Wednesday 21 March 2018

'I don't know what I was thinking'- Conor McGregor admits preparing poorly for Nate Diaz bout

Conor McGregor has said he prepared poorly for his earlier fight with Nate Diaz
Conor McGregor has said he prepared poorly for his earlier fight with Nate Diaz

Tom Rooney

After almost three months of processing and digesting the chastening loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, Conor McGregor has conceded that his preparations for the bout were totally wrong.

One would have to wonder if any dark thoughts have infiltrated the infamously unflappable confidence of Conor McGregor.

Not six months ago the Dubliner was siting pretty at the summit of the fight game. As he predicted, McGregor unseated Jose Aldo as featherweight champion with a consummate ease at UFC 194.

He was then granted the opportunity to become the first man ever to concurrently hold two titles with a bout against lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, all the while the money faucet was flowing freely.

It was all going so well. Perhaps too well.

Just 12 days out from the contest, Dos Anjos was forced to withdraw from UFC 196 with an injured foot, and few could argue that, for McGregor, it’s all gone down hill since then.

Nate Diaz was drafted in as a short notice replacement for Dos Anjos and, at the SBG man’s behest, the fight would be contested at welterweight. This totally made sense, given the brevity of Diaz’s preparation time.

McGregor and Diaz in action

Of course, Diaz would shock the fight world with arguably the greatest performance of his decade-long stint with the UFC.

By the post -fight press conference later that night in Sin City’s MGM Grand Garden Arena, McGregor was already able to offer suitable analysis as to why he was beaten for the first time in close to six years.

Diaz, he said, had been more efficient with his energy and gauged the pace of the fight with a greater prudence.

It had been roughly three years since the Dubliner had not been required to endure the arduous weight cut to featherweight (145lbs). The drawn out, emaciated man that steps on the scales hardly resembles the McGregor who enters the octagon just over 24 hours later.

In the immediate aftermath of the initial Dos Anjos contest being booked, McGregor and coach John Kavanagh had frequently claimed that he would be an infinitely more potent combatant at lightweight (155lbs.).

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Conor McGregor takes some punishment from Nate Diaz during their welterweight bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada. 'Once a man goes down to the floor in MMA, his opponent will then do his best to make sure he stays down – frequently through repeated use of elbow strikes to the head and face. It’s this element of extreme brutality which both attracts and disgusts people.' Pic: Mark Rebilas/Sportsfile

Without having to starve, dehydrate and deprive himself of nourishment in the lead up to the contest, they proclaimed, the fighter who dethroned Jose Aldo would pale in comparison to the one certain to dish out similar treatment to Dos Anjos.

It may sound hyperbolic but Dos Anjos’ injury profoundly altered the trajectory of McGregor’s career. To secure Diaz’s participation, the Crumlin man stipulated that the five round main event could go ahead at welterweight (170lbs.)

As such, the Dubliner had no poundage to shed beforehand. Subsequently, he consumed calories at an abnormal rate and continued to work on taxing routines of improving core strength with movement coach Ido Portal.

"Swinging on gymnastic rings on fight week isn't the best thing,” he told ESPN.

“Usually, I wrap myself in bubble wrap and only do fight-specific things, but just because of that weight, no weight cut, I had put it in my head that, 'I'm free.' I had energy to burn.

“I was doing so much bounce foot-work, the balls of my feet were burned to a crisp. Looking back, it was ridiculous. I don't know what I was thinking."

Conor McGregor submits to a choke-hold by Nate Diaz at UFC 196 in Las Vegas last month. Photo: Getty Images

McGregor would dominate Diaz in the opening round, however, even after a barrage of shots from that infamous left hand, the American was still very much conscious. Over the course of 21 fights with the UFC, the Californian had been knocked out just once.

In second stanza, McGregor experienced a massive energy dump, but failed to tailor his offence accordingly, and continued to try and remove Diaz’s head.

The veteran soon found rhythm and stunned the SBG man with pair of straight lefts, demobilised him with a pinpoint knee to the midriff, before McGregor sought out that ill-fated takedown. In the blink of an eye, he was tapping to an airtight rear naked choke.

"The first eight minutes of the fight was easy," McGregor said. "Let's be honest, I slapped the head off him. Once the gas tank went, that was it. I drowned. He landed that one punch that rang the bell and went, '(Gasp,) I'm back.' He was close to being done. One or two more shots and he would have been wrapped up.”

McGregor disappointed after his defeat. Photo: USA Today Sports

Such a view of what transpired is, to put in mildly, slanted. In reality, McGregor was punished for a brazen act of hubris. He is now working full-time with famed nutritionist George Lockhart.

In the interim, their scheduled rematch at UFC 200, which McGregor agitated for, was cancelled because the Notorious refused to fulfil media obligations in favour of training for the contest which, to be fair, was eminently reasonable act given how much complementary  promotion he has banked for his employers.

By harnessing his massive social media following, McGregor attempted to tip the scales of the feud in his favour, but it was a battle he could never win. And the big machine has chugged on regardless, though meetings have since taken place between the UFC and their errant super star.

Risible rumours of a super fight with Floyd Mayweather refuse to die, while the 27-year-old has continued to prepare diligently, sparring with a number of world class boxers, including former IBF welterweight champion Chris van Heerden who, funnily enough, is a lanky southpaw.

It’s easy to forget that McGregor is yet to defend the featherweight title he took from Aldo in December. The UFC have decided to pit the Brazilian against Frankie Edgar in an interim title bout at UFC 200.

"It was my idea," he said of the fight

"I wanted to have my revenge at 170, and they're crying and complaining about the 145-pound belt, which I just won three months ago. That division was killed, it was dead. Jose went down in 13 seconds. What more can I do? I travelled the world with that man. I finally got him in the Octagon, and he only lasts 13 seconds.

"I didn't see a challenge there anymore. So, I wanted to create interest from a fan's perspective and my perspective. I want to see them two go at it, with an interim belt on the line.

“Then I will see people walking around my division with a belt and that will intrigue me. It will make me want that belt again."

Thing is, without beating Edgar, a man many feel has the requisite tools to defeat McGregor, he will forever be accused of ducking the New Jersey native.

A rescheduled sequel with Diaz had been slated for UFC 202 in August, but negotiations between the veteran and the company brass have reached an impasse. In this moment, McGregor, an athlete who thrives on perpetual activity , is mired in a professional stasis. Watch this space.

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