Despite loss to Mayweather, McGregor silences doubters in the world of boxing

LAS VEGAS -- Floyd Mayweather won the fight but Conor McGregor, his under-appreciated and widely ridiculed rival, won the night.

Losers? There were plenty. The sport of boxing. The many former Mayweather rivals who failed to put on a show of such guts against the all-time great. The boxing media, the study stream of experts, active boxers and former boxers who said McGregor did not belong in that ring. And anyone -- there were many -- who scoffed at McGregor the boxer.

In the 10th round, as McGregor wobbled and the crowd stood and the air changed, Mayweather went in for the kill. His boxing acumen and excellence -- even at age 40 -- was again beyond dispute. But even as the referee stepped in to put a stop to the fight with Mayweather officially dispatching the Irishman via TKO, a different kind of victory had been won.

This week, I wrote that to triumph McGregor didn't actually have to win the fight. He had to prove he belonged in that ring. All week long, while here in Vegas on radio row speaking with those for whom boxing is a holy thing, almost everyone outside of the UFC scoffed at the idea that McGregor could do even that much.

Loudly.

Confidently.

Over and again.

McGregor wouldn't win a round. He wouldn't land a single punch. He would embarrass himself so thoroughly that his reputation would be changed once he returned to the UFC. MMA, cute thought it was, would find some much-needed humility.

Over and over they heaved that narrative at anyone who dared suggest -- or even ask -- whether Mayweather-McGregor was not in fact something worth taking seriously.

So while Mayweather now stands at 50-0, his opponent has his own surprising record: Conor McGregor 1, Rest of the Boxing World 0.

Mayweather beat McGregor. McGregor beat everyone else associated with the sport.

That's why McGregor smiled in the ring shortly after he lost the fight. The money had always been assured, so don't pretend it was his now-bulging bank account. This other thing -- respect in the boxing ring -- was hard-earned and hard for many to believe.

McGregor won at least three rounds, and he filled T-Mobile Arena with enough nervous energy to properly shame Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez for their own lackluster performances against Mayweather.

"He's a tough competitor," Mayweather said afterward. "And I think we gave the fans what they wanted to see."

They did, but to clarify: McGregor gave the fans what they came to see -- a jolt. Mayweather, in all his methodical brilliance, was exactly what we expected. It was his opponent who turned the evening into show we hoped to see, and it was his opponent who was the real star of the spectacle that turned into a real sporting event.

"He's a lot better than I thought he was," Maywather said, echoing, well, just about everyone.

And he was still, even after the beating he took in the later rounds, pure Conor McGregor despite the loss. 

"He's not that fast, he's not that powerful, but boy is he composed," the Irishman said, laughing and smiling as if he'd won the fight. "I thought it was close. They should have let me keep going. He's composed in there. You gotta give it to him."

McGregor continued: "I thought it was close. Let me go down. Let the man put me down. That's energy, that's not damage.  Let me wobble back to my car. You've got to put me out. I don't know what way to feel to be honest."

Feel proud, McGregor.

Hold your head high. Know you didn't beat Floyd Mayweather, but you did take down a throng of doubters so deep and stunned that boxing itself took a knee to you Saturday night. 

National Columnist

Bill Reiter began his career as a newspaper journalist before becoming a national columnist at CBS Sports. He currently hosts a national CBS Sports radio show from New York City from 6 to 10 p.m. ET called... Full Bio

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