Punching power is a complicated subject to talk about. Everyone has their own ideas on what gives certain fighters the ability to part others from their consciousness. In the wake of Saturday’s fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, now is as good a time as any to talk about the myths of power punching.
In the build up to this fight, a huge part of the narrative was the balance of power. The story-line going in was that while Mayweather was the more skilled boxer, McGregor brought with him fight ending power. He is well known for his ability to produce knockouts, while Mayweather had not successfully ended a fight in nearly six years. He was well known for his brittle hands, and had the reputation of a safe fighter who fought for points.
However when the rubber hit the road, it was Mayweather who turned out to have the stopping power. While this will undoubtedly lead to cries over glove size, and theoretical matches taking place in a “real fight” scenario, the fact of the matter is that punching power does not work the way most people think it does. There are many facets that go into creating a power puncher. Not all of them are within the body of the fighter.
The Myths of punching power and how Floyd Mayweather stopped Conor McGregor
A Brief Aside On Natural Power
Natural power is as rare as hens teeth. People who have the ability to shut off anyone’s lights with one punch are few and far between in the world of combat sports. They tend to congregate in the heavier weight classes, because mass matters. The more weight someone puts behind their punches, the more force they generate. It should come as no surprise to anyone that a near 300 pound monster like Derrick Lewis can send men crashing to the canvas with one shot.
The lower the weight class, the rarer true natural power punchers become. Men like Justin Gaethje and Gennady Golovkin are exceptions among power punchers because of their ability to seemingly defy the rules of power punching with every shot they throw.
Many people have placed Conor McGregor in the category of natural power puncher. His finishing rate is so outstanding, and his victories are so high-profile, that to many people his power seems almost supernatural. But McGregor as a power puncher is more skill than natural power. His knockouts have always relied on three key components: creating collisions with his opponents to generate force, being tremendously accurate, and hitting his opponents when they think they are safe.
To put power into a punch, you need to generate force. To generate force, you need mass and the ability to accelerate it. While getting bigger and hitting faster are one answer to adding mass and acceleration, it can only take you so far. If you are smart however, you can use your opponent to increase both of these factors, thereby increasing the power of your punch. If a car is going 50 mph and it hits the back of a car going 45 mph, the impact is much less than if the other car was travelling towards it at 45 mph.
Conor McGregor likes to establish a long distance in MMA. Standing with his feet wide, he will throw out kicks and non-committal punches, and wait for his opponents to come to him. By convincing them to rush in, he can add their mass and momentum to the power of his punch. His infamous knockout of José Aldo is a perfect example of him baiting an opponent into charging, then running their face into his fist.
That backstepping left hand has long been the cornerstone of McGregor’s game. It is by far his most damaging punch, and it is no coincidence that his power seems that much more devastating when his opponent is adding their weight and momentum to his power. This is aided by his accuracy.
The Importance Of Accuracy
Creating knockouts and winning decisions is a game of inches. The amount of force required to knock out a person depends on where it lands. It takes more to damage an opponent hitting the top of their skull as opposed to cracking them on their temple. Being an effective power puncher is about putting your power in the right places.
In the olden days of pugilism, many fighters aimed for ‘the bulb’, a cluster of nerves under the right eye that was believed to produce knockouts. These days, the consensus target is the jawline and the temples. Conor McGregor has become famous for his ability to find a fighters chin. His love of taking the inside angle when committing to his left hand. This puts him at risk of his opponents right hand, but also offers him a clear path to their chin. You will often see McGregor in a position where his opponent is backed up to the cage and he is standing to the open side of them, throwing his power hand through the gap in their guard.
McGregor is not limited to just the inside left straight for a clean punch. His calmness under fire makes him adept at finding his opponents chin even when they cover up.
The Element Of Surprise
McGregor’s accuracy is only partly responsible for his success with the inside angle left hand. A huge advantage of taking the inside angle is that it is indistinguishable from your opponent seizing the outside angle. In the battle of southpaw vs. orthodox, fighters are taught to circle away form their opponents power hand. They are drilled to understand that circling towards their opponents weak side makes them safe.
McGregor is so long that he can let his opponents circle out, take a small pivot, and punch across himself to hit his opponents chin.
Against Diego Brandao.
Against Chad Mendes.
Against Dennis Siver.
There is an old soldier saying that you never hear the shell that kills you. The idea also applies to fighting. The punch that you don’t see is what will do the damage.
