Conor Has All He Needs to Shock Floyd and the World—Except Boxing Acumen

Acumen.
Noun; the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain. Synonyms include astuteness, shrewdness, acuity and sharpness.
It’s a versatile word, used from business to academics to, you guessed it, athle…

Acumen.

Noun; the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain. Synonyms include astuteness, shrewdness, acuity and sharpness.

It’s a versatile word, used from business to academics to, you guessed it, athletics.

Athletics as in boxing.

For example, a mere week-and-a-half from one of the biggest athletic events in this generation, its use is in reference to the boxing acumen of Conor McGregor, who will take on Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. Its use is to acknowledge he is almost totally lacking in it on any meaningful level, and the world will soon see what that’s worth when he steps between the ropes.

Yet if you’ve followed McGregor up to this point, you’re probably comfortable suggesting he has everything else he needs to get the job done.

The lead-up to the fight has been rife with entirely factual, highly relevant points from McGregor, even amid his more problematic statements. Ever the salesman, he’s quick to point out the ways he’s a unique threat to Mayweather. One particular rant at a group of bystanders outside of Madison Square Garden earlier this year, angrier than many he’s indulged in since this circus came to town, was instructive:

“I’m the boxing guy, watch me take over boxing!” he bellowed to an onlooker, as Fight Hub TV captured (warning: link contains NSFW language). “No one in this boxing game knows what’s coming. Trust me on that. When I step in there, I’m going to shock the whole goddamned world.”

He continued, eyes increasingly wild: “Look me in the eyes! Twenty-eight years of age! Confident as a motherf–ker, long, rangy, dangerous with every hand!

“Trust me, I’m gonna stop Floyd! You’re all gonna eat your words; the whole world is gonna eat their words!”

He makes some good points.

If one looks past the idea of McGregor‘s limited boxing acumen for a moment, there is reason to think the Irishman has some things going for him. If there weren’t, nearly $100 on pay-per-view and God only knows how much to get in the building on fight night wouldn’t be possible.

Even though McGregor just turned 29 in July, he is over a decade younger than Mayweather. He is long and rangy in a way that few Mayweather opponents have been. He is confident and dangerous with each hand.

And that’s only one short clip of McGregor‘s ranting his way through New York while visions of dollar signs flash in his head.

He doesn’t touch on other elements of his game, like his sheer density for a 154-pounder, the unpredictability he’ll have on his side or his vaunted, almost admirable ability to believe in himself no matter the odds.

While McGregor acknowledges his own length and range, look at his only UFC fight at 155 pounds (UFC 205 last November) and see how bulky he is at that weight. Look at the size of his arms and back compared to those of Eddie Alvarez, the then-lightweight champion with 170-pound fights under his belt. Look at how easily and freely he moves that enormous frame around and how he lands punches from range, both off counters and when getting off first.

Against Mayweather, who has fought as low as 130 pounds and only rarely at 154 pounds in his career, that is a legitimate advantage.

Consider also his unpredictability in combat. Some of it is on display in the Alvarez fight, even though MMA lends itself to unpredictability more so than boxing.

McGregor‘s head coach, John Kavanaghtold The 42 in June 2017 after the Mayweather bout was announced:

“I believe we have a number of advantages going into this fight. Often, people who are experts in a certain field will tell you that it can actually be more awkward to deal with somebody who’s not from the same field. They’d rather deal with the top contender from their own discipline because he’ll move in a way that you assume he’ll move.

“Mayweather has been in the boxing world for his entire career, and everyone he’s faced has moved in a certain way that he’s preconditioned to handle. Now he’s going up against a guy who doesn’t follow any set patterns, who can deploy a variety of different styles of fighting and is not one bit intimidated. Conor is—as we all are here—100 percent confident in victory. That kind of person is very difficult to deal with.”

This is an astute observation from Kavanagh—one that will be confirmed by many professional athletes across many different sports if you ask.

It is far more challenging for a fighter to spar with individuals from different backgrounds in combat sports, which is why it’s such a popular means of preparation in MMA camps.

Other sports support the idea as well. Often at lower levels or coming up through amateur ranks, there are less elite players and thus more unpredictable or outright bad play, so it becomes more of a challenge to those who are elite and are thinking and acting on a much higher plane.

Poker may have been the most interesting analogy around the time internet players and traditional players converged for the first time. “Amateur” internet players began employing unorthodox, unpredictable strategies that more seasoned pros couldn’t account for after years of playing on “feel” alone. The result was great success for those players coming from cyberspace, a more general adjustment in strategies overall and an evolution of the game.

In boxing Mayweather, McGregor has the practiced and refined unpredictability of his natural fighting style working in his favor, but he also has the unpracticed and unrefined unpredictability of being so new to professional boxing.

It’s not a guaranteed pathway to success, but it’s something that will take Mayweather some time to unpack. That might be all the time McGregor needs to land one of those dangerous hands and start some trouble.

And then, of course, there’s the self-belief. Nobody in the history of sports—maybe in history, period—has ever believed in themselves the way McGregor believes in himself. Time and again he tells people he intends to do the impossible, and while it’s often met with a collective cluck of the tongue from doubters, he goes out and does it.

His UFC run was a freight train fueled by the momentum of his proclamations. His concurrent UFC titles were the station the train halted at for a breather. This whole scene against Mayweather is the culmination of every positive, self-believing thought.

Nobody ever got rich doubting McGregor, and McGregor has gotten rich believing in himself. If that track record doesn’t count for something, you’re doubting him at your own peril.

With camps winding down and the final promotional push ready to take the world into one of the biggest boxing matches it has ever seen, what does boxing acumen matter?

McGregor has plenty working for him, and he’s gotten this far with acumen as an afterthought.

