When I walked into the Yankees clubhouse this morning, the first thing Brett Gardner said to me was, “Well? What do you think?’’
I knew he wasn’t asking me about the struggles of Aroldis Chapman or the plight of Colin Kaepernick or Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio.
He, like many of his teammates, wanted to know who would win tonight’s “fight’’ between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
I could have pointed out the obvious, that the very thought that a man who has never had a professional boxing match could beat the most talented fighter –notice I didn’t say “best’’ or “most exciting’’ – of our generation, was laughable.
Instead, I gave him an example he could more easily relate to.
“What if the New England Patriots challenged you guys to a baseball game?,’’ I said. “Who would win?’’
“I would hope we would,’’ he said.
In truth, the Yankees would win big, even with Chapman closing.
And just as true, if the Yankees challenged the Patriots to a football game, they would get crushed, even with Aaron Judge at defensive end.
And that is the simple truth that few seem to grasp about this freak show masquerading as a boxing match.
Nobody wins playing the other guy’s game. Unless, of course, he is equally good at it.
And not even the most rabid McGregor maniacs would try to make the argument that their man is as good at boxing as Floyd Mayweather.
This is not to say it is impossible for Conor McGregor to win tonight. Boxing matches are contest between human beings, and probably the greatest test of the human courage, determination and resourcefulness that sports has to offer.
Unlike other sports, there are no timeouts, no substitutions, nowhere for the fighter to turn for help but inward. And unlike MMA, the option of “tapping out’’ does not exist. In boxing, it’s called quitting, and it’s a scarlet letter that even a fighter as great as Roberto Duran will wear to the end of his days.
But all fighters, being human beings, are made of the same stuff, and anyone’s flesh can be split and brain can be rattled by a punch. That includes Floyd Mayweather. Like anyone else, he can be hit, and hurt. But unlike most, he rarely has been, by fighters a lot more skillful than Conor McGregor.
And there is always the possibility that after two years of inactivity the 40-year-old Mayweather will wake up on fight day feeling like he’s 50. Even great fighters can become shot fighters overnight. Ask Muhammad Ali.
But another thing most people don’t understand is that boxing is probably the least random of all our sports. While there have been plenty of terrible decisions, there are no bad hops in boxing and no Immaculate Receptions. The ball doesn’t take funny bounces. And the fantasy of the “lucky punch’’ – the so-called Puncher’s Chance – doesn’t exist at the level at which Mayweather fights. All things being equal, meaning weight, skill level, physical conditioning and mental toughness, the best fighter wins 99 times out of 100. And the truth is, in a boxing match nothing is equal between Mayweather and McGregor.
The very idea that McGregor, on a just a couple of months training, could come in and beat Mayweather at a game he has mastered is just another example of the lack of respect boxing hodls among fans in comparison with other sports.
No one in his right mind would think the Patriots, after a couple of turns in the batting cage, could come to Yankee stadium and beat the Yankees, or that the Yankees, after shooting a few free throws, could successfully take on the Golden State Warriors.
And yet, we constantly hear pseudo-tough guys bragging about how they would step into the ring with Mike Tyson for a million bucks. They confuse “fighting’’ with boxing, which is a skill every bit as complex and demanding as championship chess, ballroom dancing, or throwing a 100 mile per hour fastball. And yet, the average guy, who would never purport to believe he could hit Chapman’s fastball, pick off Tom Brady or dunk over Lebron, thinks just about anyone could do it.
The prime example is when former NFLer Dan Dierdorf, elevated to television boxing analyst a few years back in a particularly ill-fated move, claimed he knew a lot about the sport because he had been in many street fights. As soon as he opened his mouth while announcing a fight, it was clear he knew a lot less than he thought.
The point is, it’s not that easy even for guys who know what they’re doing in the ring, and no one has figured out a way to beat Floyd Mayweather yet. Not Oscar dela Hoya, or Manny Pacquiao or Shane Mosley or Zab Judah or Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez, terrific professional fighters all.
To think Conor McGregor can is to be foolish, and more than a little disrespectful, of both Mayweather and the sport.
This “fight,’’ if that is what you want to call is, will go exactly the way Floyd Mayweather wants it to. If he wants to go the distance, he’ll go the distance. If feels like humiliating McGregor, he will. If he truly dislikes the guy – and he’s been given plenty of reason to – you might even see his first KO since 2011.
It’s Floyd’s game and he knows how to play it. Conor McGregor doesn’t. He’s there for the ride, the paycheck, and the desperate hope that somehow, he can get lucky.
But in the end, Conor McGregor will turn out to be the latest in a long line of average guys to learn that boxing isn’t nearly as easy as it looks from a ringside seat.