Mayweather/McGregor: Is It A Cinch In The Clinch?
If there is one thing Floyd Mayweather is better at than dodging punches, it’s throwing punches at the negotiating table. Few boxers have protected their own ass better than Floyd when it comes to ensuring the rules are in his favor. Like the former Mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, once said, "I’m not there to play to see who’s gonna win the game. When you’re playing on my court and my field and I own the referees, you ain’t gonna beat me."
If the first press conference for the Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight is any indication, Mayweather is at the top of his game. From the get-go, it was obvious Mayweather wasn't giving McGregor an inch. The format all but neutered McGregor's greatest strength of out-dueling opponents verbally in back-and-forth exchanges as McGregor was forced to give an Oscar-like speech that dragged for minutes on end. Then when Mayweather got his turn, he had no opposition against his screams of 'Hard work!' For the briefest moment, McGregor managed to grab a mic, but it mysteriously died. Mayweather's fingerprints were everywhere. (Luckily for us, Floyd Sr. decided to give McGregor exactly what he wanted by crashing The Notorious' post-press presser. "It's your fault, Senior!")
You can rest assured that no stone has been left unturned by Mayweather. If the fight was a mismatch on paper, in practice, it becomes a herculean task for McGregor playing against the house.
Put them side-by-side and measure their games and the advantages are decidedly in Mayweather’s favor in almost every way. Experience? Check. Defensive savvy? Check. Ringcraft (ring, not Octagon)? Check. Punch variety? Check. Boxing IQ? Check. Positioning? Check. Proven ability to fight twelve rounds? Check. Work rate? Check. Quickness? Check.
If we want to give McGregor some checkmarks, we can safely assume that his reflexes are on par with Mayweather, has better power, and is undoubtedly larger. But physical advantages are a wash when nearly every other category is in the other fighters’ favor. If you have great reflexes, your opponents punch variety will leave you flinching and failing to pull the trigger. If you’re larger, you’re opponent’s ringcraft will have you chasing them around the ring and prevent you from imposing it. If you have better power, your opponent’s defensive savvy and positioning will leave you swinging at air.
All of these factors have one thing in common: Mayweather’s ability to move. Only if Mayweather were to stand still would the fight become more interesting. If there is one facet of the fight that, more than any other, would be to McGregor’s advantage and arguably favor McGregor, it’s the clinch. Faras Zahabi made the point in another one of his excellent analysis videos on YouTube.
The clinch in boxing and in MMA were once distant cousins. In recent years, the MMA version has brought itself closer into the boxing family. When once the MMA clinch was the beginnings of a takedown, it has evolved to become a node for an entirely new set of options in grappling but increasingly more in striking.
A brief history of the clinch reveals the two uses of the clinch. The Randy Couture’s of the world used the clinch to get the takedown (using the clinch to, for a time, successfully stifle the larger, more powerful Brock Lesnar). While the Anderson Silva's used the clinch to pommel Rich Franklin’s head and knee him until he wilted.
Though Silva’s use of the Thai clinch did not spark a sudden revolution, it was one of the best early examples of the clinch’s function for battering an opponent with strikes in close. Suddenly, a space once dominated by wrestlers was revealed to have an alternative use.
The most famous recent example would be Jon Jones’ use of the clinch against Daniel Cormier. Bones parked Cormier’s back against the cage for long stretches, fought for wrist control to move Cormier’s guard, and then battered DC’s face with elbows and dug deep body shots. The clinch was used to control and bludgeon the former Olympian against the cage. You would be hard pressed these days to see an MMA fight where one fighter isn’t initializing a clinch to work in close-quarters striking exchanges.
In boxing, the use of the clinch to batter an opponent in close quarters is a practice as old as the fossilized gum on the floor of the Garden in NYC. The clinch has been the deep end that dirty boxers have drowned opponents for decades. Books have been written on how to dirty box in the clinch.
Should McGregor be allowed to work in clinch and use all his boxing tools there, he can be very, very competitive. If we go by virtue of a 10,000-hours ethos, McGregor has spent years of time becoming effective in the clinch by virtue of training as a grappler and as a striker. No one area in MMA overlaps between the two sports as closely. The movements and actions, the escapes, the positioning, will all be tools McGregor has had years of honing that apply. While in space, everything McGregor has trained for changes in a boxing ring. In close, body-to-body, the size and shape of the space disappears.
The clinch would allow McGregor an avenue to keep Mayweather in position to be hit. His size would then become a factor. His power then comes back into equation. His unproven ability to fight 12 rounds is then negated because he can wear out Mayweather. He could conceivably frustrate Mayweather.
Part of the excitement around McGregor in this fight is the undermentioned factor that he will be free to throw hands without worrying about Mayweather going for his hips (McGregor alluded to this himself at the presser - fewer tools to use, more simplified). Without fear of takedowns, McGregor can be free to draw Mayweather forward in the clinch to position him for uppercuts, a tactic in MMA utilized only by those with incredible takedown defence or a lack of brainpower. It also means McGregor can drop his own head low and in tight without the fear Mayweather will slap him into a front headlock or slip on a guillotine choke.
As we saw against Nate Diaz, a larger opponent than McGregor, the Irishman held his own in taxing, physical clinch exchanges. Flip the script and make McGregor the bigger man, it is conceivable that McGregor can make hay there.
This doesn’t’ discount that Floyd is, in many cases, is a tremendous clinch fighter. The clinch could arguably be his domain as all the others. But the point still stands that of all the areas in which McGregor's career as a mixed martial artist has prepared him for a boxing bout, it's in close.
Of course, all of this is a big ‘if’. Because as we discussed at the top, Mayweather is always playing by house rules. The clinch has become the place fighters are given the least leeway in a Mayweather fight. Referees don’t stand by long when a Mayweather opponent works for position in close-quarters. Plying an advantage there is like raising on a pocket pair in pre-flop poker – it’s an advantage that only lasts until a few more cards are on the table.
If we tune in on August 26 and McGregor can get his hands on Mayweather early and gets the time to work there, we may have to be ready to pull our feet out of our mouths.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster