SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh identifies some of the biggest mistakes that were made in Conor McGregor’s preparation for UFC 196 and that famous loss to Nate Diaz in an excerpt from his autobiography that was recently published on the42.ie.
Being perfect and being a trailblazer don’t often go hand in hand. When someone pushes through boundaries, they are entering the unknown and thus mistakes have to be expected. One must adapt to changing situations and environs, but adaption rarely comes before a fall.
When, in an act of unparalleled audacity, Conor McGregor chose to fight Nate Diaz at 170lbs, he was entering uncharted territory.
And mistakes were made.
According to an excerpt from the soon to be released autobiography of McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh, aptly named “Win or Learn”, one of the most detrimental errors was made in the management of “The Notorious” one’s weight and eating habits in the days leading up to UFC 196.
Those who oppose the act of extreme weight-cutting in MMA have often used images of a featherweight McGregor looking terrifyingly gaunt at weigh-ins as a visual aid to their arguments, and many were happy to see him make the sizeable jump from 145lbs to 170lbs. It was hoped that a great performance from a fresh and healthy McGregor might bring about a positive change in the sport.
Before the fight, the Irishman appeared to be enjoying life as a welterweight and touted the benefits of competing at a more natural weight, routinely speaking of eating multiple breakfasts during fight week. Having sampled such delights, McGregor even questioned how the practice of weight-cutting had become the norm in MMA.
“I am just trying to relax, eat train and enjoy it – the way it’s supposed to be,” McGregor said from the centre of a pre-fight media scrum. “Weight-cutting is a weird one. It’s weird the way it even became what it is”.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, John Kavanagh believes that this disruption of normal pre-fight routine negatively impacted his charge’s mindset and that of the entire team.
“Not having to cut weight for the fight against Diaz was supposedly helpful, but in hindsight it was undoubtedly a hindrance,” wrote Kavanagh.
“Cutting weight may not be much fun, but it does serve as a reminder that you’re preparing for a fight. It focuses the mind and has been an enormous part of what we’ve been doing. Without that ritual, things were just weird. It left us all in an unusual state of mind. The routine we had established was suddenly absent. The need to cut weight gets the fighter in the zone and lets them know that a fight is on the horizon. If a person is starving, they’re in survival mode. It focuses the mind and taps into the reptilian part of the brain. When Conor is cutting weight, he views his opponent as an obstacle in the way of his next meal. It’s a primal thing. On the other hand, when you’ve eaten a good dinner, all you want to do is relax in front of the TV. The fire in your belly is replaced by food. Being stuffed isn’t conducive to maintaining a competitive mindset”.
Despite all of this, McGregor still demanded that his rematch with Diaz take place at welterweight. But armed with the knowledge gleaned from the previous camp, he will be doing things slightly differently the second time around.
“Even for his next welterweight fight, Conor’s diet will be strict. We’ve accepted now that it’s an important element of his preparation, so you can expect him to come in on weigh‐in day at around 165lbs[McGregor weighed 168lbs for the first encounter]. No cheesecakes this time! It will be nutrition geared specifically towards performance”.
Another mistake that Kavanagh alluded to, was the decision to stay in Ireland as long as they did, delaying the arduous trip to the United States until just two weeks prior to fight night.
“Two weeks isn’t quite long enough to spend in the US before a fight like that,” said Kavanagh. “We need at least three, ideally four”.
As the title of his book suggests however, the SBG Ireland founder is not one to linger regretfully on these things and neither is Conor. Lessons have been learned, mistakes will be corrected, and they plan to soldier on towards their goals.
“There were mistakes made and, as the coach, I’ll take ownership of them. We should have travelled out sooner. We should have maintained the same level of meticulous preparation and competitive mindset that we had become accustomed to. We won’t be tucking into desserts, driving around in flashy cars and fucking about”.
“What I found tough was that I was familiar enough with Conor by now to know that the loss, the errors that were made, would be eating him up inside, keeping him awake at night and occupying his mind every minute of every hour of every day. But there was substantial consolation in the knowledge that Conor would emerge stronger and wiser”.
“One of the great things about this sport is that even after you’ve reached the top, you don’t stop learning. In fact, the lessons just become more valuable than they’ve ever been before”.
You can read the entire excerpt from the Kavanagh’s autobiography, which was co-written by Paul Dollery, here.