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Conor McGregor: The Once and Future King, Aka the McGregor-nator




Conor McGregor was the biggest star of UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin and lived up to the hype by delivering a first round finish. This performance had many fans excited and talking title shots in two different weight classes (there might have been some alcohol involved in some of those discussions). Immediately after the fight inside of the octagon he was already talking about soccer stadiums and title fights. We now know that it will not be a title shot next but it is a fight that will put him closer to it as he is now scheduled to face Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 in the co-main event. While many still think he is an overhyped arrogant poser and cannot wait for his bubble to burst, others like myself think that he is a future champion.

Haters gonna Hate

One of the appeals of the UFC is that it elicits an emotional response from people. Fans will often choose who they hate and root for based on factors from outside of the octagon. McGregor is the type of fighter who pushes fans emotions with the many entertaining things he says.

There are those that love him and others that cannot wait to see him get beat. They hate the way he boasts and brags in his interviews. That cannot stand the way he calls out everyone in the division.

The fact that he calls out everyone means that he is probably calling out your favorite fighter. I get it. You have to hate him now but you might want to get used to hating him for a while then because he is going to be around for a nice little stretch. As Dana White seems to love him and what he brings to an event.

That is also another reason for others to hate him. They see him riding around with Dana, getting the lights out walk out treatment in his second fight in the UFC and then headlining in a main event in his hometown for his third fight. They think he has been given too much too quickly by Dana and the UFC.

Then you have those that will hate him just because Dana likes him. They hate Dana so they also hate everything he likes unless it is their favorite fighter. Then it is one of the few times he shows good judgement in their eyes. Otherwise anyone Dana likes a lot must be evil because Dana is evil.

Again, this is a part of the emotional side of the sport and McGregor is an in your face type of person and forces you to either like him or hate him. After UFC FN 46 you cannot deny that he brings excitement to an event.

Dana is a skeptical listener but he is always listening 

If you get caught up and distracted by the suits, the sunglasses, and all of the talk he brings and generates then you can easily miss out on the skills. Without them he would probably already be gone instead of just getting started on his UFC journey. Dana would have made sure of that.

One thing I have noticed is that Dana does not give the fighters who have a lot of outside hype an easy path when they enter the UFC. Instead he does the opposite with them and gives them some tough fights to see if they matchup to the chatter. In fact, Dana seems to take pleasure in derailing some of the hype trains. One thing he knows is that they will get exposed in the UFC anyways and by doing in the first fight or two makes more sense than building up a paper fighter and then shredding him later under the bright lights of a big main event.

If the fighter does well they can get a quick title shot like a Brock Lesnar who fought for the title in his third UFC fight. A big part of that had to do with the lack of depth in the heavyweight division at the time. It was also aided by his talk and ability to create interest in watching him fight. McGregor has a much deeper division but is not that far away from a title shot. Two more wins of the right kind over the right opponents and he will be there. The key of course is to keep winning and he has the skills to do it.

He is more than a pretty face in a fancy suit with a gift of gab. Or what many seem to be missing

While the talk and suits are entertaining it is what he does in the octagon that makes it all work. Some people have a hard time seeing it because of all of the hype. So far he has backed it all up in the octagon. He is off to a 3-0 start in the UFC with two first round finishes.

I have read some of the critics, “But he hasn’t faced a really strong wrestler yet and his stance leaves him wide open for a one to shoot-in on him.” Which, when I read those critiques I use my pompous old man voice complete with wagging jowls in my head.

Instead of applying old and out-dated critiques to his stance, lets look at why it works for him. The stance is very similar to Gunnar Nelson’s who he trains with extensively. It is not exactly the same Karate stance as Lyoto Machida’s but again similar. The benefits he gains are also very much the same as Machida’s.

Move over Machida, there is a new master of movement in the UFC

One of them is the ability to strike on the move effectively. It is something that makes them both extremely dangerous and difficult to face. As an opponent you have to stay cautious because all McGregor needs is the one opening and he has you in trouble. This was evident in the Marcus Brimage fight where he caught Brimage with a left hook counter as he retreated. Then moments later stepped forward and landed a hard uppercut that started the flurry that ended the fight. McGregor also landed a front kick in that short fight after an earlier uppercut had rocked Brimage slightly forcing him to scramble away while McGregor patiently stalked him.

