Inside the camp

I wouldn't be involved in preparing Conor for this fight if I didn't think he could win

John Kavanagh discusses Conor McGregor’s potential clash with Floyd Mayweather in his latest column.


THERE’S ANOTHER BUSY summer ahead for Straight Blast Gym and its fighters — and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Our next UFC outing is in Glasgow on 16 July, when Gunnar Nelson tops the bill and Charlie Ward is also on the card.

In Charlie’s case, my understanding is that he needs to beat his opponent, Galore Bafondo, via stoppage or else he’ll be cut from the roster. After losing his debut in the first round, the pressure is on him now to justify his place in the organisation. Winning won’t be enough. He has to do so inside the distance. If it’s a victory by a close decision, I believe they’ll let him go.

For Gunni, it’s another main event against a tough, busy, boxing-based opponent, Santiago Ponzinibbio, who’s very hard to take down and extremely difficult to finish. A lot of people don’t believe the fight makes a lot of sense but for me it’s another substantial challenge against a durable, experienced fighter who deserves a lot of respect.

It’s a style of opponent who’ll be quite tricky for Gunni to deal with. Having said that, it was a massive disappointment not to get a match-up with a top-five opponent here. I was vocal in my desire to see him fight Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.

The fact is that every welterweight in the top 10 got the call, but everybody was either injured, already matched or had a hair appointment that day. A UFC main event and none of the top 10 guys were available for it, which seems quite extraordinary. But unfortunately it’s the reality of the situation.

John Kavanagh 24/2/2017 Straight Blast Gym head coach John Kavanagh on cornering duty. Matt Mackey / Presseye Matt Mackey / Presseye / Presseye

Gunni could either sit on the sideline and wait, or else stay active. We’ve taken the latter option because in this game you don’t get paid if you’re not fighting and Gunni needs to earn. This is his job.

I guess it’s not dissimilar to the situation with Cub Swanson and Artem Lobov, which is why I would tip my cap to Cub. He didn’t have much to gain from that fight, I’m sure he wanted a title fight instead, but it’s his job to stay busy. At the end of the day, if every fighter will only take on guys who are ranked ahead of them, how will anybody ever fight?

James Gallagher has another big fight for Bellator coming up on 24 June, when he’ll be facing Chinzo Machida. After UFC 205 last November — which was headlined by Conor McGregor’s win over Eddie Alvarez — it’s the second major mixed martial arts event to be held at Madison Square Garden and again my gym, SBG, will feature prominently.

That’s something I’m quite proud of. Preparation for James has gone perfectly and it’s a real honour to be testing ourselves against the Machidas. There’s just something very cool about that family, their history and background. I’m really enthused by that challenge.

Elsewhere with Bellator, Sinead Kavanagh has had an opponent confirmed — whose name I’m sure the promotion will announce soon — for their event in New York on 25 August. On top of that we have a lot of fighters competing over the coming months for the likes of Cage Warriors and BAMMA, so there’s a lot for us to look forward to.

Even though Conor never actually lost the belt, I’m still looking forward to watching tonight’s UFC featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and Jose Aldo. I think it has the makings of a really entertaining match-up but — as I said earlier this week — my expectation is that Holloway will be victorious.

UFC Fight Night - Dublin SBG's Gunnar Nelson, who faces Santiago Ponzinibbio in Glasgow next month. Brian Lawless Brian Lawless

Whether Conor will have a say in that division again remains to be seen, but for now our focus is elsewhere — specifically, a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. That fight is close to being agreed and it will be at a weight very close to 145 pounds — maybe just a couple of pounds above that — so Conor will show once again that making that weight, if necessary, isn’t an issue for him.

Everything has been agreed from Conor’s perspective, from numbers to ruleset (pure boxing). I don’t know what’s taking Mayweather so long to sign the contract but we’re 100% ready to go. The ball is in his court now. We’re training for the fight — September has been mentioned — so we’re just waiting for the news with each passing day.

The experts may not be giving Conor much of a chance, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be involved in preparing any fighter for a contest if I didn’t think we could win. I know a lot of people are dismissing it as merely a money-grab or a spectacle. If it purely was that, I’d wish Conor well but I wouldn’t be part of it.

I believe he can do it and Conor is 100% sure about that outcome. That’s what gets me excited about this challenge. He was written off so many times in the UFC so being in this position is nothing new for us. We’re in it to win it and we have a plan for how to do so. We believe we can bring a style that Mayweather hasn’t encountered before.

On top of that, Conor has had four massive fights since Mayweather was last in the ring. I don’t know what his lifestyle has been like but that’s a lot of downtime. Conor has had some time to rest in recent months but prior to that he had his foot to the floor, always eating right, always in training camps, always preparing for these huge pay-per-view events in sold-out arenas.

There’s a lot to be said for the psychological requirements of being prepared for these big occasions. It might be a different sport but when you’re in the changing room your brain isn’t thinking about a ruleset, it just knows it’s about to go into a fight.

MMA 2016 - UFC 205 - Weigh-In - New York Conor McGregor is interviewed by Joe Rogan before UFC 205, while John Kavanagh (far right) looks on. Jason Silva Jason Silva

That feeling will flood a fighter with the very same stress hormones each time. Conor has become a lot more accustomed to that in recent years than Mayweather has. That’s going to be a big part of this fight.

When I was in Australia in April, a lot was made of the fact that I highlighted Mayweather’s history of domestic violence during an interview. I’m not sure why people felt this was such a big deal, given that the man has already been convicted of beating up women. That’s a fact. I have absolutely no time for any man with a track record of such behaviour.

In addition to that, from what I’ve seen of his gym, it appears to be the type of atmosphere in which bullies thrive. As many people will know, being bullied is what originally led me to martial arts. I’ve sought to create an atmosphere in my gym where people who have been victims of bullying can feel safe.

In Mayweather’s gym, the better fighter bullies his training partner. But that’s not how it should work. The better fighter should always be conscious of their duty to pass on their expertise and help their training partners to grow. It should never be a competition in the gym.

To me, Mayweather is a lowlife. He’s a guy I’d never want to have any contact with. Regardless of the outcome of this fight, I won’t be shaking his hand.

Kavanagh tips Holloway to defeat Aldo ‘convincingly’ this weekend

Conlan set to assist McGregor with preparations for Mayweather

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