A strong relationship between a coach and their fighter can be one that makes or breaks an athlete at the highest level. The bond between UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor and his long-time coach and SBG Ireland founder John Kavanagh is one that has been as fruitful as any, but not without any challenges.
With his top protege set to attempt to make history this weekend, the ‘godfather of Irish MMA’ John Kavanagh sat down with Ariel Helwani on this week’s edition of The MMA Hour to discuss his relationship with Conor McGregor as well as their preparation for the very dangerous task in front of them.
One interesting point made by Kavanagh was the change in focus that happened between McGregor’s first bout with Nate Diaz at UFC 196 and the subsequent rematch that took place at UFC 202. Kavanagh spoke on the pair’s relationship and how it changed over the years with all of the various distractions that came as a result of their newfound success.
“It’s kind of like growing old,” said Kavanagh. “You don’t notice it and then you meet someone who you haven’t seen in a while and then they say ‘oh you’ve changed’. Now I see it, I didn’t at the time it was a very gradual kind of separation if you want to call it that. When I look back now, compared to how we are now I do see it.”
McGregor famously was submitted in the second round of his first contest with Diaz, a loss that shook the foundations of the MMA world to their very core. After that bout, McGregor slipped away from the public eye for some time, going back to his roots in a way in order to adequately train for the huge challenge in front of him.
A lot was made of the change in preparation made by the McGregor-camp between both bouts and Kavanagh went on to claim that the infamously strange time-keeping skills of McGregor were limiting the amount of time that he was spending with his head coach.
“There were some times in the gym when I was walking in and he was walking out and I was kind of just nodding at him. Like I said it was a very gradual process. He was just training at different times. He’d come in at like 10 or 11pm whereas I would have been in there since 9am and by that time i’d be tired. I’d be like ‘I was here earlier, and you weren’t?”
McGregor received a lot of praise both from fans and detractors for the way he conquered his adversity at UFC 202, with many pointing to his loss in the bout prior to that as a real turning point.
But the benefits and dangers of a very strong self-belief come in equal measures to those who haven’t faced adversity so for John Kavanagh the choice to bring back the discipline and rigid scheduling of Conor’s earlier years seemed to be a no-brainer.
“He always went with the flow, on his own time. He’s the champion of the world, he just beat – some say the best ever – in 13 seconds, what am I going to say? That was feeling right for him for that moment. But then after the contest [UFC 196] I said well ok that doesn’t seem to be working.”
“I’m not going to repeat a process that doesn’t work and expect a different outcome. We went back to scheduled sessions, a set routine and look what happened after a short length of time.”
The bond between Kavanagh and McGregor will have to be at its strongest when the featherweight champion steps up in weight to take on Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title at this weekend’s UFC 205. The bout will last 5 rounds and serves as the first outing for mixed martial arts in the city of New York since the sport’s creation.
It will a monumental night for the sport and one that any fight fan cannot miss.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena