Edited by Scott Blacklock
On the subject of Conor McGregor’s staggeringly strong left hand, esteemed head coach of Montreal’s Tristar gym, Firas Zahabi, once called it “the touch of death.” The uncannily heavy left possesses enough damaging power to smite nearly every opponent it has touched.
Before I focused on Muay Thai and kickboxing, I studied McGregor’s fights previous to his entry into the UFC. Unsurprisingly, his ‘A’ game has never changed. Given what I know about the man and his opponent last Saturday night, now former lightweight champ, Eddie Alvarez, forecasting the main technical dynamic of their fight came pretty naturally:
“Conor McGregor possesses the most crisp southpaw cross counter in MMA. I said this nearly 3 years ago before he made his unprecedented run at UFC superstardom. Today, he is still building wins off this counter left. In every fight it has played a pivotal role, and it will again tonight – win or lose. The probability of Eddie going for a right hand and getting hit with McGregor’s left hand counter variations will be high, so watch out for it!
Conor McGregor possesses the most crisp southpaw cross counter in MMA. I said this nearly 3 years ago before he made his unprecedented run at UFC superstardom. Today, he is still building wins off this counter left. In every fight it has played a pivotal role, and it will again tonight – win or lose. The probability of Eddie going for a right hand and getting hit with McGregor’s left hand counter variations will be high, so watch out for it! If you want to learn a bit more on striking, check out my new book at www.StrikingTechniques.com
The Knockdowns and Supplementary Tools
It’s no secret that McGregor’s left hand is his weapon of choice. What’s less well understood is that his best punch revolves around drawing out his opponent’s right hand, which he exploits brilliantly with his supplementary tools—his feints, footwork, guard, body positioning, and even his in-ring demeanor.
The tell-tale sign of McGregor’s success at UFC 205 is how he was able to put enormous pressure on Alvarez while staying calm, cool and collected. Keeping relaxed while pouring on the pressure is a classic indication of combat efficiency, implied through observation of each fighter’s offensive and defensive gears. I wrote an in-depth study of fighting gears in my previous article, “’The Emperor of Muay Thai: Namsaknoi.” In 205’s main event, McGregor started out in a conservative 6th or 7th gear; his most impressive achievement that night was tricking Alvarez into settling into the very same gear.
The beginnings of round one were marked by cautious approaches from both fighters, with neither McGregor nor Alvarez committing to any strikes. That is, until Eddie blitzed forwarded with his signature right-hand dart. This is precisely what Conor desired, as he possesses built-in radar detection designed to locate incoming right hands. Throughout his career, he has successfully knocked down or out many of his opponents by baiting the right hand.
Like a practiced hypnotist, McGregor lulls his opponents into false senses of security and/or urgency. Thinking it is either available or imperative, his adversary launches the right hand and is usually met with the outside slip counter left. Every one of the knockdown sequences in the main event last Saturday night demonstrated this key setup, which McGregor has used throughout his career against orthodox fighters.
Developing and Perfecting the ‘A’ Game
“Some guys get knocked out with an overhand, but you don’t see guys being knocked out where they [load up and telegraph dramatically.] You see guys setting it up, throwing body shots, getting guys to go down here and then going up top with the overhand. It can come from anywhere; there’s no one strike that is the best strike. It’s the setup strike they don’t see coming that’s the best.”
“If you’re trying to pick a strike, and you’re really good at one and if you can hit really hard with one, you need to work on the ones before that to hide that one, so they don’t see it coming. And then you need to work on one that comes off of that one because you’re going to get known for it. So if you got a good overhand right, and people start defending that overhand right, then you need to think about what comes after that.” – Matt Hume, MMA pioneer and legendary fight coach of Demetrious Johnson
McGregor has accomplished what Hume laid out above: he has made his left kill shot extremely effective, building an entire arsenal around it. Far from a one-trick pony, he can always threaten with the elements from within that arsenal, though it’s generally for the purpose of inviting his opponents in for that devastating pull left-hand counter.
So why do fighters keep falling for this setup? The answer is that there are just too many adjacent factors that bolster its success.
First of all, anytime a fighter steps up to face Conor McGregor, they are subjected to extreme mental warfare. In Alvarez’s case, he was bamboozled from the start. Being booed by the crowds and harassed for months over social media clearly weakened Alvarez intellectually, as Eddie admitted to almost immediately abandoning his game plan when he stepped in the octagon. Instead of kicking and wrestling, Eddie Alvarez boxed with a superior boxer. This is no mistake: Conor McGregor is a masterful hypnotist. Anyone who battles the Irish superstar must face the tremendous pressure that comes before and during the fight—pressure that McGregor astutely amplifies to force his opponents into fighting less intelligently than they usually would.
Jose Aldo, the long-time featherweight king who was dethroned by McGregor, is a technically aggressive fighter, just like Eddie Alvarez. But as the world witnessed at UFC 194, McGregor’s feints and “hit me if you can” body positioning, supplemented by a mind-numbing war of nerves, all invited that first (and only) charging rush from Aldo, which led to his quick demise.
The aggression is what McGregor truly desires. He has accumulated a litany of knockouts in this way. With his exceptional footwork in place, McGregor powerfully moves away from the blitz and responds with absurdly strong counter punches. His left hand is also effective when on the offensive, but it is the counter left that has led many lambs to slaughter and gilded him twice, in two weight divisions.
A bit over two years ago, right before his fight with Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier at UFC 178, I wrote an article on Conor McGregor’s left hand, predicting “Mystic Mac” to be the biggest superstar MMA has ever seen, especially if he continued his shameless audacity and winning ways. I’m no fortune teller, but I saw UFC 205 coming.
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