In McGregor's Corner: Fight week fever and why 'Notorious' is going to shock the world
Tiernan Bradley was sitting in his house in Omagh when he got a text from Conor McGregor's manager asking him to fly out to Las Vegas to become a sparring partner to the Ultimate Fighter during his preparation to box Floyd Mayweather...
WELL, here we are – fight week. The time for talking is just about to begin, starting with tomorrow’s press conference, but the proof of whether or not Conor McGregor can walk the walk inside a boxing ring will only be revealed on Saturday night.
Sparring was wrapped up at the end of last week, I did six rounds with Conor on Thursday, other sparring partners made up the 12, and then Artem Lobov was in with him on Friday, and now we’re down to one session a day while Conor undertakes his own work separately.
Dashon Johnson, my fellow sparring partner who has been with me here in Vegas since this whole journey began five weeks ago, left at the weekend to start working with Gennady Golovkin in Big Bear ahead of his fight with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on September 16.
From one huge fight to the next, it’s been quieter around here without him, but there is a sense among everyone in the camp that all the work is done. Conor couldn’t have prepared any better, and the difference from our first spar in Dublin to the last at the UFC Performance Institute was enormous.
Physically that was to be expected; he has been training twice a day for the last few months, running, cycling in the desert, conditioning himself for the biggest night of his life.
But it is his development between the ropes, and particularly the improvement in his boxing IQ inside such a short space of time, that has impressed me most. Conor McGregor is an exceptionally fast learner, and people will be surprised by what they see once the first bell sounds inside the T-Mobile Arena.
When I first shared the ring with him at the Straight Blast Gym, we did nine rounds and I felt comfortable enough in terms of stepping up from the usual three amateurs are accustomed to. It was full on, but I was able to stay with him.
That was not the case last Thursday night. Conor was very sharp, and in the last two rounds I was more or less surviving because of his fitness levels and intensity. From nine rounds at the start, going six at the end was a different ball game.
Now, before people state the obvious, I know I’m not Floyd Mayweather, far from it. But I have had a window into what Floyd has coming his way and, at 40, I’m not sure he’s ready for it.
“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot”
Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
SO what can Floyd expect? The beauty of it is he can’t expect anything. For the first time in his professional career, he doesn’t know, and that element of surprise is perhaps Conor McGregor’s greatest asset.
Floyd has shared the ring with some great fighters, but he will never have been in with someone as mentally strong as Conor – warfare of the mind is something he excels in.
His approach to sparring is exactly the same as if he were preparing for the fight itself, because he is visualising what is going to happen on the night. For that reason, Conor likes to keep a distance from his sparring partners.
If you get to know a sparring partner, get to like him, it makes it more difficult to get in there with a serious head and fight them the way you want to.
So any time I stepped between the ropes at the UFC PI, he stared right through me as though it was Floyd Mayweather standing opposite.
The look up and down is one of utter contempt - ‘how dare you come up here and stand in front of me in my ring, in my gym, in my city’. It was as if I had completely disrespected him just by my very presence.
Any time he catches you with a shot, it’s ‘yeaaaahhh baby’ or heading towards the end of a spar ‘that’s you 10-0 down’, those sorts of things. He’s not talking all the time but chooses his moments for maximum effect.
That’s all part of the game but, at the end the day, unless he can back that up with the skills to mix it against one of the best fighters of all time it will count for very little.
People talk about Conor’s rags to riches story. From the dole queue at Lucan post office six years ago to a $100million fight with Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. Just getting here, they say, is an achievement in itself.
But anybody who thinks Conor McGregor would be happy to go the 12 round distance with Floyd and lose, still getting pats on the back for trying, doesn’t know the man.
If he didn’t wholeheartedly believe he could win this fight, he wouldn’t have chased it.
People can call it a circus, a freak show, whatever they want, but it’s happening because people wanted it to happen. And everybody who has worked with Conor in this camp believes he will do it.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to Joe Cortez. He refereed Mayweather’s wins over Victor Ortiz, Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo and has seen at close quarters just how skilful Floyd is.
But Joe thinks Conor is going to knock him out – and that’s because of what he has seen in sparring during the past six weeks. He has also seen the planning and the work John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy have put in, developing plans A, B, C and D to make sure all bases are covered on fight night.
