Conor McGregor coach John Kavanagh believes his star pupil has learned from his loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196 and will put those lessons to good use in their rematch on Aug. 20.
According to the SBG Ireland boss, the preparation for UFC 202 has followed a different formula than previous camps.
“The word we’ve been focusing on for this camp is ‘routine’. We basically did the same thing every day since we arrived in Vegas: Leave the house to go to the gym for a skill session at 1 p.m., before working on cardio in the evenings,” Kavanagh wrote in a blog on the42.ie. “We’ve been following that pattern now for what feels like a long time — about 19 weeks in total come fight night. Although it seems like it has been a long process, we’re definitely seeing the fruits of our labor. There are certain fitness tests that we have numbers on, and the improvements from when Conor began to where he is now have been dramatic.
“There’s no comparing this training camp to any we have done previously. I can’t stress enough how different this has been. As many of you will probably already know, routine hasn’t been something you would have associated with Conor’s preparations in the past.”
McGregor lost to Diaz via rear-naked choke submission 4:12 into the second round in a welterweight bout on March 5. Rather than defend the featherweight title he won against Jose Aldo in December, “The Notorious” one lobbied hard for a rematch at the same weight against the Stockton, Calif., native and ultimately received his wish.
One key difference this time around, Kavanagh says, is that McGregor has been specifically training for Diaz, where in the past he focused solely on himself.
“Anyone who knows about the history of SBG Ireland will be aware that we were always regarded as the last-minute gym — the guys who would be ready to step in at short notice. Our mentality reflected that so all you can do in those circumstances is try to get your skill set to such a high level that the opponent doesn’t matter,” Kavanagh wrote.
“I believe that worked well for us and the results were proof of that, but I also feel that when you’ve done that for so long, you can end up getting caught out against certain styles of opponent. This has provided us with an opportunity to experience the other method of extreme gameplanning and being very opponent-orientated.”
In the first meeting with Diaz, McGregor started quickly, landing several powerful punches on his opponent in the opening stanza. However, when the finish did not arrive, the Irishman began to fade while Diaz found his rhythm.
“Patience will be essential for Conor in this fight. I’m veering towards a fourth-round finish in his favor, following an opening three rounds which I expect him to dominate in the same manner he did in the first frame of the previous fight,” Kavanagh wrote. “I’ve been asked if I’m concerned about that dominance potentially tempting him to go after the finish a little too eagerly again, but I’m not. Maybe I would be if I hadn’t seen how focused and keen he is to right the wrongs from the last fight.”
In 2015, McGregor established himself as one of the UFC’s biggest stars, but Kavanagh knows how the fighter rebounds from his first Octagon defeat will be critical.
“This is a very important fight for Conor, but I also feel that my own reputation as a coach is at stake. This contest can be a bit of a game-changer for us all. Some observers who are obsessed with weight classes and belts don’t see this as a very meaningful fight. They’re more interested in seeing Conor defend his featherweight belt and going after the lightweight strap too,” Kavanagh wrote.
“But for me, we’re very lucky to be in a position to have an immediate rematch. In most cases, fighters have to be patient in order to get that chance. Having an opportunity to reverse an unfavorable result under the same circumstances just a few months later provides us with a chance to show that ‘Win or Learn’ isn’t just a catchy phrase. It really is something we practice and we have done for a long time.”
Kavanagh believes that McGregor must have an emphatic victory over Diaz at UFC 202 to regain some of the luster he lost earlier this year. A narrow verdict simply won’t have the same impact.
“I do believe that this win must be very dominant. It can’t be a close decision or anything like that. In that case there won’t be much satisfaction,” he wrote. “We want to deliver a contest which will remove any doubts or questions in the aftermath. We want to put a definitive stamp on this to prove that for us, it really is a case of win or learn.”