CONOR McGREGOR has become one of the most recognisable faces in combat sport due to his meteoric rise in the UFC and should he dethrone featherweight champion Jose Aldo on Saturday night, his profile will go through the roof.
The magnetic Irishman has racked up six straight wins in the UFC so far and all but one have come via stoppage from punches.
Having started out as an amateur boxer, McGregor is renowned for his striking ability and hones his skills by sparring professional boxers, such as Patrick Hyland.
Hyland has been sparring his countryman for several years now and gave Boxing News an exclusive insight into what it’s like to share a ring with McGregor.
“I’ve sparred with Conor a few times. Some friends of mine are friends with John Kavanagh [McGregor’s coach] and we were out drinking one night after he’d had his first big win, and I kind of follow MMA so I said, ‘Geez he’s getting big now, if you want I can do a bit of boxing sparring if you need it.’ I didn’t realise how big he was!” he said.
Although they are both classed as featherweights, differences in the weight classes between boxing and the UFC mean McGregor – operating at around 147lbs – outweighs Hyland by roughly 20lbs.
“There’s a clip of us on YouTube, he asked if I wanted to do some MMA for a round because I follow it a bit. I agreed, he threw me all around the ring. That was a few years ago, every other time it’s just been boxing sparring with him.
“I went over to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in May and he was in Vegas at the time as well, he sent me a text asking if I wanted to spar. I was like, ‘mate I’m over here having a drinking session!’ and he wanted to bloody spar. Typical Irishman, he said, ‘if you’ve had three or four drinks you can do three or four rounds, you’ll be grand.’ But we didn’t, I said ‘no thanks pal, best of luck!’”
Hyland and McGregor predominantly do their sparring in Ireland and Patrick insists Conor could make an impact if he were to switch codes, a prospect he has teased in the past, particularly with regards to a bout with Floyd Mayweather.
“We usually do it over in Ireland in the SBG Gym. He’d do good if he moved into just boxing, he’s a slick southpaw with fast hands. I really think he’d do well in the boxing game. He started out boxing at Crumlin boxing club and I remember him at a novice championships beating up one of my friends so I remember him from that as a good boxer.
“We’d do loads of rounds, 15 minutes straight, stuff like that. He’s very technical, he’s very good, there’s no fear and he can handle himself well just boxing.
“His speed stood out for me and obviously the fact that he’s a southpaw, he has great movement and he’s in and out.
“His accuracy as well is good, like most good boxers. That’s why I think he’s knocking everybody out in the UFC because he’s catching them well. If you watch all the other guys they’re just swinging haymakers and Conor’s just putting them in nicely, throwing his shots properly.
“He takes his time, he’s a perfectionist. He’s an absolute machine in training, I’ve watched him train and he gave me some tips on other stuff to help me.
“He takes his time, he picks his shots and he goes in there with a game plan. Even in sparring you can see he’s trying to work out which shots to land on me and get away in time.”