They haven’t been on their own either. People have sneered at the fact Conor didn’t bring in a designated boxing coach for this camp but, believe me, there have been people in the background helping, advising.
I can’t give their names, but these are people who know the boxing game inside and out and are extremely clued in. They have been there almost every day and played a huge role in the camp.
On Saturday night though, it will be John and Owen in Conor’s corner. Those are the guys who have been with him all along, the people he trusts above all others. They also have complete and total faith in Conor.
He’s got to where he is today because of the team and the force of his own personality, so why change a winning formula now?
“Floyd Mayweather is more likely to lose this fight by a pulmonary embolism, tripping on the way to the ring and drowning in his spit bucket, than Conor McGregor beating him competitively”
Brin Jonathan Butler, US boxing journalist
GROWING up in a household where boxing is like a religion, Floyd Mayweather was my hero. I remember watching him for the first time against Arturo Gatti back in 2005 – I was only eight, just getting into boxing, but he was the guy I wanted to be like.
Quick, slick and never gets hit; it’s the perfect combination. And had you asked me six months ago whether Conor McGregor would have any chance against Mayweather in a boxing match, the answer would have been no.
A puncher’s chance maybe, but nothing more. I’d be cheering on my fellow Irishman in hope rather than expectation. So I fully understand why people are so cynical about the whole thing, and why so many don’t even seen it as a contest.
I’ve seen it said that McGregor might not be able to land a single punch on Floyd. That it’s an embarrassment. A low point for the sport.
A guy with a limited background in boxing making his pro debut against somebody who is 49-0? Come on...
That’s what I would have thought before I met the man and became a part of his camp. I’m a dyed in the wool boxing fan , would have paid little interest to the UFC or the world of MMA, yet my opinion has come full circle because of what I’ve seen first hand.
So how will the fight unfold? Here’s my take.
Mayweather has been talking as if he’s going to go in and attack but I don’t see that happening., and I expect them to feel each other out early on.
Lots of people seem to believe that Conor needs to rush in there from the off and create some sort of chaos, but that’s not playing to his strengths. He is a guy who slowly breaks you down with a mixture of educated pressure and accurate, powerful punches.
I’ve gone home from training with a sore head enough nights – and that’s after sparring with 16 ounce gloves! - to say with confidence that Floyd has never been in with a bigger hitter.
I expect Floyd to try and up the pace in the second and third, and that’s when he’ll realise that Conor is no mug. His counter punching and timing are exceptional, and he will look like a seasoned boxer on the night.
Floyd’s shoulder roll defence is one of the best boxing has ever seen, but with his advancing years and lack of activity, there will be rust there that can’t be shaken off in sparring.
By the fourth, Floyd will realise taking the fight to McGregor isn’t working, retreat back into his defensive shell and attempt to pick up rounds boxing from the outside, but will he still be as quick around the ring?
He’ll need to be, because Conor does not give you a second and he has the engine to stay on your chest.
Back in 2014 Marcos Maidana gave Floyd two tough nights with educated pressure and aggression, and that was with Floyd having had the benefit of studying hours of tape of Maidana’s fights to formulate a plan.
He can’t call on that against McGregor, he’s stepping into the complete unknown, and Conor has plenty more juice in the tank than Maidana, who had a reputation for fading late on.
People say Conor can’t outbox him – he doesn’t need to outbox him. This is a fight, and Conor’s the kind of person who will be able to read the game really quickly.
Even if Conor does find himself behind in the early stages, he is able to adapt, stay patient. John Kavanagh has him well schooled. Those who hope to see him swing a kick at Mayweather’s head out of frustration will be left disappointed.
My gut feeling is that, after the fourth, Conor will push on and really start to take control of the fight, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish Mayweather around the middle rounds - possibly by knockout, possibly by sheer volume of punches.
The referee will give him every chance to continue, but in the end it won’t matter.
This is a huge step into the unknown for Conor too, a fight where he is a huge underdog, but the man himself and his team just don’t look upon it that way.
In their minds, they are coming into this fight as the favourite, and one who’s going to win. Once you spend time in Conor’s company, any worries you might have about him going in there with Floyd Mayweather quickly fade.
Confidence and strong-mindedness alone are not enough, but I have total belief that Conor McGregor has all the tools to shock the world on Saturday night.