Few would be inclined to disagree with Firas Zahabi’s basic analysis of Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz 1.
Not just because he is Firas bloody Zahabi and, well, how dare they? But also because it doesn’t stray too far from the consensus view.
McGregor’s mentality was all wrong going into the fight, he didn’t have enough respect for Diaz, he thought he could run through him, and he gassed catastrophically. Sound familiar? Of course it does.
However, there is one key difference between Zahabi’s reading of the fight and that of the majority. He believes that the link between McGregor’s psychological state and his physiological collapse was more direct.
While most other observers feel that ‘The Notorious’ one’s overconfidence led him to frequently load up on his punches and set a pace that he could not maintain, thus causing him to gas out, Zahabi says that McGregor “could throw an infinite number of punches if he wanted to”.
The Tristar head coach instead suggests that the still-reigning featherweight champion was drained by the panic and confusion that washed over him when Diaz proved capable of taking that famed left-hand shot with astounding regularity.
“It seemed like he felt that he was invincible and he could just bully Nate, and treat Nate any which way he wanted,” asserts Zahabi in the video below. “And he didn’t have that healthy amount of fear. You have to have that healthy amount of fear”.
Without it, proposes Zahabi, McGregor was ill-prepared for the possibility that his rather rough ‘Plan A’ would fail.
“The worst thing that can happen to you in a fight is to be surprised. The element of surprise is the most powerful thing in a war. If you go to war and you can surprise your opponent, you confuse them, you stun them, he’s dead in the water. There is no other advantage greater than the element of surprise.
“[Diaz] didn’t fall like those featherweights, he didn’t give up, he didn’t fold, he’s got that dog in him…Conor McGregor got surprised by Nate and that’s why he was confused and that confusion led to fatigue, and that led to the beginning of the end.
“It wasn’t because he wasn’t in shape, the man was preparing for a five-round fight vs[Rafael] Dos Anjos, a very high-paced fighter. The reason why he got tired was a psychological one in my opinion. Conor McGregor in the octagon is a bully, that’s his style…What happens to bullies? Sometimes they go from 100 miles an hour to zero quickly.
“A bully bullies you because he thinks you’re nothing. And when you surprise him, when you punch him in the nose, when you stand up to him…if you notice McGregor started to get really tired when Nate started to talk shit, when Nate started to press him, when Nate started to push him back, when Nate started to bully him. Instead of relaxing and riding out the wave and being composed, McGregor by his own admission, panicked.
“When he got bullied he couldn’t handle it.”
So what would Zahabi do if he were in John Kavanagh’s position to ensure that McGregor had the correct mindset going into this fight? The answer: strike some fear into him.
“If I was Conor’s coach, I would tell him everyday that this is going to be a hard fight,” says the Montreal based trainer. “Prepare to go tooth and nail, prepare to get your face bloodied, prepare to feel that warm rush of blood pouring down your face, because this one is not going to be a quick punch”.
“I would get in his ear and prep him for a hard fight and I would get him convinced that he wants a hard fight. And if the fight turned out to be easy, great. But if the fight starts getting hard, he wouldn’t get taken by surprise. I would convince him every day that this one is going to be a battle. I would tell him that this one is going to hurt, but it’s going to be worth the pain.
“I would scare him to a certain point, not too much, but I would scare him. I would get him ready for hell. If he is not ready for hell and he gets himself in a very difficult situation, then we are going to see the same fight.”