Why Conor McGregor is a huge winner in defeat

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

LAS VEGAS – Conor McGregor was all but out on his feet, legs gassed, punches lacking conviction, just wandering around trying to tie up Floyd Mayweather in the 10th round.

Mayweather kept teeing off before referee Robert Byrd stepped in and ended it, ended what may prove to be the richest prize fight in history, ended what turned out to be far more competitive and compelling than many predicted, ended whatever pipe dream McGregor had of actually pulling this thing off.

McGregor complained about the stoppage, although not because he felt he was capable of staging a comeback victory.

It was out of a sense of honor.

“Let the man put me down,” McGregor said.

No, Conor McGregor didn’t win the boxing match Saturday. He won his share of everything else though, earning respect for lasting as long as he did, taking the early rounds as Mayweather let him tire out, and then standing tall in defeat and actually asking for more.

“Let me go down,” McGregor said.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. lands against Conor McGregor in their boxing match Saturday night in Las Vegas. (AP)

Floyd Mayweather finished this thing Saturday, by TKO at 1:05 of the 10th. There was no controversy. There was no doubt. He was the far superior fighter. He moved to 50-0 and then promptly retired again, this time, at age 40, possibly for good. Maybe best of all for him, this was the way he wanted to go out, with a stoppage, with some excitement, with a performance that gave fans what they paid to see.

“I owed them for the [Manny] Pacquiao fight,” Mayweather said of the 2015 dud, the last blockbuster he was in.

Yet it is McGregor’s future that is so intriguing coming out of this. He arrived at the post-fight news conference in an over-the-top suit, draining a bottle of what he said is his soon-to-be released whiskey brand.

“Oh, that whiskey tastes so good,” he shouted. “Notorious Irish Whiskey, coming soon. And this is delicious, so keep an eye out for it.”

This was not the typical face of a loser. McGregor is now 0-1 as a professional boxer after getting worn out and figured out. But this was anything but the sham many said it would be.

“I was not badly damaged there,” McGregor said. “It was fatigue.”

“When you get into professional boxing, you fight four rounds, six rounds,” UFC president Dana White said of the typical build-up of a fighter. “He went 10 rounds with one of the greatest to ever do it.”

It was inherent on McGregor, making his first professional boxing appearance, to make this into anything other than a money-grab farce. He delivered on that, via an unorthodox style and some moments where he at least put Mayweather in danger.

No, he was never going to win, especially when he couldn’t hurt Mayweather early. He managed to land 111 punches on Mayweather in 10 rounds, though. Canelo Alvarez landed only 117 in a full 12. Pacquiao connected on just 81 in his 12 rounds against Mayweather, one of nine Mayweather fights that went the distance that featured less than 100 punches landed on the champ.

“He’s a lot better than I thought he’d be,” Mayweather said. “He’s a tough competitor. … He kind of shocked me.”

Mostly, though, McGregor used the promotion to make himself a mainstream international star. He’ll earn maybe $100 million himself when all is said and done. And everything is on the table.

Boxing?

“If they want me to come over and box again, then we can talk,” McGregor said. “The checks are not bad.”

The UFC?

“I have a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz that is just sitting there,” McGregor said. “I’ve already been raising the MMA checks. So don’t get it twisted. I’m going to raise it even more when I go back there.”

He can pick whatever he wants. He can even start some feud with another big-name boxer, maybe Pacquiao or maybe Alvarez, or maybe Gennady Golovkin. Who knows what he comes up with? No one ever thought he’d get here.

“If he chooses to, he definitely has a future in boxing,” Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions said. “To be able to last as long as he did, he’s a very tough competitor. He has a big heart. He showed a lot, especially this being his professional debut.”

Experience hovered over everything here. Mayweather knew he could wait and let McGregor fade.

“Our game plan was to take our time, go to him, let him shoot his shots early and then take him down the stretch,” Mayweather said.

“That’s what 50 pro fights will do for you,” McGregor said. “He’s not 50-0 for no reason.”

Still, McGregor leaves Vegas a very, very wealthy man and a very, very famous man and a very, very powerful man. He won in defeat. He succeeded on this crazy dare. He went toe-to-toe with the best of the best and never fell. Then, like a true warrior, begged for more, complained that Mayweather didn’t get his fair chance to leave him flat out on the canvas.

“I’ve been strangled on live TV and came back,” McGregor said, referencing a 2016 loss to Diaz. “So I really wish [Byrd] had let it go.”

Whatever. Soon he was draining some more whiskey and toasting himself.

“Something will be next,” he promised.

Still Notorious, and bigger than ever.

More Mayweather-McGregor coverage from Yahoo Sports:
Mayweather picks up big TKO win over McGregor
McGregor unhappy with stoppage: ‘Let the man put me down!’
Sports world reacts to Mayweather’s 50th career win
Why was Floyd Mayweather wearing a ski mask?