FIGHT NIGHT! McGregor vs Alvarez – Get In The Head Of A Champion Brawler


Men's Health |

World Champion Conor McGregor is aiming to make history by becoming the first man ever to hold two UFC titles consecutively when he steps into the ring with Eddie Alvarez.

The UFC 205 fight will see the featherweight champion make his lightweight debut against a man who has dominated the division.

As we build up to this epic fight, guys, seriously, this is one to watch, here’s a reminder of why Conor is a titan of the sport.

Defeat has not deterred UFC champion Conor McGregor. It may have made him more dangerous.

Conor McGregor bragged that in this UFC cage match, the lion would devour the gazelle. That his opponent Nate Diaz was too soft, too slow, too repetitive. That he would knock Diaz out in the first round. The result? Diaz choked out the cocky Irishman in the second round. “You can either run from adversity or take it head-on and conquer it,” McGregor says. “I took a risk; it didn’t pay off. I will be back.” It’s that kind of straight talk, along with explosive punching power, that spurred McGregor’s rise to the top of the UFC, earning him milliondollar paydays and legions of fans. Lost in the headlines about the defeat was the fact that McGregor, 28, was fighting two weight classes above his usual featherweight, and he took the Diaz fight on ten days’ notice. MH caught up with the hard-hitting poster boy to discover what the loss taught him. McGregor also explained his training approach, which prioritises unconventional movement practice over brute strength, a focus that could make you fitter and stronger too.

1/ Learn from Loss

Prior to the Diaz event, McGregor was on a mother of a streak – 15 straight victories since 2010. Overall, he’d prevailed in 19 of his 22 pro bouts, all but two ending in KOs. Most famously, in the fight leading up to the Diaz matchup, McGregor’s left hook detonated on the chin of Jose Aldo, who hadn’t lost in 10 years; it was all over in 13 seconds. For Diaz, McGregor was overconfident. “With most fighters, if an opponent’s injured, he gets flustered. Not Conor. He will fight anyone,” says UFC president Dana White. “I remember driving out to the Mac Mansion [McGregor’s 1 000-squaremetre estate] at 3 pm.

Conor walks out in his underwear, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. We tell him his opponent just got injured. He asks who he’s fighting. We say it’s one of three guys. He says, ‘I’m going to go to the gym. Just call me and tell me who I’m fighting.’” Facing a 170-pound opponent brought new challenges. He’d had success dropping weight quickly for a bout, but putting it on was trickier. “I was eating two steaks a day. I was eating cookies,” says McGregor, who normally fights at 145 pounds. “I was full. We don’t fight when we’re full – we fight when we’re hungry.” To prep for the Diaz rematch, he has a nutrition plan to cut weight. His trainer, John Kavanagh, believes starving to hit a weight target puts a fighter in survival mode and taps into his reptilian brain.

While McGregor’s cutting weight, he views his opponent as an obstacle in the way of his next meal. McGregor also dedicated more time to boosting his cardio. “I slapped the hell out of Diaz for eight minutes. I didn’t lose on skill; I lost on stamina,” he says. He’d prepared for a longer, more strategic fight. “It’s not frustrating. I look at it as educational,” says McGregor, who admits he’s watched the replay “dozens” of times. Adversity, we know, can lead to growth. In the wake of a loss, it can help to identify new possibilities, says University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman. By recognising weaknesses in his approach and changing his training and tactics to work against them, McGregor is doing just that.

2/ Expand Your Skill Set

After his 13-second demolition of Aldo, McGregor offered a pronouncement that was as full of swagger as analysis. “Aldo is powerful, and he’s fast,” said the new champion. “But precision beats power, and timing beats speed.” Truth is, McGregor thinks traditional strength training is overrated. “What people see as power is often tension, which actually makes you fragile,” he says. “People are so caught in a routine, doing the same things over and over. I want to be an expert in many different things.” To that end, McGregor says he’s infinitely interested in learning about new fighting styles, training methods and mental approaches. That quest led him to connect with the Israeli movement specialist Ido Portal, whose innovative approach borrows elements of martial arts, dance, circus, athletics, somatics and other disciplines. McGregor says he began studying Portal’s methods on YouTube late in 2013. “Ido is just incredible in the way he can move,” he says. Eventually he reached out to Portal, and the two began to work face-to-face.

