The Notorious One

 
 

Irish mixed martial arts fighter, Conor McGregor, talks to Jack Walsh about looking at his opponent for the first time, ACL injuries and Jose Aldo

The Fighter’s Mind, Sam Sheridan’s account of his interviews with the likes of Dan Gable and Freddie Roach discussing the mind-set of the fighter, stated that, “You need a certain type of arrogance to fight. You have to have the secret in your heart. That you are too tough, too technical, too strong for this guy. You have to believe in yourself more than anything.”

This self-belief is personified in Dublin native Conor McGregor. He equally maintains strict inner focus and exuberant confidence, which made the 25-year-old’s rise to become the darling of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) brass seem so effortless.

McGregor attributes his success to a personal belief. “It’s as simple as you telling yourself that; that’s it. All I have to do is tell myself. I tell myself so much and I tell everyone else so much, that I’m going to do this or that.

“I’ve been doing that since I was a kid, not just now the spotlight is on; I’ve been saying this since before anyone was even listening. I talk so much; you better believe I work so much more.”

Possessing a ten fight win streak that saw him capture the Cage Warriors Fighting Championships Featherweight and Lightweight titles, a feat only equalled by Dan Henderson’s dominance in the Pride Fighting Championships. McGregor entered the UFC’s Octagon in April, and quickly made his mark.

In blitzing through Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds, McGregor followed his own movements and ideas of combat. “I’m walking out and just trying to keep my mind clear, and to not overthink things. Just be slow in your thoughts, have your thoughts slow and concise. The slower you think and the slower your mind is, the faster your reactions will be.”

McGregor has become renowned for mentally agitating his opposition. In recent weeks, he has called out most of the top ten of his division and looking at an opponent is always the same process for McGregor. “I’ve looked at him a million times, and I’ve seen fear a million times. That fear manifests, so that’s what I see. I look at him and I can see right through his eyes.”

McGregor’s last fight in Boston, an event launching the UFC on Fox Sports One, was filled with intrigue. He fought to a decision against Max Holloway, in which the fight was won utilising McGregor’s grappling arsenal, all a tactical reaction to an ACL tear caused by an awkward bridge and roll escape from Holloway.

The Irishman was deflated following the win, citing his inability to finish. ACL injuries kill careers, yet he was uncaring in the cage. “I honestly just didn’t even acknowledge it. I didn’t tell my corner men, I didn’t. I just accepted it.

“To be honest, I didn’t understand the severity of it. I didn’t really realise what it was, I just knew it popped. I knew it was unstable, and it felt really wobbly. I just blocked it out of my mind. I didn’t react to it in any way. It didn’t even register.”

McGregor, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), credits his successes to Ireland’s first BJJ Black Belt, John Kavanagh. The leader of the Straight Blast Gym and a man McGregor proclaims as “a genius, he is remarkable at planning movement.

“When he says something, his attention to detail is special. So definitely training at SBG with John is huge. John brought me up. I was just a little small boxer when I started. He has moulded me into a martial artist, into a man who can move many ways.”

The UFC’s featherweight champion, Jose Aldo, will face number one contender Ricardo Lamas on SuperBowl weekend at UFC 169, with McGregor unfazed by Lamas’ mentality. “Hype is a funny thing. I don’t listen to what people have to say, I just look at the movement.

“I think, and in my mind he’s fighting for a chance at the belt. Rather than fighting to win it. He’s happy that he’s got a chance, his shot. A contender. I believe that is the type of competitor he is.”

Aldo has defended the belt seven times, showing a remarkable ability to fight specialists in their domain. In short, he can out-strike kick boxers, and out-grapple All-American Wrestlers. McGregor begrudgingly sees Brazilian as the victor in February. “[Aldo] did not look great in his last fight. He looked very basic in his last fight, he didn’t look dynamic. I believe the man who believes he’s going to win, is going to win. I think Aldo’s going to win.”

Plagued with an ACL injury that could leave him side-lined for six months, McGregor’s will has been tested, but not broken. “There is a nation of people waiting on me to come back and put on the big show.

“That motivates me to keep on and train hard, and it’s different now with the UFC on board. It’s not hard to get motivated when there are so many good guys in there waiting.”

With a homecoming fight in Dublin pending his return, McGregor will hope to climb atop the pack and earn his chance to fight Aldo, to win his legacy as a pioneer of Irish MMA.

 

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