Whilst in this series I usually do a good length about the career of a fighter, I don’t think this one needs to be repeated. Conor McGregor is by far and away from the greatest draw the UFC has ever had. From his record-breaking PPV sales to becoming a household name.
How good is Conor technically?
One of Conor’s favorite tricks is drawing out his left hand in an almost lazy, distance feeler shot. Whilst most strikers do this, it’s often to genuine gauge distance. With McGregor, it’s a trap. Watch as he lures Eddie in by leaning his left hand forward and almost standing solely on his right foot for a split second. Eddie sees this ‘chink in the armour’ and tries to pounce with an arrow-like straight right. This is important to point out a point i’ll stress later. Conor is a genius with distance. 2 minutes into the fight and he has Eddie’s read. He DOESN’T take a step back here. He plants and shoots the straight left right down the middle, then retreats.
First of all, striking-wise, I’d say Conor is the single most efficient striker we have ever seen step foot in an octogon. Whilst often being touted as just the ‘left hand’ he’s ‘oh so much more. The sophistication in Conors striking and the subtleties are often looked past. Yes, there is a left hand, a lethal one, but it’s what he does to open the opportunities
Whilst maybe unimpressive to the uneducated eye, there are fighters that are also brilliant with distance management. Almost none can make reads like this in the first 2 minutes of a fight. The confidence that he was just out of range to not get clipped, and just inside enough land the piston-like left hand, forcing the underground king to ironically take a knee briefly.
Another clip to show his lazy backhand counters is the first knockdown from the Alvarez fight. He, again, plants his feet, lays that left hand out there almost turning square to his opponent, and again, DOESNT take a step back before throwing the first shot. He stuns him with a short, sharp left hand, cocks it back, and fully extends on a beautiful left cross.
Another hidden tool of Conors, his feet feints. Not the kick feints, but the false entries. He steps in and out usually multiple times early on in the fight without throwing anything. It’s a false entry, to try to draw a reaction out of an opponent.
Against Jose Aldo, ‘Mystic Mac’ could also be ‘Methodical Mac’ as there was as much method as there was madness. He steps in and outside Jose’s lead leg and then shifts back again at least 5 times inside 14 seconds. Was it a fluke 14 second KO? Not really. Jose was timing Conors entries, waiting to try to catch him whilst entering.
After a successful leg kick, where he was able to fully step outside Jose’s lead leg, McGregor again lunges back. On the 5th or 6th entry, McGregor slips back ever so slightly, clocks one on the chin, but sinks that money shot left hand down the middle again.
The locker room gif of Conor practicing the exact shot behind the scenes isn’t so much prediction as it is studying your opponent. Aldo is an equally sophisticated striker, so Conor would know Aldo would try to catch him on an entry early, so instead of avoiding it, he worked on selling it, into a counter.
Whilst similar to the first feint, it is slightly different in the sense there’s often never a full extension of the back arm. Instead, it’s a small movement, to gauge the opponents counter or even establish a solid enough defense pattern that he can look to counter off of. Conor also uses them on the offensive beautifully. He works the angle, cutting off the cage, then after landing it once or twice, the feints become a trap. After feeling the shot once, he gains respect, therefore can use feints and hand fighting to open up the defense.
Here as they hand fight, Conor feints the cross, then snaps almost a backhanded jab into Chad, followed by that feinted cross, and it finds its home perfectly. The feint doesn’t draw a reaction out of Chad that is physically noticeable but it draws a physiological ‘feint’ as such, Chad is expecting the straight left to come down the pipe, so the jab is free real estate per se, with the left hand having a home to land with next to no defense to breakthrough.
One of his favourite tools off of this feint is the lead uppercut-straight. He varies it from being a straight to the body, or a straight to the head. Whilst usually a difficult shot to lead with, Conor steps outside his opponent’s lead leg and lines it up to the body/head. This also is so useful for Conor because of the angle he throws the lead uppercut with. His arms are almost shaped like a jap and it’s a very sharp straighter looking uppercut, eliminating the loopiness of an uppercut and taking away the obvious counters for it. When he doesn’t throw it straighter, he specifically shifts his head out of the center-line.
He also comes from a much lower angle to throw it. This makes it an unorthodox entry into a combination so it eliminates the jab counter/straight right counter for Max. Watch as he also lunges his right leg outside Max’s lead leg to set up the angle for the straight left. Even in Boxing, that lead uppercut was thrown in the same way.
He almost level changes briefly and sinks it right up the middle, whilst shifting his head off to left, taking away the counter. It’s a tricky shot because whilst not debilitating, it comes from such a bizarre angle and situation that you almost can’t account for it. This was pretty much his best shot against Floyd and it’s no secret why. The subtleties of Conors game are so fascinating and I have no doubt he would hold up at a decent level of boxing, IF, he truly committed to it. He had minimum success against Floyd, but the fact there was some success is a win in itself. Conor had only come from an Amateur Boxing background, so to fight 49-0(49 1/2 if you include the Tenshin Nasukawa exhibition) perennial GOAT contender, and land a solid amount of shots is admirable.
Whenever Conor spins, it’s always for direction. He pushes you in the way he wants you circling out by throwing kicks. Often wheel kicks or hook kicks, they’re obviously thrown with the secondary intention of hurting, but the primary intention is to set up his hands. He throws them fast, perfect technique, but always with a plan.
Here, he throws the kick, his opponent tries to counter it, and Conor ducks under the counter with a double leg. This is him mixing up the variety of his attacks. He loves the rear spinning hook kick. He will throw it in the direction of his opponents circling to force them back in the direction of his power left hand. Here, Poirier has brief early success by circling out of Conors left hand, so Conor throws that kick as Poirier is side-stepping, then after blocking the kick immediately changes his course of direction, back into Conors left hand.
He also likes to circle you towards his lead hand, allowing you to think you can circle out of his left, then throws it with a full extension across the shoulder.
Watch as the shot comes OVER the shoulder of Mendes, instead if right down the middle, allowing him a full extension and more follow-through, alas, more power and accuracy. This comes from a series of set-ups, ones that Conor has used expertly throughout his career. These setups come as again, hook kicks. Here the throws one, forcing Max to circle back out of Conors left hand.
Conor has some beautiful head movement. This is usually down to his distance management and his reflexes. He has that split second to react, and he does so, evading any shots coming his way. Head movement is a delicate art, one wrong flick of the head and you could move into a shot, being more susceptible to the KO. Conor uses static movement mixed with fluid movements to achieve this. He often plants his heels, seeming static, then shifts his head off the centre line when he sees the opponent try to counter it.
He uses that well here vs Ivan Buchinger. Whilst seeming static, he counters with a slip-left cross, knocking his opponent out.
He also used head movement brilliantly whilst moving laterally. Here is a bit of Anderson Silva-Esque movement from Conor vs Eddie Alvarez. He sees the lunge from Eddie, shifts his head out of the way and counters with 2 left cross’.
How good is Conor McGregor?
I firmly believe the Conor McGregor that fought Eddie Alvarez was the most talented striker we have ever seen, however, I think the issue is the journey seemed to stop there. After this was the year-long sabbatical whilst negotiation the Mayweather rematch followed by another length of time out, then the Khabib defeat. It wasn’t quite the career trajectory planned for Mr McGregor. Things have soured since and Conor looks, again, ready to come back and cement his stake as the best lightweight in the world. Do I believe he can? Yes, do I think he will? No. I don’t think Conor from 2016 is still around, I think the time off, falling in and out of love among the out of the cage issues have had too much of an impact. If Conor can come back, and truly get his season, however, things may be very different.
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