Conor McGregor is a unique athletic talent. He is big for the two weight divisions he has competed in, enjoys a significant reach advantage against his opponents and supplements that reach with speed, explosive power, timing and accuracy. Conor himself often notes how small his opponents are compared to him.
A great asset of Conor McGregor’s fighting ability is his great chin. It took Mayweather a series of punches to stun him and Floyd was only able to do that after consistently attacking Conor’s body, round after round. Here are two examples of his ability to take a punch, from his fight against Chad Mendes: gif1, gif 2.
Conor is fast, flexible and explosive but many fight analysts insist that he has a cardio/endurance problem. I have to disagree. Fighting a champion boxer like Floyd Mayweather for ten rounds proved that McGregor has great cardio. If you examine both the Mayweather and the two Diaz fights, you will notice that he starts fading when he is repeatedly punched in the body. Many fighters with great chins are not as durable when they get hit in the body. Chad Mendes himself was doing great against McGregor until Conor’s relentless straight kicks to the belly started wearing him down. Body strikes cannot be ignored, they are difficult to recover from and are known to break fighters down mentally.
Conor has an underrated top grappling game, solid takedowns and good takedown defense. However his bottom game is lacking.
In the following clip, Chad Mendes was easily able to pass his guard.
The smaller Mendes was also able to land a solid elbow despite the significant reach disadvantage.
I will not focus here on the Nate Diaz submission loss as I believe that was the result of Conor getting rocked (similar to Cain Velasquez getting submitted by Fabricio Werdum)
Conor has pretty good takedown skills. He was able to take Max Holloway down four times. That being said, takedowns are not his weapon of choice.
Here is another example.
Conor has fast hips and great reaction time and is not an easy fighter to take down. His reach and southpaw stance help a lot in this.
Chad Mendes was the only fighter who was able to repeatedly take Conor down. As far as McGregor’s fight against Khabib is concerned, the fight against Mendes is that one I studied the most.
Throughout his UFC career, Conor McGregor has usually been the larger fighter. His opponents were not very successful in pressing him against the cage and taking him down. Conor has a 73% takedown defense rate.
Conor’s counter-wrestling skills are also underrated. He was able to reverse Diego Brandao’s takedown attempt and take him down (Gif/Clip)
The takedowns that seem to be more successful against him, are the ones executed away from the cage. Conor is very effective in using his let undertook defensively, so in order to take McGregor down, the method that seems to work best is to duck under his punches.
Eddie Alvarez tried to duck under his jabs but Conor was able to sprawl and use his left underhook to stop him.
Here is another example
Mendes on the other hand was more successful by ducking under Conor’s left cross, thus compromising the Irishman’s ability to get a left underhook in time.
Here is another example
Generally, in order to take Conor down, a fighter needs to shoot towards the middle of the cage, get a right underhook, block Conor’s front/right foot and keep “driving” while cutting angles. Here is a great example:
When it comes to takedown defense, we must note that Conor has never faced an opponent like Khabib. The latter is a chain-wrestler who is as big (if not bigger) and a master at getting people down and smashing them against the cage. Nurmagomedov is relentless in his pursuit of takedowns. But can he take McGregor down and keep him there for five rounds? That remains to be seen. I will provide my prediction in part 2.
For a detailed analysis of Conor McGregor punching arsenal please read my previous article Game Changer: Conor McGregor’s Left Hand (Aug 25, 2017) . This analysis focuses on a large number of punching techniques so I will not proceed in analyzing these punches again.
However, there are two punching sequences that require your attention:
The “Mayweather” counter
In my article Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor: Moves to Remember, I analyzed Conor’s most impressive punch against a seemingly untouchable defensive master, Floyd Mayweather. The fact that Mystic Mac was successful in catching Floyd with this counter, is a big feather in Conor’s cap. In my classes, I teach this as the “Mayweather” counter.
