Before there was the Conor McGregor – Paulie Malignaggi sparring saga, there was the Conor McGregor – Chris van Heerden sparring…okay, it might be a bit hyperbolic to call it a saga, but it was a big story back in the spring and summer of 2016.
It wasn’t long after McGregor’s now infamous ‘retirement’ tweet and the collapse of a scheduled UFC 200 rematch with Nate Diaz that the Irishman partook in a pair of sparring sessions with Van Heerden at the Box ‘N Burn gym in Brentwood, California. In the aftermath of these workouts, Van Heerden was initially respectful toward McGregor in the media and complimentary of his boxing skills, but the boxer changed his tune a little when some sparring footage was leaked to TMZ and further clips were posted to TheMacLife.com. The footage gave the impression that ‘The Notorious’ one had gotten the better of Van Heerden in sparring, but the South African southpaw furiously claimed that it had been edited and left viewers with a skewed perception of what had actually happened during the sessions.
Earlier this year, after the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight was announced, Van Heerden authored a new chapter to the story, when he released his own sparring footage on social media – footage that reflected far less favourably on McGregor.
People telling me Mayweather will have his hands full trying to land on McGregor -STOP IT! I respect McGregor BUT i ain't Floyd and i landed pic.twitter.com/gd4dFi3XUU
— Chris van Heerden (@TheHeat001) June 14, 2017
He later told TMZ that he had landed “at will” on McGregor, despite not being in shape. “I’m no Mayweather,” added Van Heerden.
“It is crazy to think that people can actually compare a fighter that’s 0-0 in a boxing ring to a legend that is 49-0 that, if you go on his resume, has beaten the best of the best in the world.”
Sufficed to say, Van Heerden wasn’t expecting McGregor to cause Mayweather many problems.
“[McGregor] is going to come out wild, Floyd’s going to be on the back foot,” Van Heerden said when asked for an official MayMac prediction during a mid-August interview with FightHubTV. “Floyd is going to make him miss, make him look silly. And the times he doesn’t do that, Floyd is going to step in and throw those nice jabs to the body, slow him down big time. Round 2, will start off the same way. Conor’s hands are going to drop, he is going to already forget what he’s learned from boxing – so his hands are going to be down. He is going to come with his style, Floyd is going to tag him, tag him, start walking him down. I’d say this fight gets stopped between round three and round five – TKO Floyd.”
On Saturday night in Las Vegas, McGregor surprised many within the boxing community by not only lasting into the tenth round against Mayweather, but by winning some rounds en-route to his eventual defeat.
In a subsequent interview with FightHub TV, Van Heerden admitted that he was taken aback by McGregor’s exploits and offered the Dubliner praise.
“I enjoyed the fight. Honestly, I enjoyed the fight. Like I said, I would be a man when McGregor proves me wrong. I’m going to be a man and I’m going to congratulate him,” said the 30-year-old native of Johannesburg. “Honestly, I didn’t expect him to be in there for ten rounds and I didn’t expect him to do as good as he did. So, I want to go ahead and say congratulations to Conor McGregor. He proved me wrong and I’m man enough to say, well done, brother. Respect to you.
“Conor showed some stuff in there that was pretty cool. I think it was round one or two, the slip uppercut – that doesn’t just happen. He trained it and he landed it. It was planned out and he landed it. So, well done on that.
“Props to Conor for putting up a good fight and capitalizing on Floyd walking in there with his hands up. Conor showed some tremendous heart, he showed some skill and he tried to put up a hell of a fight. I think rounds one, two and three went to Conor, and four maybe was even. Like I predicted, Conor’s going to get tired – I thought round three or round four Conor would start to get fatigued – and I think round four or round five we could see Conor getting fatigued. And Floyd did what I expected him to do, which was walk Conor down.
“Exciting fight. I enjoyed it. Conor capitalized on situations, well done to him. Floyd stuck to his gameplan, he walked there and tried to give fans a fight. We always knew [fighting that style], Floyd was going to get caught.
“Good fight, man. And I think it was a good stoppage because that stoppage came one minute into round number ten, there was two minutes left. Conor was about to go out there, good stoppage from the referee in my opinion. Overall, congratulations to both – Floyd for going 50-0 and Conor for putting up a hell of a fight.”
“I said it from the beginning, I said Conor’s not going to get knocked out, the referee will jump in or the corner will stop it because he is tough,” Van Heerden added later. “He’s an Irishman, he’s tough.”
After the fight, much was made of the fact that CompuBox had McGregor landing 111 punches on Mayweather, thirty more than Manny Pacquiao landed on the defensive maestro in 2015 and just six less than Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez did back in 2013.
Van Heerden, however, felt that these stats unduly flattered McGregor.
“I see it going all over the internet, where they say Conor McGregor landed  punches and they compare it to Pacquiao and [Marcos] Maidana and Canelo, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” said Van Heerden. “The fans have got to understand this – and listen to me now – when Mayweather fought Pacquiao, Canelo, Maidana, all of those guys, he didn’t go walking right in with no slipping. He was on the back foot making these guys miss. He went straight at Conor McGregor and that’s why Conor landed so many more punches. If Floyd went in like that against a Manny Pacquiao, a Maidana, a Canelo, he might have been knocked out – if he went straight forward.”
“He fought two different fights, so don’t compare how many punches Conor landed because Floyd came right at him. If Floyd came right at Manny Pacquiao, he might have landed 300 punches. Who knows? People should really think before they say these things, because there are two different styles of fighting there.”
McGregor said before Saturday’s bout that he planned to box again in the future and a grudge-match with the aforementioned Paulie Malignaggi now looks a lucrative option in light of the publicity that their recent feud has received in recent weeks. However, it looks more likely that ‘The Notorious’ one’s next fight will be under MMA rules. Despite the fact that he admitted he would watch McGregor – Malignaggi and also expressed his own interest in boxing the Dubliner, Van Heerden said that he would like to see McGregor back in the UFC battling an old foe.
“I’d like Conor to go back to the UFC, honestly. And then I’d like him to go and dominate and fight Diaz in the third one – in the trilogy,” he said.
“Conor should take the experience that he has gained from this fight and go back to the UFC and keep dominating. I’ve said it from the beginning and I’ll say it again, I’m a big Conor fan when it comes to the UFC. He’s doing his thing. So, I would really like to see that fight.”