McGregor, Malignaggi, Mayweather, and the Boxing/MMA Divide
By: David J. Kozlowski
Last week, MMA-star Conor McGregor was granted a boxing license by the California State Athletic Commission, allowing him to box professionally in California. This as an alternative to chasing big-money fights in Las Vegas, for which he would need a Nevada boxing license, a license which the Nevada State Athletic Commission has denied.
Immediately, speculation turned to a fight between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. This despite Mayweather not fighting in 2016 and not being a serious contender on any current pound-for-pound top ten. But he is still the biggest draw in boxing, and the zero in his 49-0 record is an attractive target for someone like McGregor who wants to make an immediate impact in the sport.
McGregor has called Mayweather out before. Conventional wisdom has been that Mayweather waits until an opponent is at his weakest to accept a fight, here, the 28-year-old McGregor is at his weakest right now—before he’s had time to acclimate to boxing.
Every MMA fighter’s problem when moving to the squared circle is the significant stylistic differences between MMA and boxing. The stance is more upright in boxing, and MMA fighters who transition to boxing need to learn how to stand up. The guard is different—in boxing, hands are held high to defend the head. Boxing also places heavy reliance on blocking, whereas MMA barely allows for blocking due to the smaller gloves, which allow even blocked strikes to land. There’s different footwork as well—MMA fighters keep wider, lower stances to help avoid takedowns. Finally, the punching motion itself is different (torqueing the hips). None of this speaks to strategic differences—for example, boxers understand that body work is a long-term strategy to winning by decision or late kayo.
For McGregor, the path to Mayweather, if there is one, should be through an established fighter he believes can’t hurt him. Enter Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi.
If McGregor can box (he was a youth boxing champ in Ireland), Malignaggi is a good choice for a first fight. He’s never had power, compiling a 36-7 record with only 4 knock-outs. At 36, Malignaggi is the slowest he’s been in his career. But he’s scrappy and has had a good enough chin to go the distance. He’s also riding a three-fight winning streak, and is one of the better known boxing names in the general sports world. The fight would draw viewers, would test McGregor’s stamina, and is unlikely to pose a knock-out risk.
Malignaggi didn’t waste time calling McGregor out. The Magic Man released a video in which he says, “At first I’m tellin’ Conor to stay in his lane; I’m thinkin’ you know what, you’re gonna embarrass yourself … After I’m done with you, I’m gonna knock the beard off you, homie; you’re gonna be apologizing for everything you’ve been trying to do.”
While one of McGregor’s strengths is getting into his opponents’ heads, he loses that advantage with Malignaggi. There’s no chance Malignaggi, who’s fought some of the hardest hitters at his weight, gets intimidated by McGregor. McGregor’s response to Malignaggi’s challenge was essentially a thickly accented, “Who the fuck is that guy?” To which Malignaggi responded in a tweet: “The guy whos gonna beat the “fook” outta u so bad you’ll hate yourself for even THINKING u could box at a high level.”
Maybe McGregor will actually take the bait and fight Malignaggi. It would be a good move—safe but notable, and lucrative. If so, it will be an interesting test of McGregor’s foray into the sweet science. And if he wins convincingly enough, but not too convincingly, he might just be able to draw Mayweather out and get a big payday against the biggest Money fighter of them all.