As UFC President Dana White has been fond of saying in promoting this bout, “At the end of the day, it’s a fight.”

He’s right about that. Anything can happen in a fight. 

If McGregor levels a boxing icon? There’ll be no room to challenge his boxing acumen anymore, either.

       

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!

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Mayweather vs. McGregor: TV Schedule, Preview for Showtime ‘All Access’ Episode

Does Floyd Mayweather Jr. have any interest in serious training prior to his superfight with Conor McGregor?
Through the first three episodes of Showtime’s All Access: Mayweather vs. McGregor series on the huge event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas …

Does Floyd Mayweather Jr. have any interest in serious training prior to his superfight with Conor McGregor?

Through the first three episodes of Showtime’s All Access: Mayweather vs. McGregor series on the huge event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas scheduled for August 26, Mayweather has done a lot more talking than training.

He has gone on about his money, his interest in getting involved in the strip club/gentleman’s club business, his desire to have fun and about his family, but when it comes to stepping in the ring and doing some serious training, that has not been one of his priorities.

Episode 4 unfolds Friday at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime, and Mayweather’s effort to prepare for the fight should be one of the more interesting aspects of the program. There’s no guarantee that he will step up his training at this point, because it’s clear that he will prepare in the manner that he sees fit and doesn’t care what others think.

“I am going to do exactly what I want to do,” Mayweather said in a previous episode. “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.”

The ongoing saga between McGregor and Showtime boxing analyst Paulie Malignaggi is likely to play out further. In each of the last two episodes, McGregor and Malignaggi have sparred to help the UFC lightweight champ prepare for Mayweather. The Showtime cameras were turned off for the sparring sessions, but McGregor has said he has gotten the best of the former fighter.

McGregor claimed in an interview with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani that his most recent sparring session was a 12-round fight and that he won each round. Malignaggi has dismissed the claim on The MMA Hour podcast and has asked for the tape for all 12 rounds to be released.

While that has not happened, a small snippet of Malignaggi going down to the canvas has found its way to the public. Even that is controversial, because Malignaggi says that his tumble is the result of a shove and not a punch.

In any event, it is clear that McGregor has used his time to train in a much more serious manner than Mayweather. He knows he has a huge opportunity coming up in a little over a week, and he is trying to prepare as best he can for the first official boxing match of his career.

Mayweather is taking his 49-0 record into the ring, and while he has not competed in two years, his defensive skills are not likely to have waned. While he may not be as quick as he was in his prime, it’s difficult to conceive of McGregor gaining enough skill to challenge him successfully.

The countdown to the megafight is starting to reach the critical stage.

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Impossibly True Stories of the Incredible, Immortal, Unstoppable Conor McGregor!

There’s a story that Conor McGregor’s childhood friend, Tom Egan, likes to tell, about back when dreams were just dreams and McGregor was just a pimply-faced, clean-shaven 19-year-old.
The pair was hanging out at the mall in Dublin, Ireland…

There’s a story that Conor McGregor’s childhood friend, Tom Egan, likes to tell, about back when dreams were just dreams and McGregor was just a pimply-faced, clean-shaven 19-year-old.

The pair was hanging out at the mall in Dublin, Ireland. They grabbed some food, then stopped at a bookstore to browse through the mixed martial arts magazines.

They were in the infancy of their MMA careers and hoped a few seconds spent gazing through the pages might confer on them some new skill. As they were leaving, McGregor spotted Floyd Mayweather on the cover of The Ring, two fists up, a toothy grin, his eyes gazing back, too.

“Wow,” McGregor said. “Look at him. He is the face of boxing. He’s on top of the world.”

Egan continued for the door. “C’mon,” he called out. But it was futile. McGregor wouldn’t budge. He was holding the magazine with both hands, transfixed.

“He was visualizing himself,” McGregor’s best friend says now, “in that position—on the cover.”


After the first stop of a four-leg, around-the-world, around-the-Twittersphere-and-back-again promotional tour, McGregor—the slightly more grown-up, pushing 30-year-old version—took time to answer a few questions in a corner of Staples Center in Los Angeles. His light brown hair parted neatly to the side, his beard delicately manicured, McGregor wore a navy suit with two words stitched vertically over and over again into makeshift pinstripes, small enough for only a squinting observer—or a camera—to make out: FUCK YOU.

With a mic in hand, McGregor is a supernova, an all-world shit-talker.

“On August 26,” he began, referring to the date of his boxing debut against Mayweather, “this man will be unconscious. He’s too small. He’s too frail.”

Floyd Mayweather Sr., the father and trainer of Floyd Jr., was just to the Irishman’s left. He stared down at McGregor, then interjected. “You’re gonna get killed,” he yelled.

McGregor laughed it off. Then Mayweather Sr. asked him the question many people have wondered about since this fight was announced before a summer of bluster began.

“How the fuck you going to outbox him?” he asked, referring to his son. He pointed his finger at McGregor and added, with this fight’s trademark over-the-top shade: “All the same fighters he beat would beat your ass.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Oscar De La Hoya, a former boxing champion turned successful promoter, who called Mayweather-McGregor a “farce” in a Facebook post. Former Canadian cruiserweight Troy Ross agrees.

“McGregor has never had a boxing match in his life,” he says. “How can he be in a ring with Floyd?”

Fans, however, want to believe the impossible. They want to believe the MMA fighter with an anesthetizing left hook—a man who calls himself Notorious and is notoriously just seven years removed from a job as a plumber’s assistant and a monthly welfare check—can knock off arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of any era. It is this belief in which Conor McGregor traffics—turning skepticism into certainty.

It’s the Mystic Mac effect. He predicted he’d be the best MMA fighter in Europe, then he said he’d beat the unbeatable Jose Aldo. Then he said he’d win two UFC championship belts. All came true.

