On Saturday night, in the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip, Floyd Mayweather will defeat Conor McGregor. The great old pro will dismantle the MMA vet turned boxing newcomer, securing a 50-0-0 record that will stand alone in boxing’s record books. McGregor will be outpaced, outclassed and, most simply, outboxed. Mayweather will win — every expert says so.
Unless, of course, he doesn’t.
Odds on this spectacle, even farce, of a fight opened heavily in Mayweather’s favor. In November, he was a -2250 favorite, roughly implying a 96 percent chance of victory. By mid-August, the money line had narrowed to -400, or about an 80 percent chance. The money has continued to pour in for McGregor. Many bettors, it seems, believe in the Irishman’s puncher’s chance.
But maybe it’s not even a punch that’ll end it. As one of us has suggested elsewhere, Mayweather’s best chance of losing may be suffering a pulmonary embolism or a brain aneurysm; drowning in his spit bucket or tripping on the way to the ring. Perhaps one of the fighters will do something untoward in the ring. One sportsbook is offering 9-to-1 odds that the fight ends in disqualification. Which makes sense, considering one of the boxers is barely even a boxer — and the chance of an errant kick is so high that it was considered in prefight negotiation.
Strange things happen in boxing. This is the sport where a parachutist later called Fan Man crashed into the ropes during a heavyweight championship fight, after all. And if something strange does happen, it won’t stand alone in the history books. It will join the ignominious ranks of …
Wolgast vs. Rivers
July 4, 1912
Ad Wolgast defeated Joe Rivers via a 13th-round knockout in Los Angeles County. Perhaps the inspiration for “Rocky II,” this grudge match featured both fighters landing simultaneous knockout blows, then crumpling to the canvas. The referee reached the count of 10 and the bout was over, yet for some inexplicable reason he gave the victory to Wolgast on the basis that he had attempted to rise before being counted out. Compounding the confusion, the timekeeper at ringside had only reached a count of four. The referee’s verdict was upheld amid immense backlash, as Rivers’s camp claimed he had been fouled. They famously produced a considerably dented metal foul protector as evidence for their case, which made headlines across the country.
Dempsey vs. Sharkey
July 21, 1927
The fight, held at Yankee Stadium, between Jack Dempsey and Jack Sharkey, guaranteed the victor a shot at the greatest title in sports, then worn by world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. A crowd of over 82,000 was in attendance to watch the former champ, 32-year-old Dempsey, in his second-to-last fight, square off against 7-to-5 favorite Sharkey in the hopes of avenging his previous loss to Tunney. It was clear by the early rounds that all 82,000 fans and press row were watching Dempsey grow old over the night. Sharkey was handily beating his professed idol when, in the seventh round, Dempsey landed a slew of low blows. When Sharkey protested to the referee, Dempsey delivered a vicious left hook to the chin while Sharkey was mid-sentence. Sharkey did not finish his sentence; Dempsey won by knockout. He later fondly remembered the punch as, “one of the last good punches of my life … His chin was sticking out there, unprotected. I couldn’t miss.”
Sharkey vs. Schmeling
June 12, 1930
With heavyweight champion Tunney having recently retired and vacated his title, promoters scrambled to bring Germany’s Max Schmeling and the New York-born Sharkey in front of a packed Yankee Stadium to fill the void left in Tunney’s wake. Despite winning the first few rounds, Sharkey made a strange decision in the fourth when he abruptly teed off on Schmeling’s groin with a savage blow that dropped the German contender. Bedlam ensued, prompted by Schmeling’s manager storming the ring in protest. The referee disqualified Sharkey and raised the hand of Schmeling. It was the first time the heavyweight championship had been won on a foul. Schmeling became ignominiously known in the American press as the “low-blow champion.”