The fact McGregor is so adept at landing when his opponents think they are in the process of outmaneuvering him is a huge part of how they end up being so badly hurt by his punches. If you are not braced to take a punch, it becomes much easier to hurt someone.
Learning From The Master
Conor McGregor is well versed in the principles of power punching. However, his opponents normally are not. If McGregor sets a distance and asks them to cross it, they normally oblige. If he pressures them, they fall into the trap of thinking they are keeping their own safe range, only to find out the hard way they are still in his. But normally are not always.
When McGregor fought Nate Diaz and Max Holloway, McGregor met opponents who would not dive after him, who knew range just as well as McGregor, and who had the eyes to see McGregor’s shots coming. Both of these fighters managed to take McGregor the distance. Both ate hard power shots, both are known for their incredible chins, but the fact remained that neither man made the mistake of adding fuel to McGregor’s power by moving in to it, neither made the mistake of relaxing while still inside McGregor’s range, and neither made their chin easy targets.
When Mayweather met McGregor in the ring, he introduced McGregor to a frighteningly familiar form of fighting. From the get go McGregor was looking to fill the space between them with volume, then walk Mayweather onto a counter as he looked to return fire. In the very first round, he succeeded in scoring a beautiful counter uppercut.
In another fight, this may have been the end. However, Mayweather did not commit his weight to the blow. He seemed to acknowledge the fact that he was about to get hit, and rode the punch upwards. He was expecting an attack, even while on offence.
As the rounds went on, Mayweather continued to ride McGregor’s punches and take steam off them. The ability to move with punches is an essential part of boxing defence. To use the car analogy again, if you can take your momentum off your opponents punch instead of adding to it, you can get hit with hard punches and not get hurt.
Riding punches is not the only way to take power out of them. Unlike many of his previous fights, Mayweather fought much of this bout with a high guard.
Taking punches on your gloves is a much more viable option in boxing than MMA. The extra size allows fighters to cover large areas of their face, protecting vulnerable areas like the chin and temples. Throughout the bout, Mayweather denied McGregor clean shots at his chin by keeping his gloves high and tight.
As the rounds wore on and McGregor tired (due to Mayweather’s phenomenal strategic approach, a subject worth an article in its own right), Mayweather began to land his own punches. While he has never been known as a knockout puncher, Mayweather’s shots clearly affected McGregor as the fight wore on. What allowed the relatively light puncher to land such telling blows on an iron chinned opponent came from his ability to land punches cleanly and when they were not expected. Time and time again, Mayweather rattled McGregor with right hands. Many of these came as McGregor was either trying to land punches or backing out of an exchange. Both of these situations were times when his mind was not entertaining the possibility of being hit, and his body was not able to roll with the blows.
As the fight wore on, the effect of these shots became more and more pronounced.
The flurry that set up the ending sequence contained probably the hardest punch McGregor has absorbed in his entire career. First a faked right hand to draw McGregor’s pull. Then the real thing smashed home, right as he thought he had escaped punching range.
By the time this fight was stopped, McGregor was being battered around the ring. While many fans will point to his consciousness and claim he wasn’t ‘really’ knocked out, it is undeniable that this fight saw McGregor be moved around and react to punches more than any other fight in his career. All by a smaller, 40 year old man known for his brittle hands and lack of knockout power.
The story coming into this fight was that of people claiming McGregor had all the power. The story coming out was that his power is overblown, and Floyd’s is undersold. What really is the case, however, is that power is more science than people think. McGregor is not secretly pillow-fisted, and Mayweather has not been shunning an untapped well of punching power that has gone largely unused for the last decade.
Floyd Mayweather took away from McGregor’s power by keeping his chin protected, moving with punches, and not letting himself be lulled into rushing. He then added to his own power by landing cleanly to McGregor’s chin at moments when McGregor thought he was safe, or had his mind occupied with trying to land punches.
Power punching is always going to be a relative factor. An opponent with good defence can drastically reduce a punchers effective power. Conversely an opponent with bad awareness can turn any puncher into a knockout artist. The myth of power punching is that the puncher in the matchup only has to land one. The truth of the matter is that not all punches are delivered equally, and every puncher needs a partner.
To make the spectacular knockouts, you need to manufacture situations where you can maximize your power. That is the true skill behind making knockouts happen. Under the right circumstances, anyone can be a knockout puncher, from Holly Holm to Michael Bisping. Rather than any narrative about MMA vs. Boxing, that is the real message fans and fighters alike should be taking away from this fight.