LAS VEGAS — Floyd Mayweather makes a big part of his living long before the bell rings. He intensely scrutinizes not only his opponent, but even his opponent’s family and friends.
He uses the information to play psychological tricks on his opponents and gain the upper hand in the mental warfare that is so common in the fight game, one of the many reasons facing Mayweather is so different from facing anyone else in boxing.
But getting inside Conor McGregor’s head? That’s not going to happen.
McGregor understands the psychological aspects of the fight game as well as anyone. UFC president Dana White compared McGregor to the late legendary former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali when it came to the mental game.
The 40-year-old Mayweather, who fights the UFC lightweight champion in a mega-pay-per-view bout on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena, looked like a 25-year-old at a workout Thursday to hype the fight. Coming out of retirement, he obviously invested a lot of time in preparing his body for the match, even if he publicly scoffs at McGregor’s skills and predicted a knockout.
Most boxing experts give Mayweather nearly every advantage and expect him to thrash McGregor and win the fight by a wide margin.
That may well happen – “We’ll see on Aug. 26,” McGregor said Friday with a devilish grin – but it’s not going to occur because Mayweather manages to get inside McGregor’s head.
He’s been at his best in his biggest fights and lives for moments like the one he’ll face in two weeks. When the bell rings, he may not be equipped physically to deal with one of the best boxers of all-time, but McGregor is in his element every bit as much as Mayweather when it comes to dealing with the hype, handling the pressure and performing when the stakes are the highest.
“He keeps talking about, ‘Under the lights!’ ” McGregor said Friday following a workout at the UFC Performance Institute. “He keeps saying, ‘He looks good in the gym.’ I look good everywhere. I look good in the gym and I look good under the lights. In fact, I look better under the lights. I am comfortable in this. This is my life.
“I’ve been under the spotlight for a long, long time, and in these mega-events also.”
McGregor spoke for slightly more than a half-hour Friday and was relaxed and confident. He mocked former sparring partner Paulie Malignaggi and dismissed all of Malignaggi’s claims about what went on in their now infamous sparring sessions.
McGregor said his footwork and unpredictability would befuddle Mayweather and predicted an early knockout. That would be a feat of some note since Mayweather has only been down once as a pro, and it wasn’t really a true knockdown.
That came in the 12th round of a fight he was winning going away. He’d injured his hand earlier in the bout and touched the canvas with his glove as the clock wound down in order to take the count and help more time to elapse.
Mayweather is extraordinarily difficult to hit cleanly, but on those occasions when he has been hit, he’s shown a sturdy chin. McGregor, who praised Mayweather’s skill level, nonetheless predicted a knockout, within two rounds if they switch to 8-ounce gloves, he said.
On Wednesday, the Nevada Athletic Commission is going to vote on a Mayweather request to switch from 10-ounce to eight-ounce gloves.
That would, by the way, make a mockery of the ruleset if the commission granted the request and it would be evidence that it is simply all about making sure the biggest fights come to Las Vegas, and not about the health and safety of the competitors.
McGregor saw the attempt for what it is, a ploy by Mayweather, and said he didn’t care which size gloves they wear.
“I fight in four-ounce gloves, why would I give a [expletive]?” he said.
“If we’re wearing eight-ounce gloves, I’m struggling to see how he lasts two rounds, and that’s the God’s honest truth,” he continued. “The only reason I maybe give him two rounds is because in this game, the referee stops me from pounding his head into the canvas, and he has 10 seconds to recover. That’s the only reason he might make it to a second round.”
McGregor, who is expected to earn around $100 million for the fight, hardly has the look of a guy who is fazed by the moment.
He’ll stun virtually every fight fan in the world if he does what he predicts he will, but he hardly seems like a deer frozen in the headlights.
He’s always been a consummate professional and prepared assiduously, but he said the birth of his now three-month old son Conor Jr. has only added to his motivation.
“The other day, we were comparing pictures of when I was that age and he’s that age side-by-side and we’re like identical,” a beaming McGregor said, pumping his fist. “I’m like, yes, because he’s going to look exactly like me. He has my name and he’s carrying my, you know, it’s a legacy. I’m just in awe of my little man.”
It’s a normal, as well as a good and healthy thing, for a father to love his newborn son. The baby’s birth, though, has made a positive impact upon him as a fighter, he insisted.
“It’s made me more focused, more disciplined because I can’t slack off, I can’t float around, I can’t do what I used to do,” he said. “I must train, recover, go home, look after my boy, rest and train again. It’s kept life more structured for me and it’s actually helped me as a fighter and as a man, with business and with training.
“Everything is more structured, as it should be, and that’s the key to getting to the high, high level. You must have structure. It’s been eye-opening and amazing and it’s only been three months. So many good times are ahead.”
This is a man totally at peace with himself and where he is in his life, as an athlete and as a man.
It’s still more far likely that Mayweather drubs him and wins most of the rounds while making McGregor look bad.
But have no doubt: McGregor is ready for the moment. If there is one prediction you can book confidently, it’s that win or lose, Conor McGregor won’t wilt under the bright lights in Las Vegas.