Opinion: Why Conor McGregor Can (And Can’t) Win on Fight Night

Fight Night is almost here, as Conor McGregor is set to square off against Floyd Mayweather in a much-hyped matchup. This is perhaps the first and most noteworthy time that an MMA star has crossed over into the boxing realm to fight one of its most prolific champions, and the stars will be out for this occasion.

Conventional wisdom holds that Floyd will defeat his challenger handily. In 49 professional matches, Floyd has never been beaten. So why can (and can’t) Conor McGregor win on Fight Night?

Let’s start with why Conor can’t win. Floyd has honed his boxing over decades of work, and he is regarded as one of the best defensive boxers in history. There’s no question that he is one of if not the most skilled boxer alive today. In any sport or activity, whether it is baseball, basketball, or football, there are many occasions where skill trumps athleticism. The biggest football team doesn’t win all the time; the one with the finer motor skills—running precise routes, timely passing, catching balls—and better strategy often does. The same can be said of boxing. How can you time the perfect punch, that hits just the right spot with the most force, at just the moment when your opponent least expects it? Or avoid this entirely over the course of 12 rounds?

So why are people still giving Conor a chance? Skill usually wins, but the wildcard that can turn the betting tables is athleticism. Here, it’s a broader term referring to Conor’s ability to adapt his motor skills for boxing.

This transfer of learning is a widely studies topic in the field of motor learning. Research has shown that transfer of skills occurs best from general to specific (1), which is exactly the direction that Conor is going in. Research also shows that better movement capacity and motor skill development at a young age leads to better fitness and more physical activity in later life (2). This makes sense; moving well early on makes it easier to stay active as you get older.

All this is meant to say that Conor has the fitness to adapt and is one hell of a fighter in the broad discipline of MMA. But is Conor athletic enough, and has he been practicing long enough to fine-tune his fighting skillset to beat Floyd and bypass decades of boxing experience? We’ll find out tonight.

by Jeremy Lau

 
1. O’Keeffe, S.L., Harrison, A.J., & Smyth, P.J. (2007). Transfer or specificity? An applied investigation into the relationship between fundamental overarm throwing and related sport skills. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 12(2), 89-102.

2. Stodden D.F., Goodway, J.D., Langendorfer, S.J., Roberton, M.A., Rudisill, M.E., Garcia, C., et al. (2008). A developmental perspective on the role of motor skill competence in physical activity: An emergent relationship. Quest, 60, 290-306.