In McGregor's Corner: The trials and tribulations of making the transition from MMA to boxing
YOU might have seen the pictures on Conor McGregor’s Instagram of him getting ready to jump on one of his sparring partners – thankfully not me – while they were on the ground.
Four weeks out from the biggest fight of his career, a boxing match against the best fighter of his generation, people were probably surprised to see him reverting to his old MMA ways.
On the series of pictures, he wrote: ‘Sparring today – it’s another day for me’. And that sums up the journey that Conor McGregor has been on since the mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather was first announced.
Conor has no desire to curb the warrior instinct that got him to where he is today, that led him to the top of the UFC world.
But there’s so much to boxing, the rules and regulations as much as what you actually do against your opponent, that you don’t just learn it overnight.
Those pictures were taken during a spar with a new arrival to the training camp, Frans Mlambo. Frans is a professional MMA fighter, part of the Straight Blast Gym team in Dublin, but he has boxed most of his life.
After he has sparred the likes of myself, Conor would go in with Frans because he’s a different kind of fighter to the rest of us – tall, a great counter-puncher, very long arms, very elusive and slick.
In that particular spar, Frans fell to the ground and Conor’s natural instincts just kicked in. There were no apologies or anything like that - what happens, happens once you’re between those ropes.
But as you can see, the referee – the legendary Joe Cortez - was straight over to warn him and then it was business as usual.
Joe has been as important a part of this camp as anybody because, although it may not look it from the pictures, the spars are strictly boxing.
He was in the middle when Floyd Mayweather beat Ricky Hatton, and for fights involving greats like Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya… the list goes on.
Joe knows boxing inside out so when Conor does something he’s not supposed to, he will pull him about it straight away. Basic rules like when there’s a knockdown, you go to the corner. Conor’s used to jumping on a guy if that happens.
When the referee shouts break, you break but you don’t stop altogether, you get straight back into boxing. That’s what Joe is there for - so Conor knows exactly what he can and can’t do.
Because even though he does have some boxing experience as an amateur, it can’t be easy getting your head around a new discipline. It’s like me going into Taekwondo and only being allowed to kick.
Mixed martial arts is very free-flowing whereas boxing can be stop-start, especially against somebody like Mayweather. In MMA, you always have to be aware that there could be a kick coming your way, whereas that’s not a consideration in boxing.
It all sounds quite simple but when you’re used to fighting one way, as Conor is, it takes time to adapt. He’s used to having a 360 sensory awareness at all times because, in MMA, an attack can come from anywhere.
Conor obviously loves his martial arts and he’s the type of guy who would be scanning a room to see how he could take out everybody there like a scene from a Bruce Lee film - I’ll punch this guy, sweep this guy to the ground, take out another couple… there’s a real mad streak in him.
But when it comes to preparation, everything is totally serious, and I can see a massive difference since I started working with him.
Conor’s really thinking about what he’s doing, sitting down on his punches much better and his power has increased because of that.
He’s doing everything the right way and he’s slowly getting into the boxing way of life.
“If Conor hits you, you’re gonna feel it, okay? He’s a grown man and I’d say he’s an above average puncher. Is it ‘oh my god’ power? No. I mean ‘oh my god’ power is very rare… But Conor has respectable power and if Conor hits you clean, and he’s wearing smaller gloves, odds are he’s gonna get your attention or rock you or even drop you”
YOU never quite know when you might get the call to spar Conor. Whether it’s myself, Dashon Johnston or Frans, you get a bit of notice and then head over to the UFC performance institute, which is about 15 minutes away from the house we’re all staying in.
Even if you’re not sparring you go over and train. I’ve been out here two weeks now and we’re training twice a day, early in the morning and then late, often after 10pm, when Conor wants us there with him.
We’re sparring partners, we’re there to help Conor, so we have to be ready and prepared whenever we’re called upon.
And when you consider that the Mayweather fight isn’t likely to start until around 11pm US-time, it makes sense to get your body adjusted to working then. On Sunday night we weren’t getting home until around 1.30am, and even then you can hardly sleep because the adrenaline’s still pumping.
Paulie Malignaggi arrived back at the house on Monday night after a week away working on the TV coverage of Mikey Garcia versus Adrian Broner.
He’s in the next bedroom to me, and is a great guy to talk to. A two-weight world champion, he’s been there and done it all. When you’re talking to him, it’s like being on Showtime.
He talks that fast he says as much in a minute as most people probably do in half an hour, but he’s full of great insights and advice.
Paulie has only sparred Conor once, and that’s the one everybody’s dying to know about. I was in Paulie’s corner and although he hasn’t fought since March and is retired, he’s getting sharper by the day.
You can see he’s still a class operator, and it was an interesting spar to watch – more a full on fight actually. Conor told us all when Paulie came into camp ‘this is not a spar, I want to fight him. I’m ready for a war’.
Paulie was talking to him in between rounds, trying to give him advice, but then he was getting slapped in the face.
I saw what he said about Conor’s power and he’s playing a bit of a dangerous game because he still has more spars to go with Conor, and Conor will be out there to knock him out. He’ll want to show him he has ‘oh my God’ power.