Ali vs. Liston
May 25, 1965
Muhammad Ali had been a 7-to-1 underdog when he stole Sonny Liston’s crown in 1964 — a strange match in itself that included Ali being temporarily blinded by a foreign substance allegedly from Liston’s gloves and ended with Liston refusing to come out for the seventh round. In the time between the February 1964 match and the rematch in May of 1965, Ali converted to Islam, changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and his friend Malcolm X was assassinated. It would be an understatement to say that the rematch swirled with controversy. Ahead of the rematch, Liston was considered a 13-to-5 favorite. Midway through the first round of the fight, a looping right hand later dubbed a “phantom punch,” crumpled Liston to the canvas while Ali danced around the ring. The crowd began to roar, “Fix! Fix!” Hall of Fame commentator Don Dunphy didn’t buy that it was a legitimate knockdown, stating, “If that was a punch, I’ll eat it. Here was a guy who was in prison and the guards used to beat him over the head with clubs and couldn’t knock him down.”
Duran vs. Leonard
Nov. 25, 1980
Only five months after handing superstar “Sugar” Ray Leonard his first humiliating loss and taking his title in Montreal, Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran returned to meet Leonard at the New Orleans Superdome for one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches in boxing history. Duran had eaten everything in sight after his victory in June and ballooned up almost to the class of a heavyweight before crash dieting and horrifically sweating his way back down to the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. Leonard had counted on this when he pushed to have the rematch as quickly as possible. After being humiliated for eight exhausting rounds, Duran finally gave up and —or so the popular story goes — uttered “no más” to referee Octavio Meyran. Duran followed up the shocking conclusion to the fight by announcing his retirement from the sport. (He’d return to the ring less than a year later.)
Bowe vs. Golota
July 11, 1996
Riddick Bowe was coming off a victory in the third match of his blood-feud trilogy with Evander Holyfield when he squared off against undefeated contender Andrew Golota in Madison Square Garden. Bowe had mostly refused to train for the fight on the basis of his public dismissal of Golota as a “bum.” Golota took control of the fight, but his biggest obstacle to victory became his devotion to excessively fouling Bowe with egregious, swung-shovel-like low blows. After repeated warnings failed to improve Golota’s accuracy, the referee began deducting points. He took three away before offering a final warning that a further low blow would cost Golota the fight. Golota continued to dominate the fight while unleashing perhaps his most sadistic barrage below the belt one final time with 30 seconds left in the seventh round. A massive riot ensued, and police, security and fans clashed in what would be remembered as the “Riot at the Garden.” Five months later, in Atlantic City, Bowe and Golota fought a hotly anticipated rematch. Golota repeated his domination of Bowe and his desire to ruthlessly foul him, leading to a ninth-round disqualification.
Lewis vs. McCall
Feb. 7, 1997
Oliver McCall, for most of his career a distinguished journeyman, was best known as Mike Tyson’s sparring partner before handing heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis his first professional loss in a shocking upset in September 1994. Their rematch more than two years later was arguably the most bizarre heavyweight title fight; by the end of the third round, fans no doubt knew they were witnessing something nobody could have predicted. Before the closing bell to end the round, McCall had dropped his hands and looked despondent. When he came out for the fourth and fifth rounds, McCall spontaneously became a pacifist. Referee Mills Lane noticed McCall’s lips quivering before he began to cry. The fight was stopped in the fifth round.
Holyfield vs. Tyson
June 28, 1997
When the washed-up Evander Holyfield was announced as Mike Tyson’s next opponent after Tyson had secured his second title belt on the way to unification, the opening odds for their November 1996 match made Holyfield a 25-to-1 underdog. The referee stopped the fight in the 11th round after Tyson was sent stumbling into the ropes. A rematch, which drew enormous interest, took place the following year. Holyfield quickly proved to both the world and Tyson that his first victory hadn’t been a fluke. And Tyson’s response became the defining moment of his career. With 39 seconds left in the third round, Tyson’s leaned over and tore a chunk of Holyfield’s ear lobe off with his teeth. Before the round was out, he savagely attacked Holyfield again in the same way and was disqualified.