Lockdown, settling into fatherhood and staring retirement in the face forced Conor McGregor to mature while his stamina is now ‘world class’… ‘The Notorious’ could show he’s better than EVER in Dustin Poirier rematch
- Conor McGregor has not stepped inside the octagon since Donald Cerrone fight
- He looked ferocious and accurate that night and has had a year to improve
- His coach John Kavanagh said a ‘perfect storm’ this year led to improvements
- McGregor’s previously questionable cardio ability is now at an elite level
- And lockdown has helped him develop a maturity and sense of perspective
Just 40 seconds of ferocity and spell-binding accuracy in the demolition of Donald Cerrone is all fans have been privy to since Conor McGregor lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.
That’s 40 seconds in more than 800 days. Not a lot to go on against a ‘Cowboy’ well past his prime and McGregor was frustrated enough by the subsequent lack of action that he ‘retired’ for a third time.
He then had to stand by and watch bitter rival Khabib further underline his greatness last October.
Conor McGregor has pledged to show the best version of himself at UFC 257 on Saturday
His coach John Kavanagh (right) says his cardio is now at a ‘world class’ level
The previous 12 months have been tough for the Irishman but he might look back at 2020 as the year everything clicked into place, a springboard for what is to come.
But McGregor has not simply been standing by. He’s been working, obsessing and committing himself with the kind of work ethic that took him to the top in the first place.
The January 23 rematch with Dustin Poirier could launch the second half of his career and send a message to the lightweight division that this is the most dangerous and complete version of ‘The Notorious’ to date.
That’s what McGregor and his team expect.
Lockdown may have come at the worst possible moment after promising a ‘season of fights’ last January but in that time off, the 32-year-old has developed himself. It might have been a blessing in disguise.
Having to watch the UFC move forward without him and contemplating what retirement would really involve leaving, may have reminded McGregor why he fell in love with the sport in the first place.
His long-time coach John Kavanagh believes 2020 created ideal conditions for his man to reach the next level.
He exclusively told Sportsmail: ‘It’s just kind of like a perfect storm. His conditioning has reached the same world class level that his fighting skill and fighting IQ always was.
‘There’s the patience and maturity that comes along with getting into your early thirties, being a family man, it is kind of a bunch of those factors just coming together in that singularity that we’re going to see on January 23rd.’
McGregor has only been seen once since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov and that was his 40-second demolition of Donald Cerrone last January
One of the major criticisms of McGregor has been that his cardio is not up to scratch.
Fatigue played a major part in his defeat by Nate Diaz and he was also worn down by Khabib. But if, as Kavanagh revealed, that area of his game has been upgraded, then it will be a tough ask for anyone to go five rounds with him.
Perhaps the difficulty in sparring during lockdown with social distancing measures in place to various degrees in Dublin over the last 10 months also meant more conditioning work. In any case, McGregor is adamant that if he were to fight a previous iteration of himself, this version would wipe the floor with the old.
He posted an image on Instagram recently with the caption: ‘Cerrone McGregor Vs Alvarez McGregor. I’d destroy both these versions of myself. And Together. And I’m not messing. Absolutely demolish them both. 16 days!’
McGregor shared this picture on Instagram and said he’d beat both versions of himself
The pandemic may have benefited McGregor in other ways too.
He recently offered a fascinating insight, telling the MacLife: ‘Like for all of us, it has been tough. I think all of us all over the globe have been forced to go within ourselves, find comfort in our own company and that’s a good thing in my book. I certainly feel like I’ve learnt a lot about myself.’
An extended period of self-reflection, without the requirements of top level competition pulling him in different directions may seems to have matured McGregor.
He already looked a different man in the lead-up to the Cerrone fight, not softly spoken but certainly less abrasive.
The pandemic appears to have furthered that change and no doubt settling into fatherhood too. Spending time with his fiancee Dee Devlin and their son and daughter at home is a change in direction from prior to the first Poirier fight.
He added: ‘Grown man talk this is, we’re grown men now, both fathers, I’m enjoying it, certainly very happy. It is our duty to give back, as I get older I am delving into that side of things a lot more.’
McGregor has been building his body and says he has still retained the strength at lightweight
He has come a long way since beating Dustin Poirier in their first fight back in 2014
On giving back, he wasn’t just paying lip service. McGregor donated £890,000-worth of PPE to hospitals in Ireland last March to help fight the spread of coronavirus and spoke more like a politician than some of the government officials themselves.
He tweeted: ‘Today I am purchasing myself, €1 million worth of personal protective equipment to be deployed to all the fighting hospitals in the Leinster region. Our most affected region, to this date.
‘St. James. Mater, Tallaght. Beaumont. Vincent’s. Where we would be without these brave men and women, I do not know. May God bless over them and keep them safe!’
Despite his generosity and community leadership, McGregor did attract negative publicity in September as he was held in custody for two nights in Corsica after being accused of showing off his manhood and then assaulting a woman following a heavy drinking session in the town on September 6. He was later released without charge and the claims were vigorously denied by McGregor’s Calvi based lawyer.
The 32-year-old thinks he has come on leaps and bounds since last entering the cage
Spending time with fiancee Dee Devlin (left) and his children Conor Jr (second from left) and Croia (second from right) appears to have helped McGregor mature
By and large, the 32-year-old has kept a low profile in recent months and appears a more considered presence than his early years in the UFC.
No doubt the last few weeks have been spent reshaping his body into a lightweight shell having bulked up and last competed at welterweight.
That is another key area of evolution for McGregor. Where weight cuts were previously arduous affairs, he is now extremely diligent and leaves no stone unturned in managing his reduction effectively.
‘It has been the greatest camp, the greatest weight transition I’ve ever endured and you know it isn’t even enduring, it is embracing it, my frame is light, I’m a true lightweight frame now,’ he told Ariel Helwani.
‘I’m zippy, I’m fast, I’m powerful. I have not only maintained strength, I’ve actually gone up in strength and power. Once you’re fully committed, things are easy.’
The Dubliner will make his return to action on Saturday night in his Fight Island debut
That final line sums up the feel around McGregor now. There have been times when the show, the money and the excess of being one of the world’s sporting superstars has led him down a path away from greatness.
But a newfound maturity, entering his physical prime and readjusting to life as a family man appears to be bearing fruit.
We’ll see if it’s as ripe as McGregor believes when the cage door locks behind him for just the second time more than two years this Saturday.
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