This weekend’s historic fight has been dissected from every angle; who’s skill set will win out? Who has the bigger legacy? Which fighter has the better car? Or the most Instagram followers? However, in hearing all the talk for what is likely a dramatic mismatched bout with cherry picked stipulations that protect Mayweather and allow McGregor the fight he has worked on generating for years, one thing stood out immediately to me: the differing mindsets of each fighter.
Recognising that we can’t really know each of these celebrities and that all we can go on is their past actions and the media coverage that the entourage of agents and coaches allows us to see, I believe that there is a dichotomy between each that is deeper and perhaps more meaningful than boxer vs. mixed martial artist.
In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, she postulated that people often possess one of two internal concepts when it comes to their own efficacy, growth and achievement. People can hold differing views on any given aspect of their life but in general we tend towards one of two. For Dweck, there is the fixed mindset: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.” This is the effortless success who’s talent puts them above all else, often perfectly. The counterpart to the fixed mindset is the growth mindset where “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” writes Dweck. It is the gifted versus the hard worker, the perfect versus the resilient, and the prodigy vs the one who perseveres.
The paths that both men have taken to where they stand as icons in combat sports are not distinctly unique from their contemporaries or the stereotype of a prize fighter. Humble beginnings of poverty and struggle, years of toiling and the eventual championship success complete with the cars, money and lifestyle.
Mayweather’s persona is built on his success, his money and his superiority over everyone he has faced. He is undefeated, he has earned billions and the longer you are willing to listen to him talk or read his words the more you will hear about how great he is, how much his money reinforces that greatness and even that he is the best fighter of all time. It is very much as if he needs to reassure everyone else and even himself of his superiority. He doesn’t get hit and doesn’t lose as his record shows, but he has been dogged by the perception that he has always fought when it suited him. This could be viewed as pragmatism and the strong business acumen of “Team Money,” or as a man willing to sacrificing everything to protect a legacy of being perfect, untouched and undefeated. There is indisputable evidence that Mayweather does work hard and certainly could not have achieved what he has without a life dedicated to work in the gym. I am only seeking to examine his intention, drive and mindset. While Mayweather often discusses his effort and the work put in to a fight; however, rarely does he talk about learning, struggling or growth. Why would a perfect fighter need to learn, when they are perfect?
The brashness that Connor McGregor displays in everything from his words to his fashion, is the key to his fighter persona. He strives after the trappings of Mayweather’s success and isn’t averse to showing off. However, listen to him talk outside of the over hyped press conference and you would struggle to find that same degree of bravado. He is well schooled in cutting the pro wrestling promo and creating the characterisation required to divide the audience into a binary morality play between these two battling titans. If Floyd is Team Money and always shines in the limelight, McGregor seems to instantly switch into the role of a humble student once the press conferences are over. For all the quotes about how great he is, there are a greater amount of much more thoughtful ones on how he views his training and fighting. McGregor has been quoted as praising the value of being uncomfortable in his training, often pursuing unorthodox methods in the face of pundit mockery including following the work of movement instructor Ido Portal. He has taken fights against Nick Diaz that he probably shouldn’t have and when he was defeated by an opponent in a unfamiliar weight class on short notice, he returned and was victorious in the rematch because of his adaptation and improvement. Post fight, he championed his ability to overcome this adversity and then immediately took aim at a bigger and harder fight with Mayweather. Even when speaking about his own abilities, he is very dismissive of the idea of innate talent. “There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equal as human beings…I am not talented, I am obsessed.” Compare this with the pride that Mayweather takes in how easy his fights have been, “I never knew how good I was,” said Mayweather. “I’ve never reached my peak. I never had to beat a fighter with my A-game. I beat every fighter in boxing with a D & C game. I never had to go to a B.”
We do know how McGregor has handled defeat and perhaps if Mayweather had ever lost he would have returned with a refreshed skill set needed to conquer his opponent. When we examine the differences between these two mindsets it seems unlikely. The fixed mindset is exceptionally adept at playing sleight of hand with attributions when it comes to performance results, attributing failures exclusively to chance or luck, and successes to ability and skill. These strong narcissistic traits allow the fixed mindset athlete to maintain high levels of self-belief in the face of alternative evidence or potential challengers. The perfectionist can claim they are “the greatest” because they are undefeated while conversely doing everything, including fighting the right fighters at the most advantageous time and in a way that they are best able to protect their internal image of invulnerability.
Many journalists have compared this fight to Michael Jordan deciding to play baseball and other examples of athletes transitioning to other sports, I think it does a disservice to what is really happening. A fighter in his prime, victorious against all reasonable competitors, took aim at the biggest star in the realm of combat sports and challenged him. Given any other circumstances than the highly curated nature of the rules in this fight, McGregor wins easily and decisively, yet he is willing to cede all the advantages he would have in a cage, on the street or on a mat to make this fight happen. The extreme miss match in boxing background will undoubtedly be his downfall and the results will be perfunctory. Another 12 round clean sweep or a mid fight knockout will see Mayweather to his perfect 50-0 and further cement his justification that he is the greatest. Historians and fans will probably continue to disagree. For McGregor a loss won’t be a defeat. He will return to mma both richer financially and mentally, having tested his limits and improved as a fighter even if his record doesn’t show it. Despite the adage of a punchers chance, those in the know would think it foolish to bet on a McGregor victory, personally I’m not a betting man but I know which of the two mindsets I’d put my money down on to guide me towards success in my own life.