As a longtime lover of the ‘Sweet Science’, I felt a secret sense of satisfaction in watching the measured way in which Floyd “Money” Mayweather defeated the game and garrulous UFC world champion Conor McGregor on the weekend, with an emphatic TKO in the 10th round of their scheduled 12-round bout in Las Vegas Nevada.
Boxing is a violent, often brutal sport, but there is a certain order to the chaos. Back in 1867 the Marquess of Queensbury Rules imposed a code of sportsmanship and fair play on the sport that has shaped its psyche ever since. The Queensbury rules insisted “fair-sized boxing gloves, of the best quality and new,” were to be worn at all times, and rounds were to be no more than three minutes long. “If either man falls, through weakness or otherwise” he must be allowed 10 seconds to get back to his feet unassisted, while his opponent meanwhile returned to his corner, and “if he fails to come to the scratch in the 10 seconds allowed, it shall be in the power of the referee to give his award in favour of the other man.”
Critics of the sport have often dismissed such attempted regulation as little more than pointless window-dressing, but to aficionados it informs the essence of boxing – discipline, courage and composure. It’s a tough game for tough people. But there are rules. It takes hard work and discipline just to compete, and supreme skill, determination and composure to succeed.
So it has been with understandable chagrin that purists have witnessed the recent meteoric rise of no-holds-barred, mixed martial arts-style UFC fights that combine wrestling, kicking, elbowing and punching in what, to the uninitiated, looks something like a wild street brawl where nothing is off-limits. A felled fighter can be leapt upon by his opponent and clubbed senseless on the canvas. The YouTube generation, raised on a steady diet of stylised, Tarantino-type gore, has embraced such spectacularly-violent action with enthusiasm, leaving some to wonder what such lessons in unbridled and unchecked aggression may be teaching the young, wayward and impressionable.
But from the time it was announced the big-money bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor would be governed by the Queensbury rules of boxing, control and composure were always going to be deciding factors. One couldn’t help but have a soft spot for the cocky, charismatic Irishman, and one could never doubt his formidable strength and skill. But in the end this was a boxing contest, played out in a boxing ring by boxing rules, and it ended as it always should have, with the veteran putting on a masterclass.
The 40-year-old Mayweather is a boxer’s boxer, born into a family of fighters with a proud pedigree of pugilism, destined to box from birth. His father, Floyd Sr, won the US Welterweight Championship Tournament in 1977, his uncle Roger was the WBC super featherweight and super lightweight champion, and his uncle Jeff held the IBO super featherweight title. As an amateur Floyd Jr won a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics, three US Golden Gloves championships, and the US National Championship as a featherweight. After turning professional he managed an unprecedented 50 victories without a single defeat, in the process racking up a total of 15 world titles in five weight classes. So it was always unthinkable he would do anything less than defeat the plucky boxing novice Conor McGregor in decisive fashion.
But as any fighter knows, in the ring you’re never more than one good lucky punch away from failure or success. And when your opponent comes as tough and crazy-courageous as “the Notorious Mystic Mac” – a younger, taller, heavier man with greater reach and physical strength – complacency can potentially prove fatal. In the most highly-promoted, hyped-up prize fight in history there was a great deal at stake for the credibility of boxing, and one unlikely accident could have been disastrous for the sport.
Fortunately, and to the quiet relief of many nervous traditional boxing fans, the sometimes all-too-flashy Floyd wasn’t leaving anything to chance. In a carefully-constructed, utterly measured and controlled display, he made absolutely sure of the result. He did it, not with brute strength, power or aggression, but with skill, strategy and guile. As McGregor would disarmingly concede after the fight, “He’s not that fast, he doesn’t hit that hard, but boy is he composed.”
This one was a victory for the sweet science of boxing.