What can we learn from how fighters in other disciplines train? The Fighting Fit: Train Like the Stars special edition (available now on the Boxing News app) reveals the work out routines of the biggest names in boxing and mixed martial arts. Here is how Conor McGregor trains:
“I started with kickboxing, the semi-contact style, with fast, light, snappy kicks,” Conor McGregor explained. “Then I went to a boxing gym and it was hardcore sparring, heavy rounds and I thought it was way tougher, but I soon realised heavy sparring is not always the way. Sometimes, I want to be sharp, snappy, fast… For me around that time I was studying MMA and just learning different ways of fighting.”
John Kavanagh, McGregor’s head coach at Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, believes the latter’s initial kickboxing and boxing background has served him admirably in the sport. Although this will well equip any mixed martial artist, Kavanagh ensures his fighters finesse their technique accordingly before they step inside the cage. “Instead of throwing a ‘two’, like a straight right, they have to start learning to control that long uppercut on the backhand because of the takedown,” said Kavanagh. “A lot of boxers who try to use boxing in MMA will load up a little bit heavy on the backhand, and it turns into a straight or a hook, and both of those punches are exactly what a wrestler wants, to duck under and take you down. We tend to use the backhand for looping, long uppercuts, so if they do duck their heads down they’re ducking right into that shot. You start using the jab to get that reaction, and when you start spotting that guy’s head coming down, you know he’s going to come a bit more into the jab and he’s probably going to try to shoot, and then bang, you’ve got that uppercut.”
For the last four years, “Notorious” has also sharpened his striking skills on the pads with Muay Thai coach and MMA fighter Owen Roddy. “We do 30 minutes three-four times a week,” Roddy revealed. “The warm-up will be 10 minutes of loosening up – basic combinations like jab-cross-hook or jab-cross-hook-right. Then we’ll start some reaction techniques. I’ll give him a slap on the body, like a left hook to the body, and his reaction may be uppercut-left hook-right hand. If I go left hook to the head, he’ll roll and come back with a different combination. If I throw a jab, his reaction will be to slip it and come back. Then we’ll build it up. He’ll have a reaction for most of my shots. We’ll go through three-four combos, we’ll break and I’ll give him the signal to throw kicks. Conor likes to mix it up. On the end of the combination, as we break, I’ll jump in to close the distance and he’ll try with a spinning heel kick.
“We go for 30 minutes straight with no breaks. He’s a workhorse. Within eight weeks of a fight he’ll do it more regularly. If I had the time, I’m sure he’d have me all day, every day. He doesn’t leave the gym.”
FINDING YOUR RANGE
Kavanagh will also use his own padwork drills to simulate a live fight, and to help perfect his range. “If I’m padding for someone and I ask for a one-two, after the person throws the jab I always move back a little bit,” he says. “I find that when people are doing pads, the pad man meets them with the ‘two’. If I meet your cross it feels nice on the gloves, but when we switch to sparring, when you step in and throw a jab to me, a very calm reaction is for me is to slide back a little bit out of reach. When you throw the ‘two’, now you’re out of range and you need to lean into me to land that ‘two’. Too much padwork can screw up your footwork a little bit because you’re used to the pad meeting your right hand. When you go to spar the guy slides back and you end up leaning into the right hand. If you get a good boxer like Conor, he slips out, you’re completely off balance and you’re going to be badly countered.
“A thing I do on the pads is I make sure whenever the guy lands his first shot, I slide back a little bit so he has to come in with his feet to land that ‘two’ instead of leaning into the ‘two’. That’s a thing all my guys can do well and it seems to help them. Conor’s got an excellent sense of distance. You should try to mimic the padwork as closely to sparring as possible. Don’t always be in range with the fighter. Make him close the range with his footwork.”
Kavanagh also tailors his combination volumes to MMA. “For me, MMA is a little bit different from pure boxing,” he continues. “You’re not going to step in and throw a five-punch combination. It tends to be ‘ones’ and ‘twos’, and then you’ve got to step out because you’re going to be clinched or taken down, so the volume of shots is a lot lower on the pads, but it’s got to be accurate and hard. With pads it might be a two-minute round or a 20-minute round, until I feel the shots are the way I want them. We just go at it.”
SPAR FAST, THROW LIGHT
Head coach Kavanagh believes that sparring is the best way to prepare a fighter for competition. “I’m not a huge guy for padwork, I prefer sparring,” says Kavanagh. “For me, the best way to get fight-fit is fighting.”
Importantly, though, Kavanagh’s sparring-heavy programme is high-intensity, low-power. “We’ve got two sparring days, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with fight speed and training power,” he continues. “They move quickly but they hit light. I don’t want anybody getting wobbled in the gym, we train smart. We stick to five-minute rounds, but typically it’ll be five five-minute rounds. We do some specific sparring as well: you might start one guy on the bottom, one guy mounted and punching, and you’ve got to get out of there. Another drill is one guy with boxing gloves and you’ve got to try and stay on your feet, using your boxing, while the other guy tries to wrestle you to the ground. If I see someone getting caught with a technique a bunch of times, I’ll isolate it, make sure they have the technical knowledge to deal with it and then be able to do it at fight speed. With wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu we also stick with five-minute rounds.”