I'd like Conor to go for a second belt now and I believe he'll only need two rounds to win it

SBG head coach John Kavanagh brings us his latest exclusive column.

Conor McGregor with John Kavanagh between rounds Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

IF YOU LISTENED to fighters and pundits, Conor McGregor didn’t stand much of a chance in last weekend’s fight against Nate Diaz. Proving them wrong wasn’t our primary objective by any means, but it was certainly an added bonus.

At the same time, it didn’t surprise me that so many people tipped Diaz to win. I could see where they were coming from. They obviously thought Conor was going to try and do the same thing in the rematch as he had done when he lost at UFC 196.

Observers were subsequently expecting the same outcome but, of course, I knew what adjustments we were making and what the gameplan was, so I was very confident that the effort would pay off. It did and it was our most satisfying triumph yet.

Until now, we’ve solely focused on getting our own skills to the highest level possible, without paying much attention to the fighter in the opposing corner. This was the first time I can remember being so obsessed about an opponent and working out a strategy to deal with that particular style. For that to manifest itself in the outcome made it very sweet.

A lot of Conor’s fights have been short and relatively straightforward — which is great, because those wins are also to be enjoyed — but to see him go 25 minutes and face adversity, especially when so many people expected him to lose, it doesn’t get much better than that when you face those odds and come out with a victory.

Going into the fight, much was made of the fact that Nate — unlike last time — had a full training camp. Obviously the result has now shown that this didn’t play as big a role as people initially thought. If you ask most professional fighters, they’ll tell you that they love the idea of a short-notice fight, unless they believe their weight or cardio will be an issue.

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Source: Isaac Brekken

Neither of those were problems for Nate back in March. The guy is supremely fit all the time, whether he’s training for a fight or not, and the fight was taking place in a weight class above where he normally competes. For a fighter who doesn’t have to worry about weight or cardio, a short-notice fight is a godsend.

When all that was being said, I actually figured that a longer training camp would be more difficult for him because he would have to put up with the months of media attention, as well as the anxiety that comes with that build-up.

Nate has since said that he had some injuries going into Saturday’s fight, but guess what? That’s what happens during a long training camp. That’s another advantage of getting in there at the last minute. Anxiety training will make you train harder and more often than usual, because you’re worried about the fight that’s getting closer on the horizon every day.

I received a lot of messages telling me that we were going to be in trouble now that Nate had gone through a full training camp, and while I could understand their point, I actually felt it might go against him.

Where do we go from here? Well, we’re taking a short while to enjoy this victory, first of all, because it’s something we invested a lot in. Everybody always wants to know what’s next by the time you’ve barely stepped out of the octagon. I think it’s important to enjoy each victory, at least to a certain extent. Conor was actually back doing cardio work less than 48 hours after last weekend’s fight, so the training has continued.

As for what’s next specifically, nothing has been decided. However, I would imagine that will change within a relatively short period of time. With the New York show coming up in November and other big cards scheduled towards the end of the year too, there are a lot of things in the pipeline but nothing has been settled upon just yet.

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Source: Isaac Brekken

Fighting in New York would involve a 12-week turnaround, which might seem hasty after a five-round war like last weekend’s. But the reality was that it was a war mostly for Diaz because he took so many heavy shots.

For Conor, aside from sustaining a pretty decent bruise on his shin from a few checked kicks, he’s actually okay because he didn’t take any major head-shots. That would always be my main concern. Going right back into training and sparring after a lot of head-shots would not be smart, but that’s not an issue for us in this instance. And that’s even including that flurry he took at the end of the third round.

Speaking of that round, the more I watch it the more I’m convinced that Conor won it. Conor had the better of four minutes of the round, but Diaz came back at the end with a flurry. The crowd went bananas during that last 45 seconds or so and I wonder if the judges were possibly swayed by that.

If you watch it back in slow-motion, most of the shots from Diaz were either rolled, parried or landed with the forearm. There were very few decent connections, yet the first four minutes of the round were still forgotten. One judge actually scored that round 10-8 to Diaz. That individual should be immediately removed from his role because he clearly hasn’t got the slightest idea of what’s going on in combat if he deems that to be worthy of a 10-8.

If Conor is motivated to go back in for November, I’ll support that, but there are a lot of other factors to be weighed up. Conor and his management are a lot smarter than I am when it comes to those decisions so I’ll leave it up to them.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

From a personal point of view, my own preference would be a lightweight title bout against reigning champion Eddie Alvarez next. Conor can make 145lbs to defend his featherweight belt, absolutely, but I just think 155lbs suits him best. Ultimately that’s Conor’s decision, not mine.

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Source: Isaac Brekken

I would never underestimate an opponent, so if the Alvarez fight is announced, we’ll train just like we did for the Diaz fight by pushing Conor to his absolute limits in the gym, finding suitable training partners and building on that incredible cardio that we gained over the last couple of months.

That being said, I would see it as a much more straightforward challenge than Diaz. If you look at Alvarez’s fight against Anthony Pettis, which is a good reference point stylistically, he won by split decision but I think he was quite fortunate. Luck was definitely on his side.

Over the course of your career, some tight decisions will go for you, others will go against you, but generally they even themselves out. While Pettis has good kicks, he doesn’t have Conor’s hands. I’d expect Alvarez to run into those hands quite often in the first couple of rounds. If and when that fight is announced, I would be leaning towards a second-round knockout in Conor’s favour.

Lastly, a potential Croke Park fight for Conor seems to have returned to the agenda lately. As I’ve said many times before, it’s something I’d love to see happen. Apparently this American football game that’s coming up at the Aviva Stadium is going to be worth €50million to the local economy with the amount of people coming in.

You’d imagine that a Conor McGregor fight at Croke Park would bring in significantly more, and I doubt the economy is in a position to be turning its nose up at money like that. The build-up alone would be fantastic and it would be an amazing spectacle, so it would be great if local authorities could make an exception regarding the legislation that’s in place which puts a curfew on live events.

Ideally, however, I would say to the UFC that this is something that should be done to suit local time, rather than the US. I really don’t agree with this 4am nonsense that’s happening in Manchester for UFC 204 in October.

MMA is a global sport, not just American. Let all the fighters compete at their best. We’re not designed to be doing strenuous activity in the early hours of the morning. Let the Americans set their alarm clocks and get up early for once.

Top welterweight Rory MacDonald to leave the UFC for rival promotion Bellator

SBG’s Gunnar Nelson looks set to headline the UFC’s return to Ireland in November

About the author:

Read next: