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Mayweather-McGregor continues to break all the rules — and it’s working

Conor McGregor, right, poses for photos during a news conference with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who talks with a group of supporters at left, at Barclays Center on Thursday, July 13, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

From its inception, a blockbuster bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor was never meant to follow the unwritten rules of professional boxing.

The ones that dictate that a man making his professional debut inside the squared circle could not warrant a spot in arguably the biggest fight in combat sports history. The unspoken guidelines that should have prevented the greatest boxer in this sport’s generation from bringing a coveted round number to his record, moving his resume to a perfect 50-0 inside the ring.

The rules to boxing, adapting along the way as the sport slowly evolved into what we recognize today, should have prevented Mayweather vs. McGregor altogether, putting a firm halt on a money-grabbing, albeit highly desired contest. But they didn’t, and so here we are, breaking the rules on an almost daily basis as the circled date of Aug. 26 grows nearer.

Famed former boxing champion and current Showtime Boxing broadcaster Paulie Malignaggi is the latest man to get dragged into the rule-breaking fiasco, now famously ousting himself from the McGregor camp as a brief sparring partner to the current UFC lightweight champion.

The decision to leave the camp comes after just two sparring sessions, neither of which really abided by the traditional ruleset (and oftentimes the literal contractual obligations) set forth around the industry. Malignaggi was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, essentially preventing him from discussing the ongoings of McGregor’s camp with any outside parties without a financial penalty of some sort.

Naturally, Malignaggi should have remained quiet. But given his popularity in the sport, both because of his past and current occupation, the questions started to flood Malignaggi from just about every outlet that could get ahold of him. Was McGregor a decent boxer by any means? What sort of power does he possess with boxing gloves? Is he actually capable of beating Floyd Mayweather inside a 12-round boxing match?

Whether or not Malignaggi received permission to discuss the sparring sessions remains to be seen, but the answers he did provide to the media were generally favorable to the UFC champion. Was Malignaggi about to proclaim McGregor the next great boxing champion? Clearly not; but he was willing to go the extra distance to paint the mixed martial artist in a decent light when prompted, going as far as to characterize his punching power as “above average,” but not of the “oh my god” variety.

It’s unclear what transpired next, but it ultimately led to the release of images of the sparring session that didn’t sit well with Malignaggi. His credibility as a fighter was essentially put into question, as the photos shared on social media painted McGregor in a favorable — and, according to Malignaggi, disingenuous — light. One featured McGregor landing a left hand on the former two-time boxing champion, with another, easily the more volatile of the two, saw McGregor standing tall while Malignaggi had his back to the canvas.

A lack of context for the second image would have (and did) led the average to assume McGregor scored a knockdown, though Malignaggi claims it was a result of a shove from a frustrated Irishman.

“I am not one of the other sparring partners. Nobody knows who the other sparring partners are. Everyone knows who I am. When you put up a picture of me in sparring, the media rush comes to me and I have to answer questions that I don’t want to deal with,” Malignaggi said on “The MMA Hour” Monday. 

“I have to try and make you look good. I want you to look good. I want to say things that make you look good. I want to promote you and help you out, but not at my expense.

“I also have to try and figure how to do it without making myself look bad now because you’re putting out me in compromising positions with these pictures.”

Malignaggi says he specifically asked McGregor to no longer post any images of the sparring session, as they put him in a compromising position as both a credible source and former fighter. McGregor didn’t respect his request, prompting Malignaggi to leave the camp altogether.

The two sides have now split, legally allowing Malignaggi to discuss his brief, but ultimately valuable experience with McGregor. Surmise it to say he’s not holding back a whole lot anymore.

“From about six rounds on, he became very hittable,” Malignaggi said. “So much more hittable that I was putting more weight on my shots and sitting down more on my shots, and of course, the body shots started to affect him more and more.”

He states he’s above taking his knowledge to the Mayweather camp, but also isn’t really concerned with ensuring that McGregor’s image and ego heading into this fight are at all-time highs. That’s not what a fighter should want from somebody who spent time in the camp. Malignaggi, in essence, is not following the rules. But he’s clearly not the first one to break them.

And, in reality, that notion hasn’t affected the selling potential of this fight. At least not in a negative way. The latest chapter in the Mayweather-McGregor saga is receiving a widespread amount of publicity from both the traditional outlets and those who rarely acknowledge the combat sports. This fight hasn’t received any sort of rest since the whispers first surfaced in 2016, and the talk of this contest likely won’t die down until some time after the two finally lock horns in Las Vegas later this month.

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