In the weeks leading up to next Saturday’s bout in Vegas, fans have lined up to place their bets on McGregor. One sports book recorded 15 bets for McGregor to win for every wager for Mayweather. Indeed, many see McGregor’s crossover as little more than a money grab, a potential nine-figure payday for both fighters and untold millions for the UFC and various boxing federations. Pundits, not to mention tweeters and everyday sports fans, have called the fight a disgrace and a race-baiting spectacle.

But inside the ring, when the two men stare into each other’s eyes and the fight begins, there is something more elemental. For Mayweather, it’s simple: Take out the Irish enigma and his boxing legacy is complete—a 50-0 record to become the winningest undefeated champion in sports history.

For McGregor, the point of indulging in this—the shitshow superfight of the century—is more complicated: He’s fighting for Ireland, but head to the streets of Dublin these days, and you’ll find the Irish appalled by his behavior, calling him a phony. He boasts of winning more titles, but talk to his friends and fellow fighters about a decade of sleepless nights and proclamations on private jets, and it seems like Mystic Mac wants something unattainable—something perhaps more permanent, something only he can see.


 

McGregor’s first professional mixed martial arts fight took place in a tiny basketball gym in Dublin. He was deep down on the undercard, an unknown so unknown that an hour before the bell was supposed to ring, nobody noticed he hadn’t shown up. Thirty minutes later, his coach, John Kavanagh, realized his prodigy was missing. He called McGregor’s phone, but it was turned off. Twenty minutes until fight time, still nothing. Finally, as everyone was preparing for a forfeit and the next card, McGregor burst through the door.

“He jumped straight into the ring,” says Owen Roddy, McGregor’s striking coach. “Bounced around, cracked his man a few times, knocked him out, then bounced out of the ring.” Then he had a few pints for good measure.

McGregor’s origin story is well-known. It’s part of his allure. The Irish lad from the Southwest Dublin working class neighborhood gets bullied in school, joins a boxing gym to learn how to fight off his attackers. As the story goes, he comes from nothing and works his way to the top.

It’s a neat and tidy tale, but when he was 16, McGregor’s parents moved him and his two sisters to a large house in Lucan, a leafy village 20 miles from the Dublin city center. On his first day of school, Tom Egan introduced himself. On the surface, they were opposites—Egan the loner with meticulous discipline, McGregor outgoing but entirely unreliable, often spending hours in his own head.

“He was just a lazy prick, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way,” Egan says of McGregor. “He was just at a loss of identity, and he didn’t really have anything to hold onto.”

On weekends, McGregor would stop by Egan’s parents’ house and they’d watch delayed recordings of UFC fights, then mimic the moves in the back shed. During the week, McGregor trained at his childhood boxing club in Dublin, or occasionally an MMA gym near his home with Egan. It was there that Kavanagh, the “Godfather of Irish MMA,” noticed both McGregor’s and Egan’s raw talent. They became his prized pupils at the new Straight Blast Gym Ireland in downtown Dublin.

McGregor arrived determined to fight anyone. He wanted to prove himself, sure, but he was seemingly battling against his own angst.

Once, before he had a driver’s license, he persuaded Egan to let him take the wheel of Egan’s parents’ car. He drove in perfect circles around an industrial park. He flashed his blinker at the optimal time and turned with precision. As long as he was in motion, he was in control. When it came time to park, McGregor hit the gas and made a beeline toward the spot. The car crashed into the wall and smoke billowed into the sky. He had forgotten to hit the brakes.

For brief stretches, Kavanagh managed to reel in McGregor’s unpredictability. He placed him on the undercard for a small-time event, Cage of Truth 3, that Kavanagh was hosting on June 28, 2008. It was McGregor’s third professional fight. At the weigh-in the day before, McGregor stared down his opponent, Artemij Sitenkov, and proceeded to announce he’d knock him out in the first round. Then McGregor turned and yelled at Sitenkov’s coach, “You can get it too, old man!”

This wasn’t performance art. There was no one in the audience.

The next day at the fight, McGregor had his own cheering section, and his family came to see him fight for the first time. But Sitenkov took him right to the ground, submitted McGregor in just 69 seconds for his first loss. The few dozen people in the gym fell nearly silent, and McGregor leaped out of the Octagon and disappeared down the hallway ashamed.

The following Monday, he didn’t show up for training. He missed the next day, and the day after that as well. Instead, McGregor buried himself on his parents’ couch. Egan reached out, but McGregor’s mate was absorbed in his own career, destroying opponents in the 175-pound division on the Irish MMA circuit.

Eventually, Kavanagh convinced McGregor to come back to the gym, and he won his next fight by TKO. But there was no epiphany, and soon he was back on his parents’ couch. The 69-second fight he’d promised to win had slapped him with such force that inertia set in. McGregor didn’t fight for another 22 months.

Meanwhile, Egan signed on to fight the undercard in June 2009’s UFC 93 in Dublin. It was a seminal moment in Ireland, as Egan became the first Irish-born fighter to compete in the big leagues of MMA. McGregor, sitting a few rows back from the cage, saw the kind of champion he wanted to be: an Irishman, inside the Octagon, in the UFC.


There’s a tale about the great Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn, perhaps the most famous of all the Irish myths. It starts with a boy raised in a small town and the children who attempt to bully him. He learns to fight back with such rage that he rapidly transforms himself into the most potent fighter in the land.

He is also a braggart, a flashy warrior in search of everlasting fame. He lives on a knife’s edge and makes as many enemies as friends. But, as with any mythological tale, Cu Chulainn (pronounced Kook-hullen) knows that one day there will be a reckoning. It will either be a spectacular victory or a fail of epic proportions.

