'I've absolutely no doubt' - John Kavanagh expects Conor McGregor to take care of 'traditional fighter' Alvarez
As John Kavanagh’s interview at the One-Zero conference concluded at the RDS, all in attendance stood and applauded as a collage of Anthony Foley appeared on the stage-adjacent screen. It was a fitting tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest warriors as he was being laid to rest in Killaloe.
Kavanagh, as tends to be the case when he speaks to the media, was engaging and forthright, while he sat comfortably in a tailored grey suit his most famous pupil would certainly have approved of.
Exactly three weeks from tomorrow, Kavanagh will make the walk to the octagon with Conor McGregor at Madison Square Garden as they seek to make history at UFC 205.
Indeed, the walk itself will be historic; for the first time ever a mixed martial arts event will take place in New York, and the infamous Garden, which has housed so many immortal boxing spectacles over the years, is unquestionably the most befitting of venues for the occasion.
When inside the cage, McGregor is tasked with navigating lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the five-round main event. Should he do so, the Dubliner will become the first fighter in history to concurrently hold UFC titles in two different weight classes.
He had been on the precipice of such an achievement last March, only for then lightweight kingpin Rafael Dos Anjos to sustain a broken foot 12 days out from UFC 196.
What followed, was a seismic two-fight series with Nate Diaz. The first saw the Californian hand McGregor his first promotional loss in the most chastening fashion.
Undaunted, McGregor bounced back from the second round submission loss when he defeated the preternaturally durable Diaz via majority decision at UFC 202 in August.
Although McGregor has caused somewhat of a logjam by not defending the featherweight belt he took from Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds at UFC 194 last December, the fight with Alvarez simply had to be made.
While it might not make sense from a purely sporting perspective, the bout will generate an outrageous windfall for all the relevant parties, while the consensus among the fan-base is generally one of satisfaction at the prospect of McGregor and the Philadelphian going to war.
The Crumlin man’s victory over Diaz was facilitated by he and Kavanagh dispatching of the training methods which had served them so well over the last decade.
The camp was specifically tailored around neutralising Diaz’s strengths, and huge emphasis was placed on McGregor’s endurance and the diversification of his striking arsenal.
Until Diaz had strangled McGregor into submission, the SBG duo had never unduly troubled themselves with the attributes of opponents, simply because of the frequency with which they ultimately faced 11th hour replacements.
“Conor is so used to fighters pulling out on him that in his 14 pro fights there’s a 50% rate of pull outs,” Kavanagh explained.
“It was just a common call, 10 days, 14 days out, and the promoter would ring me and I’d answer saying ‘hey is there a replacement?’ before he’d even say anything.
“It was a common theme so we weren’t able to get very super specific for what we were preparing for.
“If you’re preparing for Aldo, a fast kickboxer, great takedown defence, and you get very specific about that and then a week out you get a wrestler (Chad Mendes) that holds people down, you couldn’t get more different than those two opponents but our training style could deal with that change.”
“But Diaz proved to be a different character for a number of different reasons. He was so unusual compared to the typical opponent that we did have to re-assess and change, we changed pretty much everything in the lead up for that contest, so it just taught me a different style of coaching that I hadn’t been used to.”
On Alvarez, however, Kavanagh echoed previous statements from McGregor, that the American will prove a significantly less confounding foe.
Alvarez is a smothering and tenacious grappler, while his striking is potent, if somewhat generic. That said, he ploughed through Dos Anjos within a round, and is trained by some of the best coaches in the business.
Kavanagh maintained that McGregor will get the job done inside the distance, but also acknowledged that Alvarez presents a worthy challenge.
“The Eddie Alvarez fight is a lot more of the standard that we’re used to. He fights with a traditional stance and he’s very similar to a bunch of guys that Conor has already beat.
“Diaz was the anomaly, a bit of blip that had to be trained in a certain way for but I think the Eddie fight will be a return to our more traditional style of training.
“There will be pressure in this fight, I have no doubt there will be times where Conor is feeling that pressure and is getting pinned up against the fence. It’s a fight at the end of the day and Eddie is a UFC champion and he is it for a reason.
“He’s been around this sport for a long, long time and as I say we’re hoping for the best but we’re preparing for the worst so we’re ready for a tough 25 minutes.
“I’d be very surprised if it goes the full 25 minutes but I’m sure Eddie is going to have his moments, that’s how fights are, but ultimately I have absolutely no doubt that Conor’s hand will be raised.”