In McGregor's Corner: Tiernan Bradley's first column on life inside the world of 'Notorious'
“HI there. Conor wants you to be one of his sparring partners in Vegas; can you fly out tonight or tomorrow at the latest?”
Short and sweet, that text message from Conor McGregor’s manager dropped at 10.03am on Sunday, July 16.
Sitting in my house in Omagh, I was getting ready to hit the road. This was Ulster final day after all, Tyrone against Down.
Having played for Omagh St Enda’s right through underage before focusing fully on boxing, I would know a lot of the Tyrone boys.
But any plans I had changed once I read the message and replied: “Yes no problem! I’ll get on the ball.” My heart was flying. I think I re-read it a few times just to make sure.
So instead of heading for St Tiernach’s Park, I found myself half-watching the game while throwing some stuff into a suitcase for six weeks in Las Vegas, part of a training camp for what is undoubtedly the biggest sporting event this summer - right in the centre of the storm.
I can only thank my lucky stars McGregor’s manager didn’t text later in the day with me stuck in Clones, no reception on the phone and no way of knowing what was going on. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.
Bags packed, passport expiry date double checked, goodbyes said, by 2pm the following day I was sat on a plane in Dublin ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
I WAS probably a bit of a latecomer to the whole Conor McGregor phenomenon.
Growing up in a household where nearly every conversation centred around boxing, the world of mixed martial arts and UFC held little appeal. It was never something I took an interest in.
But when McGregor came along and started to make waves, you couldn’t ignore him. That’s probably been his greatest achievement – making people who didn’t want to know sit up and take notice.
That swagger, his attitude inside and outside of the sport, people are drawn to him and, just like his opponents in the octagon have found out, once he grabs you he doesn’t let go.
Therefore, the chance to be involved with him – whether for a fight against Floyd Mayweather or anybody else – is not something you have to think twice about.
Conor Wallace, another Irish amateur boxer, had spent last summer helping McGregor prepare for his rematch with Nate Diaz. He was even in his corner the night of the fight, so he had earned McGregor’s trust.
When the Mayweather fight was signed, McGregor’s camp asked Conor to recommend an Irish boxer, preferably sharing some traits with Mayweather, to help out at a two week training camp in Dublin.
Thankfully, and I owe him big time for this, Conor gave my name.
Next thing you know McGregor’s manager is on the phone to my coach Adam Hunter on Thursday morning, and by Sunday we’re heading down the road to the Straight Blast Gym.
“HOW’S it going, are you ready to get to work?”
With a shake of the hand, the introductions were done and the initial spar – the first leg of 17 rounds done between Wednesday and Friday sessions – is about to commence.
It’s funny coming face to face with someone who you only know through TV, or from what you’ve read in newspapers or on social media.
I had absolutely no nerves about getting in the ring to spar with Conor McGregor. I’d never be worried or concerned about boxing anybody really, but I was a bit wary about meeting the man himself for the first time.
I needn’t have been. He dandered over with that unmistakeable stride – it’s not just for the cameras, I can assure you – and immediately put me at my ease. His coach John Kavanagh is overseeing the camp and he was very welcoming, so too Owen Roddy, McGregor’s striking coach in MMA.
Yet just being part of a camp like that, you get a small window into what his world. For example, in the first week of being down in Dublin I did 14 interviews with everyone from The Irish News, local papers in Tyrone, Sky Sports, BBC Radio Ulster, different boxing websites, MMA websites.
The level of interest in Conor McGregor is beyond anything you can imagine.
Through the course of the week he sparred myself, American professional middleweight Dashon Johnson and English welter Louis Adolphe.
It’s well-documented that Conor does have some boxing experience from his days at Phil Sutcliffe’s Crumlin club in Dublin but, as you would expect from an MMA fighter turning over to boxing, he’s very unorthodox. Extremely unpredictable.
There’s no-one in boxing you could liken him to because he’s got a style all of his own. Completely unconventional but explosive, dangerous.
On the Friday he caught me with a right uppercut that took me by surprise and temporarily lifted me off my feet – and that was him wearing 16 ounce gloves! Everybody talks about the left hand but, believe me, he can bang off either side. He has a supernatural power. I’m not being told to say that or put that message out there, it’s just the first thing you notice when you go a few rounds with him.
I already knew I could take a shot from sparring the likes of Lewis Crocker in the past, but I wouldn’t want to be taking that uppercut from McGregor with 10 ounce gloves like those he will wear against Floyd - and especially not the four ounce gloves they wear in UFC.
Is it any wonder Jose Aldo didn’t know where he was after that left hand landed on his chin inside 13 seconds back in 2015? That was as accurate and as powerful a shot as you could hope to see from anybody engaged in combat sports, no matter what the discipline.
Once the fortnight concluded and the McGregor camp headed off to start their press tour, my job was done – or so I thought until the phone binged that Sunday morning.
I suppose I must have done something right to be asked out for the full camp in Vegas. I’m only just getting over the jetlag now, but I’ve settled well and the clock is well and truly counting down to August 26.