In 2009, as the rise of McGregor began, his country’s economy was crumbling. So Kavanagh gave McGregor a job teaching boxing at the SBG gym to help supplement his unemployment check, and McGregor resumed regular training with an eclectic group of fighters.

“We turned up every day to John’s Place,” says Paddy Holohan, one of the fighters. “We were just in this shed, closed off to the world.”

In tiny gyms around Ireland, McGregor reeled off eight straight wins, after starting his career 4-2. With each victory, he became more arrogant and defiant. Even as far back as 2011, he was lambasting other fighters on Irish message boards. In one post, under the username NOTORIOUS, he wrote:

“vote for me for fighter of the year how can you not … broken orbital bones, broken jaws, broken noses, fighters retired … EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM ARE RUNNING SCARED EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!!!”

He defended his Cage Warrior championship, and UFC signed him to a five-fight contract. In April 2013, on his way to the airport for the first one, in Stockholm, Sweden, McGregor cashed his last unemployment check. After TKO-ing the journeyman Marcus Brimage in the first round that Saturday, he earned $16,000 for the victory and another $60,000 for the “knockout of the night.”

While the younger generation in Ireland was celebrating one of its own, old-school fight-watchers found Mystic Mac’s personality grating.

“He has utterly divided Irish society, not along socio-economic grounds, but by age,” says Sean McGoldrick of the Sunday World, a newspaper in Ireland. “We like our sports stars to be humble.”

If you walk the streets of Dublin, even three weeks before the Mayweather fight, you’ll run into plenty of McGregor fans. But many others feel he’s negatively affected the perception of the country.

Sitting inside a French restaurant on Fade Street, in a tightly tailored suit, Sean, a salesman in his early 40s, says McGregor “is playing what people think an Irishman is—it’s not very Irish at all.”

Down the road at Jo’Burger, conversation turns to McGregor, and one of the waiters jumps in unprompted: “He doesn’t represent us in the best way.”

The waiter pauses and lets out a smile. “I still want him to win.”


The beard grew, and the tattoos followed. McGregor had started to create the fighter he imagined himself to be. For his second UFC fight, in the summer of 2013 in Boston, he called Egan and asked him to work in his corner.

The old friends had exchanged a few emails but hadn’t seen each other in years. After Egan’s loss in UFC 93, he moved across the Atlantic seeking a new challenge, but found it difficult to break through. When he reconnected with McGregor, he saw a “completely different individual.”

McGregor was training alongside Gunnar Nelson, an Icelandic fighter who helped teach him to channel his emotions within the Octagon. He was also honing Mystic Mac’s fighting IQ. McGregor “has this amazing ability,” says Roddy, his striking coach. “You could bring in a guy brand-new—he’s never seen him—and within a minute, he has him worked out and has his patterns read.”

The most important shift, however, came when McGregor’s sister handed him a copy of Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book, The Secret. The bestseller details a version of the law of attraction in which your thoughts manifest your desires. He read passages from the book out loud, then passed it around the gym.

“Conor was the one that wanted to be the best,” says Holohan, who kept training alongside McGregor long after the unemployment checks gave way to millions. If McGregor wanted Ferraris and five-digit spending sprees, they happened. If he wanted to win belts, well then, through his emboldened belief system that, too, would happen—miracle of miracles.

McGregor stopped ruminating and spread the enthusiasm to those closest to him.

“He gets me so motivated,” says Artem Lobov, a teammate at SBG. “I could be going into the shop to buy a sausage roll and I feel like I’m fighting for the world title.”

In Boston, McGregor won at UFC Fight Night by decision. He also tore his ACL in the first round, which forced him out for the next 11 months. That winter, he holed up in a house in Reykjavik, Iceland, with some of the SBG gang. The sun was only shining five hours a day, night turning into more night, but McGregor rarely slept.

Holohan, his roommate in the Nordic mansion before there was Mac Mansion in Las Vegas, remembers waking up at 4 a.m. to find McGregor watching fights on his iPad. So he sat up and talked through the intricacies of the fighters on the screen. But McGregor always talks—and inevitably, the conversation would turn to Mayweather. They imagined stepping into the ring against Money, who had just taken a $41.5 million purse for defeating Canelo Álvarez by decision in 12 rounds, and just how “easy it would be for an MMA fighter,” Holohan says, to beat his ass.

When you compare it to MMA, the two friends agreed, “boxing is very, very easy.’’

Over time, thoughts of taking on Mayweather began to crystallize. In the spring of 2015, McGregor was on a 10-city promotional tour for his upcoming fight against Jose Aldo. McGregor and his team jetted across three continents on a UFC-chartered plane. Halfway through the tour, most of Camp Conor returned to Ireland, leaving only McGregor and Lobov onboard. The days blended together, but at one point, Lobov remembers, they were seated next to each other, 40,000 feet above ground.

McGregor leaned in: “I want to box,” he told his friend on the jet. “I want Mayweather.”

He went on to beat Chad Mendes when Aldo pulled out, then beat Aldo anyway five months later, winning the UFC featherweight title. He jumped up a division to lightweight and lost for the first time in 15 fights, this time to Nate Diaz. After the fight, he told commentator Joe Rogan: “I’m humbled in victory or defeat. I respect Nate.”

It is that kind of humility—however forced—that the older Irish generation wants so badly from its stars, that for the first time—however briefly—united his home country behind him. For McGregor, adoration was no consolation. His visions of grandeur were now looking garish.

During the weigh-in for his rematch with Diaz a year ago at UFC 202, McGregor strode up to the scale in a blue tank top, his mouth nearly frothing. He took off his top, stood on the scale, flexed his muscles and screamed at the crowd.

When Diaz approached the scale, McGregor stood next to Kavanagh, his coach, and—according to MMA journalist Ari Helwani—whispered in his ear: “The illusion of insanity is over. Now back to the game plan.”


