The Rise & Fall of Conor McGregor?

How did Conor McGregor rise so fast? Has he fallen?

In the past few days, the talk’s been all about Conor McGregor. McGregor lost to Diaz, but what does this mean? I’ll take this chance to talk about a bunch of interesting dynamics going on in MMA, combat sports, and Muay Thai.

The Rise: Ali-McGregor

There’s a reason that within eight fights in the UFC, McGregor is getting close to eight-digit figures for a fight now. You heard that right.

How? Well, if you’ve followed the rise of “The Notorious,” you’ll know that he has taken Muhammad Ali’s path. Ali was known for his audacity, within the ring and outside of the ring. It’s nothing new that those who can talk charismatically and audaciously are also the fighters that will get the most opportunities.

Yet what many fans have missed is that McGregor modelled after many of Ali’s thoughts and behavior, sometimes verbatim in early interviews.

One particular moment stuck out to me–after McGregor had beaten Dustin Porier, he made a statement about Thai Boxing:

I just find that a lot of mixed martial artists get into a rut, coming out with that Thai Boxing flat-footed style. Against a guy like me that’s in and out and light on it’s feet, the angles are different. It’s the old age this is the new age… (insert nationalism charisma)

First, let me say that this is nonsense. Whoever that thinks all of Thai Boxing can be generalized at flat-footed style that is stand and bang, clearly does not watch Muay Thai and probably has trouble naming a Thai fighter other than Buakaw.

This comment by McGregor was a clever call-out of Jose Aldo, who has long been considered a Muay Thai MMA stylist. What I’m surprised at is how many people bought this, failing to see that statements like this are what gets McGregor the 8-figure per-fight salary and a quick title shot. This generated much interest and debate, and him defeating Jose Aldo only added to this debate.

Efficiency vs. Movement: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Louis

McGregor once criticized Muay Thai footwork, yet he emphasized the lack of efficiency in his fight against Diaz. Muay Thai has always been known for its simplicity and efficiency (not that it can’t be complex)!

McGregor is a special athlete, and I’m a big fan, but him shitting on Thai Boxing (and the fans buying it) is just flat out wrong. He simply did this to call out Jose Aldo, but too many people bought it all the way.

In fact, the efficiency vs. movement debate went on for decades before this era! During the golden era of heavyweight boxing, Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis would bicker at each other for this. Louis is known for his simplicity and efficiency (which Ali called flat-footed), yet legendary trainer Freddie Roach would say that Louis is the perfect textbook boxer.

Louis would always criticize Ali for his movement, and for this reason, always picked against Ali whenever he fought. Yet Ali won, again and again.

What does this mean? Two schools of thought can co-exist! Both systems work. Just because you have a bunch of “movement based champions” doesn’t mean everyone should change their style. Combat sports has always been made up of a ton of styles. The champions create fads–everyone will seek to emulate. Different systems work for different people. There is no one size fits all approach, and great coaches have emphasized time and again that they adapt to the strengths of each fighter when they come to them. McGregor’s is power and movement. Diaz is volume and consistency. RDA is power and efficiency.

Chatri Sityodtong’s Analysis on McGregor:

The leader of Evolve MMA once spoke out on McGregor’s Thai Boxing statement:

Chatri Sityodtong: I am impressed by Conor McGregor’s performance today (aginst Porier), but he would get KTFO by a legit Muay Thai stylist. McGregor wants to reinvent the wheel. He is a great athlete, but his TKD and Karate kicks will get him in trouble in the future.

Simplicity is the key to fighting, not complexity. Bruce Lee is 100% correct in saying that a man who has thrown 1 kick 10,000 times is scarier than a man who has thrown 10,000 kicks 1 time.

To be clear, I believe that Conor McGregor is the real deal. I believe in his athleticism and his open-mindedness. I just don’t believe in flashy kicks as the foundation of striking. I believe in simplicity and unpredictability…

FYI, Chatri comes from the most prestigious Muay Thai lineage in history, and houses dozens of Thai legends at Evolve MMA. Much of the west hasn’t heard too much of the camp yet, but watch out for it.

Also, Rafael Dos Anjos is probably the next closest thing to being an authentic Muay Thai representative. Before moving to Kings MMA in recent times, he spent years training at Evolve MMA, sparring with all-time great legends Namsaknoi (285 wins 15 losses) and Orono Wor Petchpun on a daily basis (might as well call Orono “The Legend Killer,” he’s defeated Saenchai, Yodsanklai, Buakaw, and Kaew Fairtex)!

Everyone is asking how RDA had such a resurgence in his career–yes Kings MMA is also to be credited, but Evolve was the key ingredient to his Muay Thai striking. He went there without a strong striking base and walked out a killer.

