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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 18 November, 2017
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His rivals may feel hard done by but Conor has earned this historic opportunity

John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s head coach, writes exclusively ahead of McGregor’s return at UFC 205.

Conor McGregor at this week's UFC 205 press conference which was held at Madison Square Garden.
Conor McGregor at this week's UFC 205 press conference which was held at Madison Square Garden.
Image: Julie Jacobson

IT WAS APPROACHING 2.30am on Monday night when I received a message just as I was preparing to hop into bed.

“We’re on. Be at the airport at 9am.”

With just over six weeks to go and no agreement yet in place for the fight to happen, I was beginning to come to terms with the likelihood that we weren’t going to be involved in the first UFC event ever to take place in New York City.

However, Conor’s late-night update confirmed that we’ll be part of a historic occasion on 12 November, as he bids to become the first man to hold two UFC belts simultaneously in the main event of a landmark show for the sport of mixed martial arts.

About 20 hours after reading that message in my apartment in Dublin, I was at a press conference in New York with Conor to promote his lightweight title bout against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. Another 12 hours or so later, I was back on Irish soil.

I really didn’t think this fight was going to happen on Monday. There were many moving parts and there had been a lot of back-and-forth communication over the the course of 10 days or so. We were ready to go so I’m not sure what caused the delay. All I know is that we had agreed to it from our end.

It wasn’t looking promising but everything suddenly fell into place. To miss such a significant event at Madison Square Garden, a place where Muhammad Ali has fought, would have been very disappointing. On top of that, the card itself is incredible. It has blown any other card out of the water.

Considering what Conor has achieved over the last few years, it feels right that he should headline the best card of all time in the biggest city in the USA. New York is a special place and it felt really good to be there for the press conference on Tuesday night.

Having had Conor’s last four fights in Las Vegas, we’re used to going all the way over to the west coast and the fans still travel, but New York has always been special for Ireland. Even when I was walking around the city on Tuesday, I was blown away by the number of Irish people living over there who stopped me in the street.

It was almost like a carnival atmosphere at the press conference and it gave me a slight idea of what it will be like if the UFC ever do a stadium show in Ireland. There seemed to be just one guy there cheering for Eddie, which is crazy given that he’s from 100 miles down the road in Philadelphia. The place was packed to the rafters with Conor’s supporters.

John Kavanagh John Kavanagh Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Since his win against Nate Diaz last month at UFC 202, you could count on one hand the number of days off that Conor has taken. He’s in great shape and even though he did bruise his foot in that fight, nothing was damaged. He’s been training in full and he’s chomping at the bit for this big opportunity.

As an opponent, Eddie is definitely more straightforward to prepare for than Nate was — in the sense that there’s nothing unusual about his style or approach. He’s very good at what he does and we have to respect that. He’s the UFC champion of the world for a reason. That’s not something you ignore.

However, when you look at him stylistically and compare him to an awkward guy like Nate, it’s a very different scenario. His win against a good striker like Anthony Pettis is an interesting case study. Eddie tried to pin him on the fence and wear him down, and I expect him to aim to do something similar against Conor.

But the big difference between Conor and Pettis is that Pettis needs range to fire those kicks off. Conor can knock you out in a phonebox. He doesn’t need that space. I believe that will be the major difference in this fight.

This fight has been brewing for a few weeks now, and during that time I found myself in a quite bizarre situation where Mark Henry, Eddie Alvarez’s coach, seemed to develop a serious problem with me. I’m not entirely sure what kicked it all off, but from what I can see — and I’m open to correction — it stems from my prediction in my last column here on The42 that Conor will beat Eddie when they fight.

I’m sure Mark feels like the opposite will be the case, whether that be in relation to Eddie, Frankie Edgar or any of the other guys he’s working with. I don’t believe that’s a sign of disrespect to another camp. I stand over what I’ve said because I don’t believe I’ve ever disrespected Frankie, Eddie or any of those guys.

What I can say is that Mark and I bumped into each other on Tuesday when I was leaving the hotel in New York. He pulled me to one side, shook my hand and apologised. He wished both Conor and I well for the training camp. We shook hands, so as far as I’m concerned that’s the end of that.

UFC 205 Mixed Martial Arts Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor square off. Source: Julie Jacobson

I would have liked an opportunity to have a longer conversation with him, however, just to find out exactly what caused all of this because I’m still in the dark over that. I don’t know Mark personally but that seemed to be very out of character for him. Nevertheless, it looks like it’s in the past now and I’m pleased about that.

Since Conor’s fight with Eddie Alvarez was announced, a few fighters have expressed their frustration — Jose Aldo and Khabib Nurmagomedov, most notably. Do I sympathise with them? Not at all.

Conor’s lightweight title shot was supposed to happen last March, but things obviously ended up going in another direction. Here we are now with a fresh turn of events, there’s a new lightweight champion and Conor earned that shot. He had other business to take care of elsewhere in the meantime and that’s been done now.

It’s almost bizarre to me that people still don’t understand that prize-fighting is part of the entertainment business. It’s only a very tiny percentage of hardcore fans who wouldn’t have wanted this fight as the main event of the biggest card in the history of the organisation. It’s a much bigger fight than what Khabib versus Eddie could ever be.

This will be Conor’s fourth fight in less than a year. I think Khabib has had four fights in four years. But it’s not about that anyway. It’s about bums on seats and pay-per-view buys. There was a bigger audience for that press conference on Tuesday than there would have been for a 25-minute wrestling match between Khabib and Eddie. This is the fight people want to see because you want your biggest fighter front and centre for your biggest show.

As for the fight itself, Eddie is tough and he’s difficult to stop. It’s nearly 10 years since he was finished with strikes. But I do think this match-up is a bit of a nightmare for him. Chad Mendes could probably be classed as a similar style of opponent but he’s a lot shorter, which helped him to naturally slip underneath Conor’s range to get those takedowns. Eddie is almost as tall as Conor but he has a significant reach disadvantage.

If Eddie tries to mix it up on the feet I can see Conor winning in the first round, but I have a feeling his tactic will be to get the fight to the fence or to the ground as quickly as possible, and then hang on for a round. But that will only last for so long. Separations will happen and we’ve seen many times before what Conor can do with one shot.

This fight will be over within two rounds and Conor will leave New York with two belts.

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