Of course, McGregor won the fight against Diaz and, in November, won UFC 205 against Eddie Alvarez, too. They were formalities, really. The countdown to the Mayweather fight had started years ago.

By the time their cross-country trollfest had reached Brooklyn one afternoon last month, McGregor taunted Mayweather with racist comments, repeatedly telling Mayweather, “dance for me, boy.” He also told the crowd of more than 13,000 at Barclays Center that he was  “half-black from the belly down.”

Two hours later, McGregor was forced to respond to his own responses on an L-shaped runway. He wore a long fur coat with no shirt and patterned pants. Holding a water bottle in his right hand, twisting it nervously between his fingers, he shifted in place. “I’m a big fan of the culture,” he said, when asked about his comments about African-Americans. But it did little to quell the outrage. More pointed questions came, centered around the point of this shitshow in the first place: Did McGregor deserve to be fighting this fight? Was he given something he hadn’t earned?

A few feet away from the uncomfortable interview, McGregor’s small team from back in the Dublin gym remained undaunted. Lobov, with the same energy that McGregor displays from weigh-ins to private planes, exclaimed that his friend is “better than Mayweather. He is going to dominate him, 100 percent. Believe it.”

Belief, however, can become intoxicating. It can make you believe in your own myth.

Toward the end of the tale of Cu Chulainn, the fighter’s hubris has pushed him to the brink. A life’s worth of enemies begins to conspire against him. They force the war hero to eat a plate full of dog meat and then pierce him, one by one, with magical spears. Before the final blow can reach him, the legend decides to tie himself to a tree and face his killers head-on.

The great Celtic warrior, it turns out, is not immortal. He dies standing up.

 


 

Flinder Boyd is a writer-at-large for B/R Mag. A former writer atFoxSports.com, his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Newsweek, BBC Online and more, as well as multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. Before becoming a journalist, he played 10 seasons of professional basketball across Europe, and now lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @flinderboyd.

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Impossibly True Stories of the Incredible, Immortal, Unstoppable Conor McGregor!

There’s a story that Conor McGregor’s childhood friend, Tom Egan, likes to tell, about back when dreams were just dreams and McGregor was just a pimply-faced, clean-shaven 19-year-old.
The pair was hanging out at the mall in Dublin, Ireland…

There’s a story that Conor McGregor’s childhood friend, Tom Egan, likes to tell, about back when dreams were just dreams and McGregor was just a pimply-faced, clean-shaven 19-year-old.

The pair was hanging out at the mall in Dublin, Ireland. They grabbed some food, then stopped at a bookstore to browse through the mixed martial arts magazines.

They were in the infancy of their MMA careers and hoped a few seconds spent gazing through the pages might confer on them some new skill. As they were leaving, McGregor spotted Floyd Mayweather on the cover of The Ring, two fists up, a toothy grin, his eyes gazing back, too.

“Wow,” McGregor said. “Look at him. He is the face of boxing. He’s on top of the world.”

Egan continued for the door. “C’mon,” he called out. But it was futile. McGregor wouldn’t budge. He was holding the magazine with both hands, transfixed.

“He was visualizing himself,” McGregor’s best friend says now, “in that position—on the cover.”


After the first stop of a four-leg, around-the-world, around-the-Twittersphere-and-back-again promotional tour, McGregor—the slightly more grown-up, pushing 30-year-old version—took time to answer a few questions in a corner of Staples Center in Los Angeles. His light brown hair parted neatly to the side, his beard delicately manicured, McGregor wore a navy suit with two words stitched vertically over and over again into makeshift pinstripes, small enough for only a squinting observer—or a camera—to make out: FUCK YOU.

With a mic in hand, McGregor is a supernova, an all-world shit-talker.

“On August 26,” he began, referring to the date of his boxing debut against Mayweather, “this man will be unconscious. He’s too small. He’s too frail.”

Floyd Mayweather Sr., the father and trainer of Floyd Jr., was just to the Irishman’s left. He stared down at McGregor, then interjected. “You’re gonna get killed,” he yelled.

McGregor laughed it off. Then Mayweather Sr. asked him the question many people have wondered about since this fight was announced before a summer of bluster began.

“How the fuck you going to outbox him?” he asked, referring to his son. He pointed his finger at McGregor and added, with this fight’s trademark over-the-top shade: “All the same fighters he beat would beat your ass.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Oscar De La Hoya, a former boxing champion turned successful promoter, who called Mayweather-McGregor a “farce” in a Facebook post. Former Canadian cruiserweight Troy Ross agrees.

“McGregor has never had a boxing match in his life,” he says. “How can he be in a ring with Floyd?”

Fans, however, want to believe the impossible. They want to believe the MMA fighter with an anesthetizing left hook—a man who calls himself Notorious and is notoriously just seven years removed from a job as a plumber’s assistant and a monthly welfare check—can knock off arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of any era. It is this belief in which Conor McGregor traffics—turning skepticism into certainty.

It’s the Mystic Mac effect. He predicted he’d be the best MMA fighter in Europe, then he said he’d beat the unbeatable Jose Aldo. Then he said he’d win two UFC championship belts. All came true.

In the weeks leading up to next Saturday’s bout in Vegas, fans have lined up to place their bets on McGregor. One sports book recorded 15 bets for McGregor to win for every wager for Mayweather. Indeed, many see McGregor’s crossover as little more than a money grab, a potential nine-figure payday for both fighters and untold millions for the UFC and various boxing federations. Pundits, not to mention tweeters and everyday sports fans, have called the fight a disgrace and a race-baiting spectacle.