Saenchai’s Analysis: The Pound for Pound Muay Thai King

Saenchai: He’s pretty quick and agile.. pretty good hands, punches are hard and accurate. His kicks aren’t that great, they’re just… quick, and his hands are the real weapon. The timing of his punches are good, his counter punching is really good, he can really do damage with his counter punching, but his kicking is pretty weak.

McGregor’s punching is definitely superior, but he (RDA) has more variety. He uses his knees more and kicks better, and to me his ground game seems stronger.

Q: If these two guys fought, who do you think would win?

Saenchai: When these guys fight, I like his (RDA) power and he seems like more of a complete fighter. I like the way he kicks, uses his knees and his ground game seems stronger. As long as he doesn’t get hit by McGregor’s punches first. I think he (RDA) has a better chance of winning, both his standup and ground game are superior. The only thing McGregor is better at is his punching speed and accuracy

Q: What do you think the outcome would be if he were to fight a Muay Thai fighter? What if he wanted to fight you?

If he were to fight a real Muay Thai fighter, who has both speed and power, then he would have no chance of winning… Well, bring it on. I would win.

Q: On McGregor saying Thai Boxing is too flat footed

Saenchai: The people who he’s fought may have trained Muay Thai but have never really fought on a professional Muay Thai circuit. His opponents may have trained Muay Thai in preparation for their fights with him, but they’re not considered authentic Muay Thai fighters like myself. I have speed, power and agility. I’d fight him.

Pretty damn accurate analysis. If you don’t know Saenchai by now, this is a man that you must know. He is widely considered as the greatest of this era in Muay Thai, fighting and reigning at the top for nearly two decades, consistently fighting “upweight” and even two stadium champions in one night.

Breakdown of Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor:

McGregor has the death touch in the featherweight division, but not so much in the lightweight. Diaz, essentially a boxing and BJJ specialist, shut down McGregor’s game after McGregor faded.

Everything from McGregor was a big play. McGregor spent his energy on 2 main things in the Nate Diaz fight: 1) spinning kicks, 2) left-hand kill shots. Out of the entire striking repertoire, spinning kicks cost the most energy–throwing them and being ineffective with them is the most inefficient use of energy possible.

The next biggest inefficiency is loading up on kill shots and missing it repeatedly. While McGregor only missed two (big) spinning kicks in the first round, I lost count on how many left hands he missed.

In the second round, McGregor again threw four more spinning kicks that didn’t do much, but was finding the mark on the left early in the round. Half way throughout the round, McGregor started to lose his footing, indicating strong signs of fatigue. That’s when he got tagged by Diaz, and that’s why he went for a takedown against the superior grappler.

If you want to read more striking analysis–why the southpaw and matchup dynamics matter–I recommend Jack Slack’s excellent article.

Final Thoughts:

In McGregor’s career, he’s so far made only big plays. Charismatic fighters who talk big will become a superstar if they can walk it. This is essentially a huge gamble. The fans will ridicule said fighter if they fail. But if they succeed, media and the audience will tune in, blow it up, and keep tuning in.

McGregor has made a career in calling fights and when they’d end, just like Muhammad Ali. In so far fulfilling these calls, McGregor spent all his energy trying to fulfill it one more time. However, this time was to his demise.

But just so I answer the question of the title: no, Conor McGregor hasn’t really fallen. He’s still the featherweight champion and he’s still the man everyone wants to fight. People love to watch a seemingly invincible hero, and people love to see a perceived arrogant man lose. But more than all that, people love a comeback story–a fighter who will prevail through struggle.

Plus, as noted by Firas Zahabi, Conor has a wide range of repertoire in his arsenal, he was the more adaptable fighter relative to Nate. That still holds true, except that we didn’t see McGregor use his repertoire. Rather, we saw him hunting that left hand that’s so far not failed him until now–a fatal error that his coach warned him about in between the rounds. The corner instruction was to pepper the legs, go to the body, back away from grappling exchanges, and not put everything into his shots.

McGregor knew what to do, and could do so, but failed to follow it and execute. This is a man who has fallen in love with the legend he’s created, but can you blame him? He’s the fastest rising star in MMA history, and recently, he’s ensured everyone in his fight path a significant more comfortable monetary life.

In other news, Saenchai is about to make a move to train at Tristar. One Championship is about to head the first MMA mega-event in Thailand. Dejdamrong, the first Lumpinee stadium and MMA champion, is heading it. These events are going to send a shockwave into the heart of Muay Thai.

What does that mean? You might just see the 250,000 Muay Thai fighters who have for the most part not heard of MMA start jumping over. The level of striking in Thailand is godly, but most don’t ever get the chance to showcase it internationally. These are life long fighters with hundreds of fights, and the fighters at the top at truly superb human beings and athletes. What a time to be alive for combat sports!