Noun; the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain. Synonyms include astuteness, shrewdness, acuity and sharpness.
It’s a versatile word, used from business to academics to, you guessed it, athletics.
Athletics as in boxing.
For example, a mere week-and-a-half from one of the biggest athletic events in this generation, its use is in reference to the boxing acumen of Conor McGregor, who will take on Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. Its use is to acknowledge he is almost totally lacking in it on any meaningful level, and the world will soon see what that’s worth when he steps between the ropes.
Yet if you’ve followed McGregor up to this point, you’re probably comfortable suggesting he has everything else he needs to get the job done.
The lead-up to the fight has been rife with entirely factual, highly relevant points from McGregor, even amid his more problematic statements. Ever the salesman, he’s quick to point out the ways he’s a unique threat to Mayweather. One particular rant at a group of bystanders outside of Madison Square Garden earlier this year, angrier than many he’s indulged in since this circus came to town, was instructive:
“I’m the boxing guy, watch me take over boxing!” he bellowed to an onlooker, as Fight Hub TV captured (warning: link contains NSFW language). “No one in this boxing game knows what’s coming. Trust me on that. When I step in there, I’m going to shock the whole goddamned world.”
He continued, eyes increasingly wild: “Look me in the eyes! Twenty-eight years of age! Confident as a motherf–ker, long, rangy, dangerous with every hand!
“Trust me, I’m gonna stop Floyd! You’re all gonna eat your words; the whole world is gonna eat their words!”
He makes some good points.
If one looks past the idea of McGregor‘s limited boxing acumen for a moment, there is reason to think the Irishman has some things going for him. If there weren’t, nearly $100 on pay-per-view and God only knows how much to get in the building on fight night wouldn’t be possible.
Even though McGregor just turned 29 in July, he is over a decade younger than Mayweather. He is long and rangy in a way that few Mayweather opponents have been. He is confident and dangerous with each hand.
And that’s only one short clip of McGregor‘s ranting his way through New York while visions of dollar signs flash in his head.
He doesn’t touch on other elements of his game, like his sheer density for a 154-pounder, the unpredictability he’ll have on his side or his vaunted, almost admirable ability to believe in himself no matter the odds.
While McGregor acknowledges his own length and range, look at his only UFC fight at 155 pounds (UFC 205 last November) and see how bulky he is at that weight. Look at the size of his arms and back compared to those of Eddie Alvarez, the then-lightweight champion with 170-pound fights under his belt. Look at how easily and freely he moves that enormous frame around and how he lands punches from range, both off counters and when getting off first.
Against Mayweather, who has fought as low as 130 pounds and only rarely at 154 pounds in his career, that is a legitimate advantage.
Consider also his unpredictability in combat. Some of it is on display in the Alvarez fight, even though MMA lends itself to unpredictability more so than boxing.
McGregor‘s head coach, John Kavanagh, told The 42 in June 2017 after the Mayweather bout was announced:
“I believe we have a number of advantages going into this fight. Often, people who are experts in a certain field will tell you that it can actually be more awkward to deal with somebody who’s not from the same field. They’d rather deal with the top contender from their own discipline because he’ll move in a way that you assume he’ll move.
“Mayweather has been in the boxing world for his entire career, and everyone he’s faced has moved in a certain way that he’s preconditioned to handle. Now he’s going up against a guy who doesn’t follow any set patterns, who can deploy a variety of different styles of fighting and is not one bit intimidated. Conor is—as we all are here—100 percent confident in victory. That kind of person is very difficult to deal with.”
This is an astute observation from Kavanagh—one that will be confirmed by many professional athletes across many different sports if you ask.
It is far more challenging for a fighter to spar with individuals from different backgrounds in combat sports, which is why it’s such a popular means of preparation in MMA camps.
Other sports support the idea as well. Often at lower levels or coming up through amateur ranks, there are less elite players and thus more unpredictable or outright bad play, so it becomes more of a challenge to those who are elite and are thinking and acting on a much higher plane.
Poker may have been the most interesting analogy around the time internet players and traditional players converged for the first time. “Amateur” internet players began employing unorthodox, unpredictable strategies that more seasoned pros couldn’t account for after years of playing on “feel” alone. The result was great success for those players coming from cyberspace, a more general adjustment in strategies overall and an evolution of the game.
In boxing Mayweather, McGregor has the practiced and refined unpredictability of his natural fighting style working in his favor, but he also has the unpracticed and unrefined unpredictability of being so new to professional boxing.
It’s not a guaranteed pathway to success, but it’s something that will take Mayweather some time to unpack. That might be all the time McGregor needs to land one of those dangerous hands and start some trouble.
And then, of course, there’s the self-belief. Nobody in the history of sports—maybe in history, period—has ever believed in themselves the way McGregor believes in himself. Time and again he tells people he intends to do the impossible, and while it’s often met with a collective cluck of the tongue from doubters, he goes out and does it.
His UFC run was a freight train fueled by the momentum of his proclamations. His concurrent UFC titles were the station the train halted at for a breather. This whole scene against Mayweather is the culmination of every positive, self-believing thought.
Nobody ever got rich doubting McGregor, and McGregor has gotten rich believing in himself. If that track record doesn’t count for something, you’re doubting him at your own peril.
With camps winding down and the final promotional push ready to take the world into one of the biggest boxing matches it has ever seen, what does boxing acumen matter?
McGregor has plenty working for him, and he’s gotten this far with acumen as an afterthought.
As UFC President Dana White has been fond of saying in promoting this bout, “At the end of the day, it’s a fight.”
He’s right about that. Anything can happen in a fight.
If McGregor levels a boxing icon? There’ll be no room to challenge his boxing acumen anymore, either.