His stance keeps him balanced which allows him to move and stay in position ready to strike. This is accentuated by him switching stances fluidly as he moves always putting himself in a position to land a blow from multiple angles.

The stance also allows him to effectively fight at all ranges making him more difficult to fight. At 5’11” he is one of the taller featherweights and his 73″ reach is one of the longest in the division. He uses it to his advantage by landing effective strikes to keep his opponents at the end of his punches. You saw this in both the Brandao and Brimage’s fights where he would land a solid shot and avoid theirs by keeping them just short of his face. Even when they did get close enough he would use his footwork and head movement to move with the punch negating its force and avoiding damage.

As the fight moves from the longer distance to the middle range McGregor also has effective weapons to use. In the Max Holloway fight McGregor fought him entirely differently than he did Brandao or Brimage who are both significantly shorter than him. Holloway matches McGregor’s height at 5’11” and only has a slightly shorter reach at 69.5″. Holloway also has some strong kicks and McGregor kept his hands higher throughout the fight. He also used an excellent jab, showed his uppercut, an up-jab and used a front hook kick all from the middle ranges.

He showed some good clinch work in the Brandao fight using knees, elbows and little annoying punches. There is also the uppercut which he landed in close against Holloway. McGregor does not spend much time in close as that would negate his movement which is one of his biggest weapons.

The movement is almost mesmerizing due to his unteachable fluidity. It is more than just some pretty looking steps as he uses it to avoid danger and put himself in position to land the right strike. If the traditional strike is not available he will just create one.

One of the other elements about his striking that is so exciting to watch, and indicates bigger things are ahead of him is his creativity. The fact that he will throw any strike from any angle and uses all of his weapons adds to his unpredictability as an opponent. Like Iceman said in Top Gun – “unpredictable is dangerous.” The more predictable you are as a fighter the easier you are to avoid and hit. Pretty much the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish in the octagon. McGregor is completely unpredictable even with the same strike. In the Brimage fight he punished him with the uppercut. Sometimes he led with it, other times it came in a combination and Brimage had no clue where or when they were coming. That brings us to maybe one of his most important skills.

It is all in the timing

Timing is one of those overlooked elements that is vastly important. It is partly due to the fact that the great fighters like great comedians make it look easy. They have an understanding in the moment that others struggle to achieve. It is often the difference between the very good and greatness. It is also something you can improve but not teach especially at the higher levels and all of the greatest strikers have it. McGregor has shown it in his UFC fights as well as the ones in Cage Warriors where he was their simultaneous featherweight and lightweight champion.

One of the remarkable things is how quickly McGregor is able to find it in his fights. Timing is one of the big elements that fighters are searching for during the feeling out period of the fight. They are looking for patterns in striking, the way a fighter moves, reacts to strikes or feints and their timing. In a way they are trying to get inside of their opponents sense of time. At that point it becomes almost intuitive for the best strikers, like McGregor. It is the difference between seeing the opening and then throwing the strike and just being there and throwing it as the opening occurs.

When a fighter is able to get the others timing down at the highest levels it leads to KO’s. It is landing the strike at the right time with the most impact. Add in McGregor’s power to the equation and you get 13 KO/TKO wins out of 15 with 1 decision and 1 submission. The decision came against Holloway who has only lost his first UFC fight to Dustin Poirier via a submission and a split decision to Dennis Bermudez. He is a very tough fighter who is known for his heart and McGregor dominated him for the three rounds despite injuring his knee in the early part of the fight.

You got to have heart

Heart is one of those things that you must have if you want to be a champion. Like timing it is the another essential. These two traits can overcome athletic ability and talent. They are also two of the more intangible and unteachable. You cannot teach someone to have heart if they do not already have it. You can help them bring it out or realize it but not everyone has heart. It is the thing that allows champions to push through the horrible times when others would and do quit.

Most fighters are done when they tear they ACL during a fight. In general, most athletes are done when they tear their knee up in any competition. From there it is usually surgery and at least a 1 to 2 year recovery time to get back to normal. That is unless you are Adrian Peterson or McGregor who was back in 11 months fighting in the octagon. First McGregor showed a lot of heart fighting through the knee injury during the fight with Holloway to get the win and then to come back from it so quickly.

