Monday 19 March 2018

Tactical breakdown of Conor McGregor sparring footage with Paulie Malignaggi

Conor McGregor sparring with Paul Malignaggi
Conor McGregor sparring with Paul Malignaggi

Luke Brown

Last weekend, video footage of Conor McGregor’s controversial sparring session with Paulie Malignaggi was finally released to the world.

UFC president Dana White saw fit to share 20 seconds of footage to his Instagram page, along with the caption: “For all the people who think [McGregor] can’t box. This gonna be a FIGHT! Here is the video everyone wanted to see of Conor against Malignaggi, former IBF and WBA world champion.”

It didn’t take long for the footage to rack up hundreds of thousands of views, with the short clip of McGregor dropping Malignaggi to the canvas appearing to directly contradict the American’s claim that he was pushed over and not knocked down.

But what other conclusions can we draw from the exceptionally short clips? Here, we pick out five key talking points.

It was a knockdown

The most significant conclusion that can be derived from the two short snippets of footage released by White is that it was a knockdown. Malignaggi was wrong – it wasn’t a push. Granted, Malignaggi is off balance after missing with a huge right hand, but McGregor clearly catches him with a short right to the head, and he drops. That’s it.

What does that actually mean? It’s difficult to say. If Malignaggi’s explanation is anything to go by, he hadn’t been properly briefed for the intensive, 12-round session. And obviously, he is not as fit as McGregor, who has been in intensive training for several months now. But the Irishman really did drop the former WBA welterweight champion.       

McGregor’s straight left is as deadly as ever

No surprises here then. Nine seconds into the first video posted by White, shortly after Joe Cortez has broken the clinch, McGregor lands a punishing straight-left: the shot which has made him a two-weight UFC world champion as well as a household name.

It’s a punishing shot and much of the intrigue around the Las Vegas fight revolves around whether Mayweather will be able to take the shot. But then again, will Mayweather – regarded as the greatest defensive boxer of all time with far superior technical skills than Malignaggi – even get hit?

He’s looking to rough Mayweather up…

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what tactics McGregor is going to adopt in this fight. He has absolutely no chance of outboxing Mayweather – so he has to outfight him. “He has to rough him up,” UFC light-middleweight Jimi Manuwa told The Independent recently. “So Conor has to really make him work and bully him in there – he has to get him into a corner and beat him up.”

The short video clip released from the sparring session illustrates this. In contrast to Malignaggi’s (and Mayweather’s, in fact) accurate potshot style, McGregor stays exceptionally busy, raining down shots on the inside and using his weight advantage to good advantage. He bullies Malignaggi around the ring.

… and possibly launch an all-out assault

The contrast in styles really could not be any more vivid. In an outstanding profile of Malignaggi for Grantland, Rafe Bartholomew described the New Yorker as “a skillful and crafty fighter, with sharp reflexes that he uses to slip incoming punches and score his own counters”. But he didn’t slip much in the 20 seconds of footage released by White.

Instead, McGregor launches an all-out assault on his sparring partner, landing no fewer than five nasty short left-hands on Malignaggi’s head during the clinch in the first portion of the footage. McGregor is in relentless form in the short video, causing real damage on the inside and landing clean headshot after headshot.

The footage was not leaked

It is important to caveat the above points with the fact that this footage was not leaked. Instead it was deliberately published by White, the president of the UFC, at the exact time he thought it opportune to share it.

Why? To boost interest in the fight of course, especially after the recent revelation that tickets aren’t selling as well as initially hoped. The footage has also been carefully selected from a number of rounds, no doubt in an attempt to make the Irishman look even more dangerous than he actually is.

And what the clips neglect to show?

Mayweather is one of the most intelligent boxers ever to have stepped foot in the ring. There are still huge questions over McGregor’s footwork, and this pair of short clips provide absolutely no answers in that respect.

And then there is McGregor’s fighting style. Will another referee allow him to throw his weight around like he is doing here? And will Mayweather simply duck out of the way of McGregor’s technically-flawed ‘side-swiping’ style? There are, of course, a lot of questions still to be answered.

Independent News Service

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