Jens Pulver may be as qualified as anyone to render an opinion on this. He has been on both sides of it.
The Bettendorf resident had 47 fights in the sport of mixed martial arts and was the inaugural UFC lightweight champion in 2001. But he also went 4-0 in a brief professional boxing career. He even had one bout as a professional kick boxer.
There are few people with a more diverse background in various forms of human combat.
But even he isn’t quite sure what to expect when Irish-born MMA champion Conor McGregor steps into the boxing ring with undefeated Floyd Mayweather on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada.
While the oddsmakers and most boxing aficionados don’t give McGregor much of a chance, Pulver thinks it is a mistake to completely write off a 29-year-old Irishman who less than 10 years ago was an apprentice plumber.
“The one thing, he’s got incredible belief in himself,’’ Pulver said of McGregor. “What I mean by that is he believes in his coaches, he believes in his training, he believes in himself. This is a guy who knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. And he said he was going to do it.’’
McGregor, by the way, also has a 4-second knockout and an 8-second knockout to his credit in MMA fights.
“Everything he said he was going to do, he’s done,’’ Pulver added. “And he has a left hand. He’s got a lot of power. He’s got age, he’s got size, he’s got reach. So there’s always a puncher’s chance. Now, with 8-ounce gloves, I’d always give him a swinging shot.’’
The 40-year-old Mayweather is 49-0 and has won 11 world championships in five different divisions. He’s currently a 1-to-4 favorite to win the fight although those odds have shortened a bit the past few weeks.
But even some local boxing coaches aren’t convinced this is going to be a cakewalk for him.
Danny Dothard, who has been training young boxers in the Quad-Cities for close to three decades, said he knows there is going to be “a big surprise of some kind.
“I don’t think it’s going to play out the way people think,’’ he said. “McGregor is going to be strong. It’s going to be a street style of fight. McGregor doesn’t have a lot of technical skill and that could be real tough for Mayweather.’’
That is not to say that either Pulver or Dothard would necessarily bet against Mayweather.
McGregor is wading into unknown territory. He’s never had a single boxing match as a professional. He won’t be able to use all the spins, kicks and knee thrusts that have helped him surge to the top of MMA.
“That’s always how he’s set it up,’’ Pulver said. “Well, now he’s got to set it up as a boxer. You’ve got to come in with just your hands. Then you look at who you’re going against is the most unhittable, untouchable, undefeated fighter. He’s got thousands and thousands and thousands of rounds behind him … He’s nothing short of amazing.’’
Because of that skill level, there is at least one local boxing expert who isn’t even sure the fight is worth watching.
“Realistically, it shouldn’t even be good fight,’’ said Patrick Pena, who has trained hundreds of kids in the Davenport Pena Boxing Club. “Floyd should just literally tear him apart. Conor has striking ability, but I think a kid in Golden Gloves could beat him in boxing.’’
Pena does admit that McGregor is younger, taller and stronger. He’s also lefthanded, which can be problematic.
“That’s a lot going against Floyd,’’ Pena added, “but I really think the only way Conor can win the fight is if he knocks him out. I think Floyd is going to hit him with a flurry of punches and the referee is going to stop the fight in the seventh or eighth round.’’
Regardless of who you think will win, the unprecedented matchup certainly has caught the attention of fans and, as a result, is going to result in a massive payday for both combatants.
It is estimated that sales of the fight on pay-per-view could reach 5 million. Mayweather stands to make close to $300 million and McGregor, a relative unknown just a few years ago, is expected to get about $100 million for his first boxing bout.
“My hat’s off to this kid,’’ Pulver said. “He’s taken the entire MMA world by storm …
“This is all in a matter of three or four years … How can you not love this guy? You can’t doubt him. He’s backed up everything he’s ever said he was going to do.’’
Dothard is just happy that the matchup is bringing renewed attention to the sport he loves.
“One thing that’s great about boxing,” he said, “you just never know what’s going to happen until the show goes on.”