But inside the ring, when the two men stare into each other’s eyes and the fight begins, there is something more elemental. For Mayweather, it’s simple: Take out the Irish enigma and his boxing legacy is complete—a 50-0 record to become the winningest undefeated champion in sports history.

For McGregor, the point of indulging in this—the shitshow superfight of the century—is more complicated: He’s fighting for Ireland, but head to the streets of Dublin these days, and you’ll find the Irish appalled by his behavior, calling him a phony. He boasts of winning more titles, but talk to his friends and fellow fighters about a decade of sleepless nights and proclamations on private jets, and it seems like Mystic Mac wants something unattainable—something perhaps more permanent, something only he can see.


 

McGregor’s first professional mixed martial arts fight took place in a tiny basketball gym in Dublin. He was deep down on the undercard, an unknown so unknown that an hour before the bell was supposed to ring, nobody noticed he hadn’t shown up. Thirty minutes later, his coach, John Kavanagh, realized his prodigy was missing. He called McGregor’s phone, but it was turned off. Twenty minutes until fight time, still nothing. Finally, as everyone was preparing for a forfeit and the next card, McGregor burst through the door.

“He jumped straight into the ring,” says Owen Roddy, McGregor’s striking coach. “Bounced around, cracked his man a few times, knocked him out, then bounced out of the ring.” Then he had a few pints for good measure.

McGregor’s origin story is well-known. It’s part of his allure. The Irish lad from the Southwest Dublin working class neighborhood gets bullied in school, joins a boxing gym to learn how to fight off his attackers. As the story goes, he comes from nothing and works his way to the top.

It’s a neat and tidy tale, but when he was 16, McGregor’s parents moved him and his two sisters to a large house in Lucan, a leafy village 20 miles from the Dublin city center. On his first day of school, Tom Egan introduced himself. On the surface, they were opposites—Egan the loner with meticulous discipline, McGregor outgoing but entirely unreliable, often spending hours in his own head.

“He was just a lazy prick, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way,” Egan says of McGregor. “He was just at a loss of identity, and he didn’t really have anything to hold onto.”

On weekends, McGregor would stop by Egan’s parents’ house and they’d watch delayed recordings of UFC fights, then mimic the moves in the back shed. During the week, McGregor trained at his childhood boxing club in Dublin, or occasionally an MMA gym near his home with Egan. It was there that Kavanagh, the “Godfather of Irish MMA,” noticed both McGregor’s and Egan’s raw talent. They became his prized pupils at the new Straight Blast Gym Ireland in downtown Dublin.

McGregor arrived determined to fight anyone. He wanted to prove himself, sure, but he was seemingly battling against his own angst.

Once, before he had a driver’s license, he persuaded Egan to let him take the wheel of Egan’s parents’ car. He drove in perfect circles around an industrial park. He flashed his blinker at the optimal time and turned with precision. As long as he was in motion, he was in control. When it came time to park, McGregor hit the gas and made a beeline toward the spot. The car crashed into the wall and smoke billowed into the sky. He had forgotten to hit the brakes.

For brief stretches, Kavanagh managed to reel in McGregor’s unpredictability. He placed him on the undercard for a small-time event, Cage of Truth 3, that Kavanagh was hosting on June 28, 2008. It was McGregor’s third professional fight. At the weigh-in the day before, McGregor stared down his opponent, Artemij Sitenkov, and proceeded to announce he’d knock him out in the first round. Then McGregor turned and yelled at Sitenkov’s coach, “You can get it too, old man!”

This wasn’t performance art. There was no one in the audience.

The next day at the fight, McGregor had his own cheering section, and his family came to see him fight for the first time. But Sitenkov took him right to the ground, submitted McGregor in just 69 seconds for his first loss. The few dozen people in the gym fell nearly silent, and McGregor leaped out of the Octagon and disappeared down the hallway ashamed.

The following Monday, he didn’t show up for training. He missed the next day, and the day after that as well. Instead, McGregor buried himself on his parents’ couch. Egan reached out, but McGregor’s mate was absorbed in his own career, destroying opponents in the 175-pound division on the Irish MMA circuit.

Eventually, Kavanagh convinced McGregor to come back to the gym, and he won his next fight by TKO. But there was no epiphany, and soon he was back on his parents’ couch. The 69-second fight he’d promised to win had slapped him with such force that inertia set in. McGregor didn’t fight for another 22 months.

Meanwhile, Egan signed on to fight the undercard in June 2009’s UFC 93 in Dublin. It was a seminal moment in Ireland, as Egan became the first Irish-born fighter to compete in the big leagues of MMA. McGregor, sitting a few rows back from the cage, saw the kind of champion he wanted to be: an Irishman, inside the Octagon, in the UFC.


There’s a tale about the great Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn, perhaps the most famous of all the Irish myths. It starts with a boy raised in a small town and the children who attempt to bully him. He learns to fight back with such rage that he rapidly transforms himself into the most potent fighter in the land.

He is also a braggart, a flashy warrior in search of everlasting fame. He lives on a knife’s edge and makes as many enemies as friends. But, as with any mythological tale, Cu Chulainn (pronounced Kook-hullen) knows that one day there will be a reckoning. It will either be a spectacular victory or a fail of epic proportions.

In 2009, as the rise of McGregor began, his country’s economy was crumbling. So Kavanagh gave McGregor a job teaching boxing at the SBG gym to help supplement his unemployment check, and McGregor resumed regular training with an eclectic group of fighters.

“We turned up every day to John’s Place,” says Paddy Holohan, one of the fighters. “We were just in this shed, closed off to the world.”

In tiny gyms around Ireland, McGregor reeled off eight straight wins, after starting his career 4-2. With each victory, he became more arrogant and defiant. Even as far back as 2011, he was lambasting other fighters on Irish message boards. In one post, under the username NOTORIOUS, he wrote:

“vote for me for fighter of the year how can you not … broken orbital bones, broken jaws, broken noses, fighters retired … EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM ARE RUNNING SCARED EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!!!”

