Let’s get this out of the way first: Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor was more entertaining than expected. After the fight, McGregor’s first words on camera were, “I turned [Mayweather] into a Mexican tonight. He fought like a Mexican.” And though it sounds odd, especially for the many casual fans who watched the fight without knowing much of boxing’s lexicon and history, McGregor meant the words as high praise. But to understand why it’s high praise, or if it even fits within the money grab of a fight, we must first understand a few things about boxing history.
Two of boxing’s most distinctive fighting styles intertwine with aspects of race and ethnicity: the first is Black Code. As the name suggests, African-American boxers used this boxing style beginning in the early 1900s and into the middle part of the century. Black Code comes from discrimination and black boxers knowing there was no monetary value in easily defeating white opponents—who’d just avoid them. The key was to make it seem as if they barely defeated their white opponents while avoiding serious injuries that put the victory in jeopardy. A serious injury, beyond that fight, would also keep them from earning money since they had to nurse themselves back to health instead of boxing.
Therefore, the Black Code revolved around a defensive style which completely controlled their opponent. In fact, great African-American boxers of the early 20th century, like Jack Johnson and Sam Langford confessed to letting their white opponents last longer, instead of ending a fight when they could have. Many fans saw this defensive orientated fighting as inherently lazy and cowardly, which in their minds, reaffirmed their prejudices. Today, the so-called Black Code is all but extinct, with some rightfully claiming Mayweather is among the last to use it.
The stylistic opposite of Black Code is Mexican Style. Unlike its predecessor that relies on defense, the Mexican Style is offensive-minded, focusing secondarily on defense—if at all. Mexican Style emphasizes an aggressive attack, particularly body shots that wear down an opponent who, as the rounds progress, will instinctually lower their hands inch by inch to guard their midsection. And as their elbows fall closer to the ribs and kidneys, their head becomes exposed for a potential knockout. In contemporary times, Julio César Chávez represents what Mexican Style is, who explained it as, “very aggressive” while further adding, a Mexican fighter goes, “forward with great heart.”
As a comparison, Chávez added, “The American style is always that you run around, you try to be elusive. The Mexican style is much better. I never tried to be elusive.” A perfect example of Mexican Style and part of what turned Chávez into a national hero was his first fight against Meldrick Taylor. And though it had a controversial ending, no denying that as the fight wore on, Chávez’s punches took a toll on Taylor’s body. The punches slowed down the much quicker Taylor and forced his hands down far enough for Chávez to land a finishing shot to the head. This fight epitomized the Mexican Style; Mayweather’s showing against McGregor, despite what the latter says, did not.
McGregor’s claim both misrepresents what Mexican Style is while giving himself the benefit of doubt in changing how Mayweather fought. To say as much ignores that Mayweather—a notoriously defensive fighter—had to, first, lose complete respect for McGregor’s abilities and then, figuring he ran no risk of getting hurt, go on the offensive. This is exactly what happened.
After the fight, McGregor said he felt he’d won the early rounds before Mayweather changed his style—a change that McGregor was completely unprepared for, by his own admission. But anyone who has ever watched Mayweather fight understands that that’s exactly what he does. As usual, the first few rounds consisted of Mayweather on the defensive, attempting to figure out his opponent’s weaknesses. With McGregor, these flaws were obvious from the beginning as his jab was more of a slowly extending right hand that at times moved slightly faster than a Teddy Atlas fight breakdown demonstration. Throughout the fight, McGregor also turned from a southpaw to an orthodox stance, for only a few seconds at a time and for seemingly no reason at all besides wasting motion and energy. By the end of third round, McGregor was quickly tiring and Mayweather, like everyone else who knew what they were watching, understood he could not lose.
Beginning in the 4th round, Mayweather, no longer worried McGregor could hurt him, moved closer and boxed on the inside. At the end of the 5th round, as if still trying to sell what remained of the fight, Mayweather “pushed” McGregor, who by this point in the fight was too fatigued to even let off a primal scream that in earlier days he’d used, presumably, to convince us he could win.
By the 6th round, Mayweather continued attacking, at least compared to his usual Black Code style of fighting, while McGregor continued to showing himself lost as a boxer. At one point, with about 55 seconds left in the 7th round, he inexplicably ran towards Mayweather’s power hand, without even being forced to do so. This decision resulted in McGregor getting punched in the chin, knocked off-balance, and eating another left hand before continuing to walk backwards, away from Mayweather.
In the 9th round, Mayweather’s dominance continued as two of the three judges awarded him an 10-8 round. The score usually shows a knock down occurred during the round but McGregor never left his feet, he was just being completely controlled. Mercifully, the spectacle ended with the referee stopping the “fight” after Mayweather knocked McGregor backwards multiple times. And though he’d later complain of an early stoppage, when it occurred, McGregor wasn’t visibly upset as boxers often are when they feel they could have continued.
Remarkably, one narrative emerging from McGregor’s defeat was he earning a moral victory. Only a fighter who would never have to rely on a specific style of fighting to overcome the sport’s historic discrimination, could earn this distinction after losing a lopsided decision—which is what this was. All of McGregor’s supposed advantages, from age, size, and strength, count against him if he could not take advantage of them.
McGregor thoroughly lost to Mayweather; a fighter 12 years older and one who had not fought in almost 2 years. Mayweather was also likely outweighed by around 15 pounds on the night of the fight. And yet, despite having fragile hands and not having a knockout—technical or otherwise—since he controversially beat Victor Ortiz, 6 years ago, had the ref not stopped the fight, Mayweather likely drops McGregor before the fight ends. This is not even taking into account the horrible officiating that should have cost McGregor some points as he often hammer punched the back of Mayweather’s head and punched him while he hugged him from the back.
All of this adds up to Mayweather versus McGregor as an uncompetitive fight—maybe entertaining, but never close. And despite his insistence, McGregor did not turn Mayweather into a Mexican Style fighter. That, along with saying he tired, is just McGregor talking towards a potential rematch. Mayweather is who he has always been; a Black Code boxer who knew he had nothing to fear but still made it seem as if his white opponent had a chance.