Floyd Mayweather Jr always had a knack for fighting opponents at the most advantageous time.
In recent years, he faced a past-his-prime Manny Pacquiao and defeated an inexperienced, 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez.
It preserved Mayweather’s perfect record and built an allure of greatness, making him the biggest pay-per-view seller in boxing history. Meanwhile, Mayweather gained a justified reputation for boring fights and well-calculated career moves.
After a two-year hiatus at 49-0, Mayweather, now 40, sought his 50th fight against mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor, who had never before boxed professionally. The bout announcement was widely panned as a money grab and easy victory to cap Mayweather’s career.
A counter fighter and defensive genius, Mayweather uncharacteristically marched down McGregor starting late in the third round, building exhausting pressure that eventually took its toll.
Unlike most of Mayweather’s fights in the last decade, the match proved to be full of action and swings in momentum before McGregor finally succumbed to a technical knockout in the 10th round.
“I feel like I owed my fans a last hurrah,” Mayweather said in the post-fight press conference.
“I wanted to go out with a bang. I told you guys it’d be blood, sweat and tears.”
He even described the fight as an attempt to make amends for the 2015 Pacquiao bout, which drew a record 4.6 million pay-per-view sales but a storm of criticism for Mayweather’s tedious, unanimous decision victory.
In comparison, the loud, fast-talking McGregor voiced no regret after suffering the first stoppage due to strikes of his career, which has seen him capture two titles in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), MMA’s biggest organization.
Appearing at the press conference in a paisley suit and sunglasses, whiskey glass in hand, McGregor was vague about his next career move, except to promise something big.
Saturday’s fight was already the most lucrative ever, Mayweather claimed afterwards, implying revenues from tickets and pay-per-view topping 500 million dollars.
Mayweather insisted he was now retired for good.
“After 21 years in the sport of boxing, I have some great fights, I have some boring fights, but at the end of the day I will be always remembered as a winner,” he said.
McGregor said that his own share of the receipts would likely be 100 million dollars.
Asked to compare MMA with boxing, he laughed maniacally and declared: “The check is not bad.”
The Irishman declared his intention to resume MMA-oriented training in jiu-jitsu, wrestling and kick-boxing: “And we’ll see what happens.”
He described himself as a “free agent,” though he remains under contract to the UFC, which will therefore collected a piece of McGregor’s share.
“I love competing,” he said. “I love a good fight, and tonight was a damn good fight.”
Just five years ago, while still fighting on the European MMA circuit, McGregor made ends meet for full-time fight training in Dublin only by going on the dole.
He burst into the UFC in April 2013, and through sheer will and bombast – and a rabid following of travelling Irish – quickly became the highest-paid fighter in MMA.
UFC President Dana White said in the post-fight press conference that McGregor had gone “10 rounds tonight with arguably the greatest to ever do it.”
He called McGregor “a rare, special individual. … He’s willing to put everything on the line. The greats always risk, and Conor McGregor is that guy.”
On Saturday night, McGregor gleefully rehashed the story of the making of the Mayweather fight, which sceptics first said was impossible.
“Then it was: We’re not gonna lay a glove [on Mayweather]. I’m just relishing it,” he said. “I have many options.”