He defended his Cage Warrior championship, and UFC signed him to a five-fight contract. In April 2013, on his way to the airport for the first one, in Stockholm, Sweden, McGregor cashed his last unemployment check. After TKO-ing the journeyman Marcus Brimage in the first round that Saturday, he earned $16,000 for the victory and another $60,000 for the “knockout of the night.”

While the younger generation in Ireland was celebrating one of its own, old-school fight-watchers found Mystic Mac’s personality grating.

“He has utterly divided Irish society, not along socio-economic grounds, but by age,” says Sean McGoldrick of the Sunday World, a newspaper in Ireland. “We like our sports stars to be humble.”

If you walk the streets of Dublin, even three weeks before the Mayweather fight, you’ll run into plenty of McGregor fans. But many others feel he’s negatively affected the perception of the country.

Sitting inside a French restaurant on Fade Street, in a tightly tailored suit, Sean, a salesman in his early 40s, says McGregor “is playing what people think an Irishman is—it’s not very Irish at all.”

Down the road at Jo’Burger, conversation turns to McGregor, and one of the waiters jumps in unprompted: “He doesn’t represent us in the best way.”

The waiter pauses and lets out a smile. “I still want him to win.”


The beard grew, and the tattoos followed. McGregor had started to create the fighter he imagined himself to be. For his second UFC fight, in the summer of 2013 in Boston, he called Egan and asked him to work in his corner.

The old friends had exchanged a few emails but hadn’t seen each other in years. After Egan’s loss in UFC 93, he moved across the Atlantic seeking a new challenge, but found it difficult to break through. When he reconnected with McGregor, he saw a “completely different individual.”

McGregor was training alongside Gunnar Nelson, an Icelandic fighter who helped teach him to channel his emotions within the Octagon. He was also honing Mystic Mac’s fighting IQ. McGregor “has this amazing ability,” says Roddy, his striking coach. “You could bring in a guy brand-new—he’s never seen him—and within a minute, he has him worked out and has his patterns read.”

The most important shift, however, came when McGregor’s sister handed him a copy of Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book, The Secret. The bestseller details a version of the law of attraction in which your thoughts manifest your desires. He read passages from the book out loud, then passed it around the gym.

“Conor was the one that wanted to be the best,” says Holohan, who kept training alongside McGregor long after the unemployment checks gave way to millions. If McGregor wanted Ferraris and five-digit spending sprees, they happened. If he wanted to win belts, well then, through his emboldened belief system that, too, would happen—miracle of miracles.

McGregor stopped ruminating and spread the enthusiasm to those closest to him.

“He gets me so motivated,” says Artem Lobov, a teammate at SBG. “I could be going into the shop to buy a sausage roll and I feel like I’m fighting for the world title.”

In Boston, McGregor won at UFC Fight Night by decision. He also tore his ACL in the first round, which forced him out for the next 11 months. That winter, he holed up in a house in Reykjavik, Iceland, with some of the SBG gang. The sun was only shining five hours a day, night turning into more night, but McGregor rarely slept.

Holohan, his roommate in the Nordic mansion before there was Mac Mansion in Las Vegas, remembers waking up at 4 a.m. to find McGregor watching fights on his iPad. So he sat up and talked through the intricacies of the fighters on the screen. But McGregor always talks—and inevitably, the conversation would turn to Mayweather. They imagined stepping into the ring against Money, who had just taken a $41.5 million purse for defeating Canelo Álvarez by decision in 12 rounds, and just how “easy it would be for an MMA fighter,” Holohan says, to beat his ass.

When you compare it to MMA, the two friends agreed, “boxing is very, very easy.’’

Over time, thoughts of taking on Mayweather began to crystallize. In the spring of 2015, McGregor was on a 10-city promotional tour for his upcoming fight against Jose Aldo. McGregor and his team jetted across three continents on a UFC-chartered plane. Halfway through the tour, most of Camp Conor returned to Ireland, leaving only McGregor and Lobov onboard. The days blended together, but at one point, Lobov remembers, they were seated next to each other, 40,000 feet above ground.

McGregor leaned in: “I want to box,” he told his friend on the jet. “I want Mayweather.”

He went on to beat Chad Mendes when Aldo pulled out, then beat Aldo anyway five months later, winning the UFC featherweight title. He jumped up a division to lightweight and lost for the first time in 15 fights, this time to Nate Diaz. After the fight, he told commentator Joe Rogan: “I’m humbled in victory or defeat. I respect Nate.”

It is that kind of humility—however forced—that the older Irish generation wants so badly from its stars, that for the first time—however briefly—united his home country behind him. For McGregor, adoration was no consolation. His visions of grandeur were now looking garish.

During the weigh-in for his rematch with Diaz a year ago at UFC 202, McGregor strode up to the scale in a blue tank top, his mouth nearly frothing. He took off his top, stood on the scale, flexed his muscles and screamed at the crowd.

When Diaz approached the scale, McGregor stood next to Kavanagh, his coach, and—according to MMA journalist Ari Helwani—whispered in his ear: “The illusion of insanity is over. Now back to the game plan.”


Of course, McGregor won the fight against Diaz and, in November, won UFC 205 against Eddie Alvarez, too. They were formalities, really. The countdown to the Mayweather fight had started years ago.

By the time their cross-country trollfest had reached Brooklyn one afternoon last month, McGregor taunted Mayweather with racist comments, repeatedly telling Mayweather, “dance for me, boy.” He also told the crowd of more than 13,000 at Barclays Center that he was  “half-black from the belly down.”