The only way you recover that fast and effectively is if you work your ass off. That and of course have no complications from the surgery which is out of the fighter’s control but the hard work shows dedication and heart. McGregor was all the way back and looked great in the Brandao fight. It was obvious that he had put the work in.

Stay ready 

It is one of his Dethrone signature T-shirts and comes from one of his sayings: “I stay ready so I don’t have to get ready.” Again, we are back to the hard work but that is one of those common traits champions share and McGregor definitely works hard and you see the results in the octagon.

His cardio was flawless in the fight with Holloway which is the only real test of it so far in the UFC. Even with the injured knee McGregor dictated the pace of the fight and was not slowing down at the end.

The readiness extends to beyond being in shape and well-trained to fight. McGregor has been ready for every element of it so far including the outside pressure. No moment has been too big for him yet. There were no signs of octagon jitters in his debut. Nor was he overwhelmed in his second fight by getting the blackout walkout treatment in Boston with the fans going crazy. Then headlining in the main event of his hometown of Dublin in the UFC’s first return to there in five years and again he handled like it is a part of his normal daily routine.

You have to believe

Another trait that champions share is a belief in themselves. It something that you see in Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, Cain Velasquez, Demetrious Johnson, Anthony Pettis and the three most recent new champions; Chris Weidman, T.J. Dillashaw and Johny Hendricks. Both Dillashaw and Weidman defeated champions that had not lost in a very long time. Renan Barao, and especially Anderson Silva, seemed almost invincible but Weidman knew he could beat Silva. It was the same thing for Dillashaw who knew that he had the skill-set and game plan to beat Barao. Their self-belief helped them become champions. You see the same kind of belief from McGregor in himself who talks it and walks it.

When you combine his work ethic, talent, heart and strong self-belief than it is easy to see that he is a potential future champion. According to him it will happen either and the end of this year or in the early part of 2015. The more he keeps doing exactly what he says, like finishing Brandao in the first round, then the easier it will be for others to believe in him. For others there are very skeptical and point out that he has not even faced a top wrestler, grappler or a top ten opponent yet.

Spolier alert ahead

I can hear people already – but what about the wrestling? He has not faced a wrestler yet. What will he do on the ground? Both of his losses have been by submission. As soon as he faces a wrestler he will get owned. That stance of his leaves him wide open for a wrestler to shoot-in and take him down. I think that is the general basis of people’s argument that other people are heaping too much praise on McGregor too early.

I am here to blow that argument up. Yes, he has not faced a wrestler like Chad Mendes and guess what – he probably will not until he fights Mendes. Who is one of the best pure wrestlers in the division but they will not be wrestling, they will be competing in MMA. In a pure wrestling contest McGregor’s stance would not work but he is doing fine with it in the octagon. One thing we are learning is that MMA wrestling is different and you do not have to be a wrestler to be good at it in MMA. Georges St-Pierre proved that for years as have others like Machida.

In todays MMA world, and especially in the UFC, which is the pinnacle of the sport right now, you have to be a well-rounded fighter if you want to contend for titles. McGregor has already shown the ability to get the fight to the ground when it suits him like the Holloway fight.

While he is not a wrestler, Holloway is not easy to just takedown. In his three round SD loss to Dennis Bermudez he was taken down four times. Bermudez is one of the better wrestlers in the division and when you go to his UFC page it is takedowns that are listed first under his skill breakdown summary. He managed four against Holloway with the takedown being a big part of his game plan for that fight against the superior striker Holloway.

Now compare that to McGregor scoring four takedowns in his fight with Holloway. He was able to match the wrestler in that category and he did it in two rounds. The takedown did not even become a part of his game plan until he hurt his knee, then he showed the ability to take the fight to where he could protect the knee and control the fight.

In McGregor’s latest fight, Brandao came in expecting to take the fight to the ground. He talked about how his wrestling and jiu-jitsu were better than McGregor’s. It is something people overlook with Brandao. It is easy to focus on his power and some of the incidents outside of the octagon but he has been a strong grappler. To win TUF he matched Bermudez in takedowns with one each and went on to submit him to take the title. That is not only Bermudez’ only loss by submission in the UFC, it is his only loss with them period.