As McGregor shadowboxes and kicks in the gym, the implied violenceof his parries is obvious – and so is the grace of his movements. These are roundhouses and left hooks that have buckled more than a dozen pro fighters, but his movements have the fluidity of modern dance. This observation is warily mentioned to the fighter, whose chest is inked with a giant tattoo of a gorilla eating a heart; thankfully he takes that as a compliment.I’m riveted by the seeming disconnect between the artistry of his movements and the destruction they deliver. I ask him about this later, and he refuses to acknowledge an incongruity. “It’s all beautiful,” he insists. “The movements are beautiful, but so is the brutality. To know how to make another man’s body submit to yours – that’s a beautiful thing.”

Later, as the Irishman punches and flexes for a Reebok video shoot and does interviews for affiliate sponsors, he shares details about how the unconventional training quickly helped him become a better fighter. “I’ve learned new footwork patterns,” he says. “I’ve learned how to find a lower centre of gravity and found more angles to throw shots. In a bout, I’m not just fighting another man. I’m dealing with another man and the ground. I want to understand how the ground can be my friend.” Portal explains: “Conor actually has a non-macho approach. A fight is a movement scenario – a dynamic and infinite puzzle. Supportive fields like strength and conditioning and fitness fill in some of the gaps, but movement fills in other gaps of the puzzle too.”

Emphasising graceful movement may sound strange, but it works, says Marco Sanchez, a trainer at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. “Improved movement mechanics let you put your body in positions that enable you to make greater strength gains,” he says. Whether that’s extending your range of motion for an exercise or achieving better form, it starts with consistently warming up and cooling down every workout. Too many guys warm up for lifting by doing gentle cardio. Instead, do body-weight exercises that mimic your workout. You want to grease the patterns of your workout, warm up your joints. At your cooldown, do soft-tissue work, such as foam-rolling and static stretches, for five minutes. Afterwards, breathe deeply for two minutes in a relaxed position on your back or stomach, or cross-legged. Inhale through your nose and fill your diaphragm as deeply as possible; then exhale slowly through your mouth, as if you’re blowing out birthday candles, until no air’s left. This slows your heart rate and toggles your nervous system into a relaxed state. You’re starting your recovery before your shower.

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3/ Forge Unbreakable Confidence

The loss to Diaz has barely dented McGregor’s confidence. Some of that unshakable self-belief arises from the distance he has traveled from Crumlin, the tough Dublin suburb with the Rocky-worthy name where he grew up. The story of his origins may seem clichéd, but it reveals an authentic struggle. McGregor took up boxing at the age of 12. “I walked into a gym not giving a damn about a belt or a title – I got into it to deal with the street,” he says. It didn’t take long for his work ethic and left hook to catch people’s eye, and the teenager starting seeing success.

Within a few years he was grappling, kickboxing, and practicing jujitsu – every discipline he could think of – sowing the seeds for UFC success. He continued fighting while collecting unemployment checks. “I remember having scuffed sneakers and wanting to do something about it. But I couldn’t.” He became a plumber’s apprentice for a year, but his heart wasn’t in it. Then he saw his first UFC event in Dublin, and it changed the arc of his life. “I was 18. I didn’t think anyone I saw in the octagon seemed better than me,” McGregor recalls. “I realised this is something I could do with my life.” McGregor turned pro as an MMA fighter in 2007; he earned a 12-2 record in the following six years and became a European champion. But global stardom eluded him. That changed in 2013, when UFC president Dana White was in Dublin to receive an award. “I like to go to pubs,” says White. “And in every pub I went to, literally everybody was telling me about Conor McGregor. I was like, ‘I need to meet this kid.’” So White had McGregor flown out to Las Vegas, where the UFC is headquartered. He took his prospect out for a drive down the Strip in his white Ferrari and then to dinner. White was impressed. “Conor has this unbelievably magnetic personality. After dinner I called my partner and said that if this guy can throw a punch, he’s going to be a superstar.”

“What you see is what you get with Conor,” says Portal. “He’s a nonscripted, full-on living-in-the-moment, brutal-honesty kind of guy. I’ll take honesty over modesty any day of the week.” That honesty is essential to rock-solid confidence, explains sports psychologist Jonathan Fader. “The key is learning objective optimism: you need to objectively analyse your situation, looking for evidence of how you are excellent. Your evidence has to be based on facts, or your mind will reject it.” I ask McGregor what it feels like the moment he steps into the cage for a big fight. Does he ever feel fear? “No way, man,” he says. “It feels like freedom. It’s the one time where I get to do whatever the f*#& I want.”

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