The continuing evolution of Conor McGregor

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Saturday night’s five-rounder between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz was nothing short of epic; a gruelling affair in which both combatants felt the full force of the abilities of their opponent multiple times. After the 25 minutes was done, the brutal stains of battle were etched all over their faces.

It was a fight which may very well win fight of the year. By the end though, I was confident there was only one winner. I felt McGregor had done enough to win. I saw the fight the same as two of the judges, at three rounds to two for McGregor. According to mmadecisions.com, the majority of MMA journalists agree with that result too, so it would appear that the outcome was fair.

Diaz asserted that he (of course) won the fight and claimed that McGregor “ran the whole fight”. While it’s true that McGregor on several occasions removed himself from the fray by jogging, this was more of a ‘re-setting’ so that he was ready to engage on his terms, not on Diaz’s. I hardly think Diaz can claim that McGregor was afraid to engage, as the two men punched each other in the face certainly more than in the average MMA bout. McGregor, landing three clean knock downs in the first two rounds, had a far more clear claim for victory, as Diaz did not return the favour on McGregor.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t a back-and-forth affair, though. In the third round, which Diaz won by a large margin (but not large enough to be a 10-8 round), Diaz got the Irishman up against the cage and tee’d off on the smaller man. I really thought McGregor was done for. McGregor won the first two rounds but had noticeably slowed in the third, as Diaz came on stronger. However, this time around McGregor was able to weather the storm. McGregor said after the fight that in this seemingly disastrous situation, unlike in their first fight, he stayed calm and didn’t engage with Diaz, kept his hands up, and rolled with the punches.

It was clearly a good strategy, as McGregor went on to comfortably win the fourth round. I was surprised at that. It was Diaz this time, with all the talk of his amazing cardio, that had to a certain extent punched himself out. Instead of coming out and turning things up another gear, he’d lost the edge he had in the previous round and gave McGregor space once again. McGregor took advantage and it was this fourth round that secured him the necessary three out of five to get him the judge’s decision.

McGregor laid praise on his coach John Kavanagh, and said that “we either win or we learn”. They’re obviously an intelligent coach/fighter pairing, because in the loss to Diaz they learned everything that was necessary to win the second time. In an earlier article I wrote about what McGregor needed to do to win, and he did everything I said. Starting with the basics, he kept his hands up and didn’t eat unnecessary shots from Diaz. Furthermore, he threw exactly just 1 foolish spinning kick all fight, instead of about 20, and instead threw a massive amount of leg kicks (as I told him to!) that chewed up Diaz’s lead leg and sapped his strength.

He attacked and moved with less explosive power and was able to go for five rounds. UFC champ and pundit Dominick Cruz had wondered if McGregor’s style could ever go for the full 25 minutes, as it has such an emphasis on explosive attacks. But McGregor was able to develop his style for a longer fight, and it paid off.

I remember in a post-fight press conference last year McGregor said his emphasis was keeping his body in tip-top shape during training camps, and wasn’t a fan of ‘grinding’ every day, for fear of injury and the physical wear and tear in brings over the years. He was more interested in improving his movement. This idea of ‘the grind’ is popular with wrestlers who transition into MMA, who believe that if you put yourself through the mental and physical hell that is wrestling practice, then come fight night, things will seem easy. Light heavyweight champ and ex-Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier calls himself ‘King of the grind’, for example. For this training camp and fight, though, I think McGregor changed his mentality and truly embraced the grind, and it fully paid off. The best fighters do not claim to know everything- they are prepared to learn and to change.

Diaz was pictured in a nightclub later in the evening with his brother Nick, and I can’t say he looked too upset with getting paid $2million, given that he made $40,000 in his fight prior to fighting McGregor the first time around. That’s quite the improvement! Don’t expect to see him in the Octagon again until he fights McGregor for the trilogy, which will be at 155lbs.

As for McGregor, we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. He’s certainly learned his lesson that 170lbs is far too big a weight class for him. He’s perfect for 155lbs. However, he’s still the 145lb champ. It’s a bizarre situation because he said after the fight that he has no interest in fighting Jose Aldo again, the current 145lb interim champ. But if he doesn’t defend the belt, he’ll have to give it up. I don’t really think that should bother him too much, once he sets his highly focused mind on the 155lb belt. And the current champion at 155, Eddie Alvarez, had better watch out. Because in my personal opinion, it’s an awful style match-up for the durable but predictable striker, and McGregor would likely wreck him.

Laurie Williams

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