When Brandao went for the takedown against McGregor it was McGregor who was able to reverse and come out on top when they hit the canvas. He was able to pass Brandao’s guard and easily avoid any submission attempts. It is easy to overlook the little bit of grappling we have seen so far from McGregor because his standup has been so dazzling but when you look close you seen the foundation is there for a good ground game.

When you look at his next to last fight before the UFC you also see evidence of it. In that fight he defeated Dave Hill, a submission specialist who at 12-3 has nine of those wins via submission. All McGregor did was go out and submit Hill in the second round with a RNC. Also people seem to forget that he trains with Gunnar Nelson and it is obvious he has put in a lot of work in on the grappling side of the sport.

Just a quick note or two

I want to point out one thing that separates McGregor from a fighter like Machida and why you cannot game plan him the same way. With Machida the blueprint has been laid out for you perfectly by Weidman. By staying patiently aggressive in their fight it allowed Weidman to control the first three rounds and win them easily. It was not until Machida got aggressive that the fight really became difficult for Weidman at all. Machida is a counter-puncher as a fighter while McGregor is a fighter who counter-punches.

McGregor uses the counter-strike as a part of his arsenal but he is by nature the aggressive fighter. He forces you to fight his fight rather than wait for you to make a mistake. This makes him more difficult to game plan against. This is accentuated by his ability to make mid-fight adjustments like he did in the Holloway fight.

Also, for the critics of his chin-up style of fighting, here is what you are missing out on. He does not need to tuck his chin because he has otherworldly head movement to go along with his footwork. It is the chin being held high that allows him to have that movement. Try tucking your chin and moving your head, it does not work so well.

The tucked chin approach works for many fighters and it is a safer way of fighting. With your chin tucked and hands held high it is easier to block strikes, especially punches. If you are going just sit down in the pocket that keeping your chin tucked makes more sense. McGregor does not fight that way and is not your normal fighter. Instead he is one with great quickness, reflexes and vision. With his chin-up and eyes open he sees everything that is coming and can avoid it.

Again, it is not the safest styles and not many fighters can fight effectively this way but McGregor has the ability and the reflexes to do it. It was much the same for Roy Jones Jr. during his boxing career, Michael Jordan on the basketball court, Bruce Lee in martial arts or Salvador Dali on the canvas. It is something all great artists are able to do with their art form. They transcend the rules with their abilities, minds and artistry. They make the art form their own and that is what I see in McGregor inside of the octagon. He is making the fight his own each time he steps into the octagon.

The once and future King

Just like Arthur who had to pull the sword from the stone, McGregor still has some challenges ahead before he becomes a UFC champion. I am not saying he should get the next shot at the title but I do think that he is only about two fights away from it. Maybe even just one depending how things play out. There are a couple of scenarios that lead to him possibly getting a title shot by the end of the year.

First up will of course be his next fight with Poirier at UFC 178 which makes a lot of sense. The winner would find themselves on the cusp of the next chance at the champ and it would answer all of the questions people have about McGregor.

It could also be the start of a special rivalry in the octagon as both of these fighters show signs of being championship material and they are only one year apart in age. They both are mentally strong and like to talk trash in and out of the octagon. It would be a fun matchup during the pre-fight buildup, inside of the octagon and in the post-fight presser.

Now, if McGregor wins convincingly then it sets up some possible scenarios depending on what happens with Aldo and Mendes. With the way injuries happen and all of the momentum that McGregor is building up right now a big win over Poirier would put him behind only Swanson as the next to get a shot. Whether it is fair or not, McGregor is becoming huge and on his way to being a star and those kind of fighters will jump the line when it comes to title shots. If you doubt how big he is then you are not paying attention because when Arnold Schwarzenegger is tweeting the following:

… then Conor McGregor is officially a big deal. Seriously, when Arnold officially adds the “nator” to your name that is the American version of being knighted.

You may not like him but you cannot deny the talent in and out of the octagon. Some people just have that swagger about them in fact all of the great ones do. It is one of those things that separates them from the rest and McGregor has got it. The next few fights will show the world what he already knows, that the UFC belt will be his very soon. Sooner than you think.

An avid lifetime fight fan who loves to write about it. So kick back, get comfortable and let's have some fun! "Wants me to tell him something pretty." Al Sweargen "Going wrong is not the end of fucking things, Johnny. Fuck no! I have comeback from plenty of shit that looked like it was going wrong." Dan Dority "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Bill Munny

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