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John Kavanagh: What Conor will do at UFC 197 will never happen again

Conor McGregor’s head coach on the challenge facing them in Las Vegas on 5 March.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THIS PAST WEEKEND marked the beginning of Conor McGregor’s eight-week training camp for his next challenge.

Less than three months after taking just 13 seconds to take the featherweight belt from Jose Aldo, Conor will face lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 197 in Las Vegas on Saturday, 5 March.

There was another option on the table at lightweight but this is the fight we wanted because it will be the first time any fighter has held two UFC belts simultaneously. BJ Penn tried but was unable to manage it, but I suppose if there’s one thing Conor enjoys doing more than knocking people out, it’s breaking records.

Will a challenger ever beat a champion again in just 13 seconds? I sincerely doubt it. I also believe it’s very unlikely – as long as weight classes remain as they are — that any fighter will be able to replicate what Conor will achieve at UFC 197, by being in possession of two UFC belts at the same time.

The elephant in the room in this situation, of course, has been Frankie Edgar. If Conor’s next fight was announced as being against Frankie, there would be a lot of complaints about him cutting too much weight and being too big for the rest of the 145lbs guys. People would also claim that he was running from Rafael dos Anjos.

Instead, they’ll say he should be staying at featherweight and that he’s afraid of Frankie. But as I’ve said many times before, it’s great that questions are being asked because answering them is what sport is all about. The day there are no more questions being asked of you is the day you’re no longer relevant.

No matter who Conor’s next opponent was going to be, people would complain. There’s no getting away from that. There are boxes to be ticked and, by the time Conor retires, he’ll have addressed them all. But they can’t all be done at the drop of a hat. We can only take it one at a time. Rafael dos Anjos is next. After that, maybe Frankie Edgar will get his chance at UFC 200 on 9 July. We’ll see.

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I know Frankie is eager to get his shot, and he will. It’s not unusual for a champion to wait until the summertime to defend their belt — there are plenty of recent examples — so perhaps that’s when Frankie’s time will come. Look at this as a warm-up fight, albeit a dangerous one against the lightweight champion. Conor could fight Frankie in the summer, but in the meantime he’s taking another fight.

On average, Jose Aldo defended the featherweight title once every seven months. It would be a seven-month gap between Conor’s fight with Frankie, but I don’t recall Jose having to deal with the same amount of accusations of holding the division up. This might not be the case for other fighters, but due to Conor’s level of activity, he can afford to hold two belts and defend them regularly.

Conor has been cutting down to 145lbs since he was 16. He’s now 27 so it will be nice to take a break from that weight-cut. We’ve done it plenty of times before and we’ll do it again. Funnily enough, the last weight-cut — for the Aldo fight — was probably the best one yet thanks to the help of George Lockhart, who’s on board again for this fight. He’s part of the team now. You’ve seen Conor on salads… now watch what he’s like on steak.

It just allows us to focus even more on training and less on cutting weight. I think people will be surprised too when they see him standing beside these guys and they realise that even at lightweight, Conor is a pretty big guy.

And maybe the pursuit of belts won’t stop there either. I’ve said from the beginning that welterweight may not be out of the question. One of Conor’s main sparring partners, Gunnar Nelson, is a welterweight, so Conor is very used to that feel. I would not be at all surprised if we’re preparing to go for a third belt a year from now.

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Dos Anjos has looked more comfortable with his striking in his last few fights so I think he’ll have a level of comfort on his feet, which he’ll want to test against Conor. If so, he’ll end up leaning into shots and being hit hard and early.

I believe this will be another one that won’t see the end of the first round. If dos Anjos manages to survive the first exchange, he’ll become a panicked grappler. Should that happen, I’m looking forward to people getting an opportunity to see just how comfortable Conor is in that regard.

This is a huge fight because of the historical significance of what’s at stake and I expect Conor to add to his legacy of breaking records. What will happen on 5 March will never happen again. It’ll be something for the record books. To say I’m excited is to put it mildly.

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