TEMPE — Weeks before 2017’s most heated boxing matchup between “The Notorious” reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and longtime undefeated boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Arizona State football holds a competition of its own — Manny Wilkins vs. Blake Barnett.
Barnett, the sophomore Alabama transfer, is new to Arizona State. Since arriving in the spring, he’s had to adjust to the offense, playbook, scenery, heat, etc.
Likewise, McGregor is new to boxing. He’s new to the technique, style of fighting and the ring itself. But that’s what Barnett thinks will give him the advantage against Mayweather on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.
“McGregor has a chance because nobody’s seen him fight in a boxing match, Barnett said. “Mayweather has been doing this for so long and it’s easy to predict what he’s going to do in the ring. The element of surprise is always a factor and it only takes one punch to get knocked out ”
Barnett then added: “I’m gonna make a prediction for the fight. I think McGregor is going to win... It’s going to be a good fight. It’s going to be better than people think.”
Mayweather is undefeated. In 49 professional fights, he has 49 wins. His resume is filled with fifteen world titles, a lineal championship in five different weight classes and holds a net worth of $400 million dollars. The odds are in his favor at -550 as of Aug. 15.
With numbers like that, his teammates beg to differ.
“I was just like ‘you crazy,’” said junior wide receiver Terrell Chatman.
“I think Floyd might knock him out,” Chatman added. “But even if he doesn’t, it’s an easy win anyways. His defense, that’s what separates him from all the other boxers. It’s definitely going to be easy for him.”
You sound silly— Terrell Chatman (@trellc66) July 23, 2017
Before Barnett could even answer how long he thought the fight would last, sophomore wide receiver John Humphrey yelled “12 rounds! 12 rounds!”
Barnett then responded: “John John knows nothing, so I’m not going to intervene with that... Terrell just tells me I’m crazy. I told him he’s crazy.”
Even Barnett’s former teammate, Alabama junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley got in on the action.
Trippin— CALVIN RIDLEY (@CalvinRidley1) July 23, 2017
But Barnett sees McGregor’s potential. Here, he gave his final say.
“I think he’s a good fighter. I like how he can talk, but he backs it up. He’s just entertaining honestly. I think his brand has been built just because of the promoter he is and I think that’s why a lot of people like him.”
Similar to McGregor’s competition (Mayweather), Wilkins is a veteran of sorts. It’s his fourth season as a Sun Devil. He once led Arizona State to a 4-0 record. And, through injury, finished fifth in the Pac-12 with 2,329 passing yards as a sophomore.
Barnett knows he can’t beat his competition, literally, but is working against himself to improve.
“I couldn’t round house kick anyone to get a position, but it is what it is. Everything’s a competition it’s sports. That’s the name of the game,” Barnett said. “Just going out there to better myself and doing everything in my power to control the situation that I’m in.”
After Arizona State’s spring game, Barnett told reporters he’d to “everything I can” over the summer on the topic of winning the quarterback competition.
After working with his quarterback coach, George Whitfield in San Diego, grinding through summer workouts with plenty of 7-on-7 drills, he’s three weeks into fall camp and has seriously settled in.
“Now that I’ve gotten a way better understanding of the offense, the team itself and the coaches, how people respond to leadership and just an overall grasp. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better. I feel very comfortable now, and I’m feeling a lot better on the field and making progress every day.”
While it’s been a steady progression for Barnett, ASU head coach Todd Graham claims he still has a starter, and that’s Wilkins.
“He’s gotta beat Manny out. So it’s good problem to have,” Graham said. “It’s very, very competitive. They’re still competing, and they’ll continue to compete, but we don’t have to name a starter — we have one.”