How boxer Conor McGregor became the main attraction

McGregor feels shortchanged with ref's stoppage (2:07)

Conor McGregor credits Floyd Mayweather for withstanding his early punches, but says the fight should have and would have continued if it was the UFC. (2:07)

LAS VEGAS -- When it was all said and done, the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor spectacle delivered an actual fight after all.

That was really the question all along, right? Would all of this hype and social media theater produce anything that resembled a real fight? Or were we just buying into some well-lit exhibition match, whose only purpose was to make all of its beneficiaries rich?

Even the stingiest of haters out there would have a hard time complaining about Saturday's junior middleweight fight at T-Mobile Arena.

Mayweather, who reached his perfect 50-0 mark, expertly weathered McGregor's early storm before opening up offensively in a way fans hadn't seen in years.

It was an amazing performance by Mayweather, at age 40, coming off two years of inactivity.

But even though Mayweather took the opportunity afterward to say he'd made good on his promise to pay back disgruntled fans from his flat fight against Manny Pacquiao two years ago, it was McGregor who made this fight.

It was McGregor, 29, who went from a welfare-check-collecting no-name in Dublin to the biggest star in mixed martial arts in four years. It was McGregor's stardom that brought Mayweather back, and it was competitive refusal to go down (even in a hard-to-watch ninth round) that brought out the long lost killer in Mayweather.

Immediately after the fight, McGregor sipped whiskey from clear plastic cups and watched highlights of the fight, while celebrities waited outside to pay their respects. McGregor met with each and every one eventually, and looked happy to receive them, but what he really wanted to discuss was the fight.

How could referee Robert Byrd stop the bout in the 10th? Why does McGregor have a tendency to slip into sloppiness during the middle rounds of a fight? (He recognizes he did so in both of his Nate Diaz bouts as well.) During interviews, he moved and shadowboxed and replayed certain moments of the fight.

His coach, John Kavanagh, penned a book titled, "Win or Learn," and McGregor was already focused on the latter. He'd just collected the biggest paycheck of his life and fought the best boxer of his generation. Thirty million dollars was the purse, and his final haul will be more. But the only thing on his mind was the fight.

Look, no one really knew what to expect going into this one. UFC president Dana White told ESPN early Saturday he felt sick to his stomach with nerves. His exact words were, "I've never felt like this before."

By the end of the night, those nerves were gone. Defeat was probably inevitable, but it was the best of defeats. In his locker room afterward, McGregor hinted he could probably beat Mayweather if given another shot, armed with this experience.

Plenty would probably still disagree, although they wouldn't be as confident about it a second time around.

If you bought in for the spectacle, you got more than you bargained for. And if this was your first McGregor experience, you're probably thinking about coming back.

Mixed martial arts is not the small niche sport, fighting for legitimacy, it once was -- but it's still one that gets a little defensive when it's on the biggest stage. MMA knows it has something special in McGregor -- but it hoped the world got to see that, under the hostile circumstances of a boxing match against Mayweather.

It did.