Floyd attacks with a lead right hand. McGregor is able to move his head to his left and land an uppercut. Mayweather is moving in the same direction as the follow-up right hook, thus minimizing its impact. This is a great technique as shown in two angles of the clip below:
Closing the distance with a right uppercut to a left cross
A signature combination that Conor often uses, in order to close the distance, is a right uppercut, while slipping right, to a left cross. McGregor has been very successful in using this technique.
Conor McGregor and Conan O’Brien
Conor McGregor is the type of fighter that I call a “karate-boxer” (Darren Till is another example). Conor fights with his chin up and hands down and his kicks are not your typical Muay Thai kicks where the focus is pure power.
It is not that Conor’s kicks are not strong, just that his objective is accuracy, not brute power and that prevents him from kicking by utilizing full hip force. Conor, for example, does not kick like Edson Barboza, with reckless abandon. On the other hand, McGregor employs a variety of kicks, originating from karate and taekwondo and other disciplines. Here is a sample:
Spinning kicks to the head
In my humble opinion, his spinning back kicks to the head (straight or wheel) are not executed in an adequately explosive manner. Sure, he is able to mix things up and confuse his opponents but these kicks do not look like they will knock opponents out anytime soon. Then again, I may be wrong, kicks to the head are tricky.
That being said Conor run into problems using these types of kicks several times in the past. Here is one example.
The proper way to execute a spinning wheel kick is demonstrated by Edson Barboza. He is able to generate great power with devastating results.
Taekwondo crescent kick
This is the least effective and risky kick in McGregor’s arsenal.
This specific kick will not do any damage and literally invites a grappler to go for a takedown.
So now that we have covered his flashy kicks let’s analyze some kicks that may not look as impressive but are very effective striking tools.
The right side kick to the thigh/knee.
One of Conor’s most effective kicks is the low side kick to the knee or the thigh. It is a great range finding technique and he is very successful in using it.
Left straight kick
One of McGregor’s best tools is the straight left kick with his back foot. He is very efficient with this kick and he is able to use it to mix things up, stop his opponent’s momentum and create openings for the left hand. He does not use this kick in a manner similar to that of a Muay Thai practitioner. This is not always a teep/push kick. Conor strikes the target with the ball of the foot, mostly following and upwards trajectory. His hips remain square, in position to sprawl if needed and Conor can use his hands to land punches or push opponents away.
Most importantly Conor does not use any telegraphed movement when attacking with this specific kick and can mix it up with jabs, left hands and left roundhouse kicks. He destroyed Mendes and Holloway with this kick.
Left High Roundhouse Kick
Conor’s left roundhouse kick is a taekwondo snap kick. After kicking, he pulls the foot back to his main stance in a snap-like motion. The roundhouse Thai kick version of this kick is thrown with reckless abandon using penetrating force and focuses on landing with the shin. Conor’s kick on the other hand often uses the instep as the striking surface.
This, however, is a fast kick and Conor is able to land it often. There is power behind it but I would not call it a devastating kick (see Cro Cop). Pulling the leg back limits the trajectory of the foot preventing it from going past the target.
Conor often uses a jumping-forward version of this kick to close the distance and finish with punches as you can see below. This is a great combination attack.
Here is another example
BTW here is a way to counter this.
Conor often attacks with low kicks to the thigh but these are not power kicks. Here is an interesting read:
Here’s Why Conor McGregor’s Leg Kicks Did Not Stop Nate Diaz
What the article fails to mention is that Conor’s kicks are part of a system designed for speed and accuracy, not power. This system is used in away that frustrates opponents and keeps them guessing. This system has been very successful in creating openings and enables Mystic Mac to land his devastating left hand.
In conclusion, we have to appreciate the fact that Conor McGregor is more than a great MMA fighter, he is an athlete whose presence transcended into a sports icon of our time. Now that Ronda Rousey has retired, he is the only true MMA superstar.
That will be all for now. Part two of these series will be posted tomorrow. I will provide an analysis of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s signature moves and tactics (brace yourselves, a gif-storm is coming your way).
For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).