George Lockhart and the company he founded with Dan Leith, fittingly named Lockhart and Leith, had probably the best 2017 campaign of any MMA nutritionist. From Daniel Cormier to Khabib Nurmagomedov to Max Holloway, a slew of major names who worked alongside Lockhart and Leith navigated the murky waters of big-show weight-cutting with tremendous success. But one of Lockhart’s most high-profile clients was an absent — if somehow still omnipresent — figure in MMA’s landscape.
UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor fought only once in 2017, competing in a blockbuster boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. McGregor worked with Lockhart to successfully make the 154-pound limit for the contest, but that ended up being the year’s lone combat sports appearance for McGregor. The Irishman failed to defend his UFC title in 2017, and thus far in 2018, it is unclear when — or if — McGregor will return to do so against interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson.
On that front, Lockhart said Monday on The MMA Hour that he hasn’t yet gotten a call from McGregor about plans for an Octagon return, but he won’t be surprised if he hears from “The Notorious” soon.
“If I was going to put my money on him — a lot of people are like, ‘Do you think he’s going to be back?’ — yeah, 100 percent. That guy, he’s a fighter,” Lockhart said. “I think he enjoyed boxing. I think it was a nice little break. But, I mean, the guy’s a fighter. So I’m sure we’ll see him soon.”
In the interim, Lockhart has plenty of other fighters within his stable to focus on as the new year kicks into high gear, chief among them Cormier and Holloway, who have upcoming title defenses slated for UFC 220 and UFC 222, respectively.
Altogether, Lockhart views 2017 as a year of much-needed growth within the MMA space in regards to the knowledge of proper nutrition and weight-cutting habits.
While 2017 seemingly had more weigh-in snafus and health-related dropouts than any campaign in recent memory, the year also saw an increase in fighters embracing the need to invest additional time and effort in making their journeys to the scale as easy as possible, and a good deal of that shift was aided by the work of UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky.
“Man, from the UFC’s point of view, having Jeff Novitzky there — I mean, honestly, when we showed up, I was a little nervous. I was like, oh man, I’ve heard stories. And the one thing I think everybody will agree with, every fighter, everybody who’ll talk about it, is that he has the fighters’ best interests at heart,” Lockhart said.
“Everything that they do is to improve the safety of the fighters, which I love, and I think the way that they went about it is they put a couple mandates on things and it’s really opened up the eyes of fighters. Like, they go out and they get more educated on the nutrition, whereas before they were just kinda like, ‘Okay, I just stop eating, I put on sweats, and this is how we cut weight.’ But now that’s not necessarily the case. And people are starting to realize it’s a huge part of the game.”
One of those mandated changes was the UFC’s move to an early weigh-in schedule, replacing the late afternoon weigh-ins of old. 2017 marked the first full year of the new procedure, which is designed to give athletes more time to re-hydrate and less time to spend in a dehydrated state.
Lockhart believes the change has been a positive one — although he sees one common negative that has arisen as well.
“I think the more time people have to hydrate, the better,” Lockhart said. “Even though I think it’s kinda counteractive — like, some people are having a negative effect, just because, before, because of the lateness of the weigh-ins, it was kind of preventing them from overeating. And I think some people are, they’re kind of packing it on a little too much because they have all this time to eat and they’re kinda going overboard. We kinda prevent that with our fighters. But in terms of health, man, the fact that they have more time to hydrate is amazing. It’s awesome.”
That being said, Lockhart believes the knowledge base of the average fighter when it comes to nutrition has improved leaps and bounds over recent years. That’s a good thing in a sport as inherently dangerous as MMA, and it’s a trend he hopes continues well into 2018.
“We’re trying to get out as much as possible, man, but we still get shocks on all levels,” Lockhart said. “Like, ‘I can’t believe you know this.’ And what’s cool, the amateur level, I’ve talked a couple amateurs on the phone and I’m blown away by how much knowledge they have. So things are changing, and it’s not as, I guess, primitive as it was when I first started out.”