LAS VEGAS — In the end, the equation we all knew coming in turned out to be true: The best boxer in the world beat one of the best mixed martial artists in a boxing match.
How we got there, however, was completely surprising.
In his return from a two-year retirement, Floyd Mayweather improved to 50-0 with a 10th-round TKO over an incredibly game Conor McGregor in their pay-per-view superfight at T-Mobile Arena. But the storyline was just as much about McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, in defeat than it was about the 40-year-old Mayweather in victory.
McGregor, 29, who was making his debut as a boxer, never fought reckless or overly aggressive, in contrast to his prediction of a first-round knockout. What he did was present Mayweather with a poised and credible challenge, teasing a bright future in the boxing game should he consider it.
“He’s a lot better than I thought he was,” Mayweather said. “He used different angles. He was a tough competitor, but I was the better man tonight.
“We talked about how he’s a tough competitor, and I think we gave the fans what they wanted to see. I chose a hell of a dance partner to dance with. Conor McGregor, you are a hell of a champion.”
Mayweather, who officially announced his retirement after the fight, was true to his prediction throughout the fight’s build when he promised it wouldn’t go the distance. He also stuck to his guns about standing in front of McGregor looking for a finish.
After a slow start in which Mayweather gave away the first three rounds in order to pick up McGregor’s rhythms, the former pound-for-pound king began his attack.
Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) focused on the body in the middle rounds in an effort to zap McGregor’s gas tank. The investment began to pay off as McGregor looked weary late in Round 7. Two rounds later, McGregor was lucky to make the final bell as Mayweather wobbled him with right hands.
“He’s a tough competitor” Mayweather said. “Our game plan was to take our time, let him shoot all his heavy shots early and then take him out at the end down the stretch.”
Round 10 was all Mayweather as he walked down the fading Irishman with right hands. After a clean combination against the ropes, referee Robert Byrd jumped in at 1:05 to wave off the fight.
“I thought it was close. Let me go down, let the man put me down,” McGregor said about the finish. “Wobbly and fatigued? I’m clear-headed. Let me wobble back to me corner. If they finished that round he’d be wobbling to the morgue.
“You’ve got to put me out. No one is taking these kinds of risks.”
Mayweather outlanded McGregor, 170 to 111, according to CompuBox, and landed 58 percent of his power shots. From Rounds 6-10, Mayweather outlanded his opponent by a count of 130-60.
At the time of the stoppage, Mayweather led on all three judges’ scorecards (87-83, 89-82, 89-81).
Although McGregor’s punching power began to fade along with his stamina, he stayed in the fight throughout the middle rounds by using activity and slap punches. He also did well to sneak in shots from the clinch without becoming too dirty.
In the end, McGregor never fought too far outside of boxing rules, which many had expected he would try once things got bad. Byrd gave both fighters a lengthy warning during the final seconds before the opening bell and was consistent in the amount of time he gave both fighters to work in the clinch before breaking them up. Byrd warned McGregor for rabbit punching twice — and both fighters for pushing — but never was in a position where a deduction was needed.
For all of the pre-fight predictions about McGregor struggling as a novice, the MMA star showed good technique and an overall respect for the sweet science. He also forced Mayweather to fight and avoided a one-sided performance in defeat that nearly all critics predicted.
“I thought I took the early rounds pretty easy,” McGregor said. “He’s composed. He’s not that fast, he’s not that powerful, but boy, is he composed.
“I turned [Mayweather] into a Mexican tonight. He fought like a Mexican.”
Mayweather, in his first fight since outpointing Andre Berto in September 2015, eclipsed the revered 49-0 mark of Rocky Marciano, who retired as unbeaten heavyweight champion.
“A win is a win, no matter how you get it,” Mayweather said. “Rocky Marciano is a legend, and I look forward to going into the Hall of Fame one day.
“This was my last fight tonight. For sure. Tonight was my last fight.”