Mayweather vs. McGregor: Five ways the Irishman can pull the upset of the century

If fans and experts in the sport of boxing are being honest with themselves, it's extremely difficult to give UFC champion Conor McGregor more than a distant puncher's chance against Floyd Mayweather on Saturday. 

That's just the way it is. We have seen this movie before, so to speak, having followed Mayweather's now legendary career and seen first hand his mastery of the adage "hit and not get hit." 

Asking that same question to mixed martial arts observers or merely casual sports fans in general may just produce a different answer altogether. That might go a long way in explaining why so much money has come in to sportsbooks for McGregor, going back to the first day that the fight was announced. 

But going back throughout the long history of combat sports and major upsets, there's always a knee-jerk revisionist tendency to go back and identify the things we should have seen regarding clues as to how the upset happened in the first place. 

With that thought process in mind, here's the five reasons why a McGregor (21-3 in MMA) victory against Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs) on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) may not be as crazy as you think.

1. Maywaether has never been more prime for the upset than right now: Mayweather's history of taking off extended breaks only to return looking fresher and more crisp than he had in years certainly cautions the notion that ring rust would ever be part of his vocabulary. But Mayweather is 40, returning to a cruel and unforgiving sport that can make you old in one night. He's also two years into an official retirement. McGregor, meanwhile, is at the peak of his physical prime. And all the statistics and factoids people like UFC president Dana White have tried to use in recent months to hype up McGregor's chances are all actually true: He's a southpaw who is taller, stronger, naturally bigger and longer than Mayweather, and he's also 11.5 years younger. 

And whether or not you believe in such a thing as boxing karma, Mayweather returning under these circumstances -- in a fight some have called a disgrace to boxing -- has to be seen as nothing short of greedy. For all of the good fortune Mayweather has received in being able to maintain a perfect record of 49 fights, he has yet to be on the wrong end of a controversial decision or receive a bad cut or compromising injury early in a fight. While it's far from an exact comparison, Bernard Hopkins looked to take a winnable retirement fight in 2016 against the one-dimensional puncher Joe Smith Jr. and ended up getting knocked out through the ropes for his troubles. Sometimes you just bite off that one bit more than you can chew at the wrong time. 

2. McGregor's command of distance is deadly: Being a great boxer in MMA certainly doesn't translate perfectly to being a great boxer in the sweet science. But there are certain things McGregor does well very well from a boxing standpoint that has allowed him to dominate opponents on his feet inside the Octagon. McGregor's strongest skill has been his ability to negotiate distance by lulling his opponents into a false sense of security before closing the gap quickly to land big punches. It's a combination of strong footwork and precision punching that makes him so dangerous. McGregor has not only proven adept at landing combinations from distance, his uppercut has become a dangerous weapon. 

3. McGregor's wild unorthodox style will play into his hands: Mayweather's uncanny ability to take a snapshot of his opponent's offensive attack in the opening rounds before making an adjustment and disarming them is legendary. But the defensive wizard has certainly had his easiest success against orthodox boxers who fight in a traditional style and stance. In fact, the one fighter who had the most success against Mayweather over the second half of his career was Marcos Maidana during their first fight in 2014. Maidana attacked from the opening bell with a taxing style reliant upon pressure and punches from almost absurd angles. Very little about Maidana's offense was traditional, which made it very difficult to prepare for or adjust to. 


Mayweather vs. McGregor fight information

Date: Saturday, Aug. 26
Time: 9 p.m. ET (main card)
Location: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

TV: Order Mayweather vs. McGregor on Showtime PPV
Stream it: Showtime PPV online | Showtime PPV app


McGregor not only should follow the same lead for his best chance at success, but the fact that he decided not to bring in a well-known boxing trainer was the best move he could've made. Attempting to train to outbox Mayweather in just six months is an incredibly futile idea. Instead, McGregor has a shot to use his awkward stances and fighting rhythm as an advantage by giving Mayweather something to adjust to that he has never seen. Along with how important it will be for McGregor to adjust his attack throughout, to avoid allowing Mayweather a chance to get comfortable, being wild and crazy could also help him delay the inevitable adjustment. He will need an incredible gas tank to do so, similar to Maidana until he slightly faded late. But if McGregor is smart, going the distance shouldn't be a thought in his mind. Being explosive and going for the finish at all costs is his best shot at doing the impossible.  

4. The brash Irishman is also a natural finisher: Any fighter making the adjustment from four-ounce MMA gloves to the 8-ounce boxing ones that both fighters will use on Saturday can assume their punching power will be slightly muted. But power is power in combat sports, no matter how much padding is around a fist and McGregor has a long track record of being able to punch. He also knows what to do when he has someone hurt, with the kind of instincts to finish the job as efficiently as possible that you simply can't teach. Mayweather is so good defensively and so adept at recuperating quickly and tying opponents up the rare times he gets hurt. But McGregor is dangerous enough that should he land that "one lucky punch" his chances of winning have been reduced to, he's programmed with the natural ability to add on to the damage. 

5. He's crazy enough to pull this off: One has to be careful in fighting comparing anyone, for any reason, to the great Muhammad Ali. But from his incredible wit and ability to market himself to the astounding way he backs up his bold claims, McGregor has been very Ali-like during his four-year rise from unknown to the biggest star in combat sports. He calls himself "Mystic Mac" and while it wouldn't be fair to suggest he's some kind of sorcerer who works in concert with the cosmos, it has been almost scary how accurate McGregor's predictions have been, down to the tiny details. Just securing this fight has been an incredible victory for McGregor. But actually winning it? McGregor's ability to visualize success and will it to existence makes giving any definitive prediction against him an uneasy move. There's just something different about McGregor and if there's anyone in the world capable of pulling off such an absurd upset like this, it's probably him. 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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