtreme Couture

When you’ve got someone who moves significantly better than you, putting them in a clinch is a great idea. You saw that with Mike Tyson, when he was getting beat by Evander Holyfield. What you don’t want to do is run around chasing with punches.

Conor’s striking is good, but I’ve got pro guys who will go to the boxing gym and work with some 14-year-old amateur who has 40 fights and they get picked apart.

If Conor goes out there and tries to box with him, look slick, he’ll get a hell of a payday and look real silly. If he can go in there and hang on his head, dirty box, take warnings from the referee, lose a point even — but potentially wear on him and be physical with him — Muhammad Ali did that in several fights; he’d take the warning and force the referee to slap his hand off the back of his opponent’s head.

It’s pretty tough for them to disqualify someone in that big of a fight, you know what I mean? Minus biting Floyd’s ear or throwing him out of the ring, he can get away with hanging on the head and dirty boxing. If he does round after round and then unleashes some of that power? If you’re coming up with a game plan that seems like the only way to go right?

Duke Roufus, Roufusport MMA

A lot of people don’t understand Conor has more boxing experience than he’s showing. He amateur boxed at a club in Ireland that has a top coach.

But Floyd is not only one of the greatest fighters of his era, he’s one of the most elusive. It’s going to be tough for Conor to box 12 rounds. You’re going to throw more than you’re used to and you’re going to miss. It’s very tiring. That’s what Floyd does so well. When you miss, you start second-guessing yourself as a fighter.

I don’t know how many people will remember this, but Zab Judah, who is a real slick boxer, fought Kostya Tszyu [2001] and at times, Zab was very confused with the pace. Kostya fought like a mixed martial artist. He’s Russian and had this slower, meticulous pace — at a very long range. If you’re not used to that, it can really throw your timing off.

When fighters press Floyd, that’s where he’s magic. Conor almost needs to be like a jiu-jitsu guy who needs you to come into his guard. Stay back, use your reach and show him a style he’s never seen before. I give him a 20 percent chance if he does that, I really believe that.

Henri Hooft, Combat Club MMA

We’re talking about the best boxer there is. One of my guys, Tyrone Spong, is boxing at the moment and he always tells me it’s so different, people are so fast. They’re used to doing what they do. It looks simple — the jab, straight hand — but they do it day in and day out for years.

Conor has really impressed me with his hands, but Mayweather will beat him in everything in a boxing match. I’ll watch the fight but I’m not really interested in it. I think it will go as long as Mayweather wants.

I will say, “You’re going to fight the best boxer of all time, make a lot of money, with the whole world watching, so just go for it.” It’s amazing. I’m kind of jealous of him and his coach. Live the moment. It’s something special.

Trevor Wittman, Grudge Training Center

McGregor has shown problems with taller fighters. Nate Diaz is not a fast boxer and he’s not a great defensive fighter, but he beat McGregor in their first fight because of his range. He was able to land the one-two and McGregor didn’t even see the two coming because of the jab.

Mayweather is one of the tallest fighters out there — not meaning he’s physically tall but he’s a range fighter. He’s very good at shifting his hips back and forth to make it seem like he’s closer than he really is. He lures you in with that high lead shoulder and makes you reach. McGregor is a counter striker and I just don’t see Mayweather taking any chances reaching with power.

Mayweather is going to irritate him with the jab all night and then force him to lead. Mayweather is very fundamental with his feet, very fundamental defensively. He’s very good at learning round to round, so McGregor’s only chance will be in the first round. I think he will bring McGregor out of his realm, out of his mindset and it will be an out-classed match.

But it’s still a great fight for McGregor. He can retire and say he challenged the best. It’s a no-lose situation.

People think there’s no chance. I’ve heard people go, “Oh, there’s literally zero chance.” I’ve heard boxing analysts say that. And the chances are low. Whether it’s 5 percent, 10 percent — whatever it is, it’s low. But I think what McGregor does have is that Mayweather is the oldest he’s ever been. He’s slightly worse than he’s ever been. McGregor is a big guy, maybe the biggest guy Mayweather has ever fought or close to it. He’s a southpaw and he’s doesn’t move like a traditional boxer. So, the angles Mayweather is used to seeing are slightly off.

All of those variables tip it a little to Conor’s favor. Not like he’s a favorite, but there are some things that make this a little different from a normal boxing fight. McGregor could never win a decision, obviously. The only way he can win is getting Mayweather with a shot that he doesn’t see coming, hurting him and finishing him. You never know if that big shot could land.

Brandon Gibson, Jackson-Wink MMA

I’m happy McGregor is getting so much attention for the sport, but we’ve got one of the best of his generation going against a boxer who is 0-0. I would think it would be a one-sided affair.

In Floyd’s first Marcos Maidana fight, Maidana was able to catch him with overhands. That kind of caught Floyd off-guard. Maybe Conor can do some of that. But whether Floyd is in the center of the ring or with his back against the ropes, he’s going to make him miss and make him pay with counters.

I don’t think you’ll see a finish, but I think you’ll see the difference between one of the best boxers ever and someone with no boxing experience.


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