MUCH has been made of the fact UFC star Conor McGregor will make his professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather, one of the finest defensive fighters in history, on August 26 in Las Vegas.
The Irishman is given little to no chance of doing what the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao could not – inflict defeat on Floyd.
While he has made his name as a mixed martial artist, McGregor was once a promising young boxer. He walked into the Crumlin Boxing Club in Dublin at the age of 12 and his first trainer, Phil Sutcliffe, spoke to Boxing News about what McGregor was like in those developmental stages.
“He was just like any other kid who walked into the gym wanting to join a boxing club, he had to get his parents’ permission first,” he said.
“He trained very, very hard, he was one of the kids you never had to shout at, he was very focused. He wanted to be a good boxer and he was getting good, he was progressing well. He won a few novice titles [he won the Dublin Novice championships at age 16] and boxed on plenty of shows to learn his trade but before he became a Junior he found another love and packed it in.
“He started doing grappling and wrestling and mixed martial arts, a lot of kids took to it. I wouldn’t say it’s as tough as boxing, it’s more animalistic when you’re on the ground. He started moving towards it when he was 15 or 16 and he was telling me he couldn’t come to the gym on certain nights because he was doing grappling or wrestling, I wasn’t very impressed because I didn’t like the sport. I thought it was very barbaric, when you’re allowed to hit someone on the ground with your elbows and your knees like a street fight.
“Conor’s been able to take it to a new level and he has that style which gets people following him, especially in Ireland but around the world as well.”
While Sutcliffe admits McGregor never stood out among all the other wiry young lads toiling away in the gym all those years ago, he remembers how hard working he was.
He also recognises that many of the tools McGregor has used to defeat opponents in the UFC were picked up in his gym.
“He was always very dedicated, he tried to practice, practice, practice. He worked on his uppercuts, his long right hand, he’s able to switch [stance]. We teach all our kids to switch,” he said.
“You saw how he knocked [Jose Aldo] out, the shot over the top, perfect punch, perfect timing – that’s a Crumlin punch.
“Most of the things that are bringing him along are Crumlin punches,” he said.
“His stand up boxing, his elusiveness, his timing, how he’s able to read his opponent, he’s been taught that since he was a kid, we teach that here. The stance, the timing, the reading. He was elusive, his elusiveness was extra special.”
Of course, it’s one thing to do well as an novice amateur, it’s another thing entirely to then step into the ring with arguably the greatest boxer of his generation. Then again, McGregor has never been lacking in self-belief.
“He was always confident, he was never afraid.”