Two hours later, McGregor was forced to respond to his own responses on an L-shaped runway. He wore a long fur coat with no shirt and patterned pants. Holding a water bottle in his right hand, twisting it nervously between his fingers, he shifted in place. “I’m a big fan of the culture,” he said, when asked about his comments about African-Americans. But it did little to quell the outrage. More pointed questions came, centered around the point of this shitshow in the first place: Did McGregor deserve to be fighting this fight? Was he given something he hadn’t earned?

A few feet away from the uncomfortable interview, McGregor’s small team from back in the Dublin gym remained undaunted. Lobov, with the same energy that McGregor displays from weigh-ins to private planes, exclaimed that his friend is “better than Mayweather. He is going to dominate him, 100 percent. Believe it.”

Belief, however, can become intoxicating. It can make you believe in your own myth.

Toward the end of the tale of Cu Chulainn, the fighter’s hubris has pushed him to the brink. A life’s worth of enemies begins to conspire against him. They force the war hero to eat a plate full of dog meat and then pierce him, one by one, with magical spears. Before the final blow can reach him, the legend decides to tie himself to a tree and face his killers head-on.

The great Celtic warrior, it turns out, is not immortal. He dies standing up.

 


 

Flinder Boyd is a writer-at-large for B/R Mag. A former writer atFoxSports.com, his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Newsweek, BBC Online and more, as well as multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. Before becoming a journalist, he played 10 seasons of professional basketball across Europe, and now lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @flinderboyd.

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On Conor McGregor’s Unfathomable Rise in Modern Sports Culture

There was a moment when it became clear Conor McGregor was an undeniable force.
It was a little over three years into his UFC run.
He was the reigning featherweight champion of the world and was moments away from becoming the lightweight champion as we…

There was a moment when it became clear Conor McGregor was an undeniable force.

It was a little over three years into his UFC run.

He was the reigning featherweight champion of the world and was moments away from becoming the lightweight champion as well—the first man or woman to ever achieve simultaneous reigns in separate divisions in UFC history.

At UFC 205, the promotion’s long-awaited debut in New York City, which emanated from the vaunted Madison Square Garden, McGregor headlined against Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez, for his part, was a worthy adversary in every way, a stalwart who could wrestle and box and had gone 28-of-32 in MMA fights before that night.

McGregor appeared unruffled, however.

Entering the cage, he strutted and swayed about, arms swinging exaggeratedly as if to exude a looseness he apparently felt down to his core. It was the pinnacle of physical confidence, this ability to make something so silly into a foreshadowing of the swaggering way he’d dispatch Alvarez moments later.

What’s more, he aped it from pro wrestling icon Vince McMahon. The “Billionaire Strut” was once a staple of McMahon’s villainous on-air persona. In a way, you can’t get much more absurd than that.

Yet McGregor embraced the absurdity. He doubled down on a mink coat (Note: linked article contains NSFW language) he’d worn days prior at the event’s pre-fight press conference.

“I’m thinking Vince McMahon must be pissed,” he said during a pay-per-view interview in January 2017. “I stole that walk, and that walk is now mine. That’s my walk. I created that walk. I made that walk.”

And it is.

It’s his because while McMahon was doing it for years, it was only after McGregor broke it out moments before his crowning athletic achievement that you started seeing other celebrities and athletes aping him.

That was the moment you could no longer ignore McGregor’s unfathomable rise in modern sports culture. Seeing global superstars pinch his act in the name of coolness cemented him as an icon, an inspiration to some and an attention-grabber to all. It’s what’s made him a cultural force well before his 30th birthday.

Not bad for a guy who collected a welfare check back in 2013. 

Now we’re here.

Ten months after arriving at the highest levels of the sports world, McGregor has used his exploding fame to land one of the biggest paydays in boxing history—and the biggest payday ever collected by an MMA fighter.

He’ll fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. on August 26 in a contest that should net him $100 million despite his never having competed in professional boxing.

The notion that it’s happening is a testament to how much people want to see McGregor in action. Yes, he’s fighting the biggest draw in boxing history and that’s where much of the money is coming from, but Mayweather was retired before McGregor came along and drew him back in for one more enormous payout.

“We’re not here to cry about money. I’m tired of all this crying about money and talking about [how McGregor wants] to fight,” Mayweather said on a media tour earlier this year, per FightHype.com (Warning: video contains NSFW language). “[He’s] blowing smoke up everybody’s ass.”

He continued: “If [he wants] to fight, sign the paperwork, let’s do it. Today, I’m officially out of retirement for Conor McGregor. We don’t need to waste no time.”

They didn’t. The bout was announced in June, a mere 10 weeks out from it happening, the ultimate sprint to fight night. As has been known to happen, McGregor got his way when most thought it impossible. 

A big part of McGregor’s rise through the ranks and into prominence has been linked to his cultivation of an image.

He’s a modern athlete for modern times in that sense, speaking in shareable quotes and soundbites, blending streetwise wisdom with inspirational philosophy, using Twitter and Instagram to display decadence and opulence that the famous relate to and the proletariat aspires to.

As Jeremy Botter of Bleacher Report put it in July 2015, “[McGregor] is a quote machine, always good for a headline. He says things few others in the sport of mixed martial arts will, and he takes direct aim at current and future opponents with a razor-sharp tongue.”

A quick scroll through McGregor‘s social media accounts shows him shopping on Rodeo Drive, bragging about having statues made in his image or modeling some variety of clothing or car that only the most confident men on Earth would be caught dead in.

He’s shown up at events in a gaudy mink coat, something that looked like it came off of a polar bear but still managed to have a dragon emblazoned across it and, of course, the instantly famous “f–k you” suit he rocked for his first public meeting with Mayweather.

He makes no apologies for who he is, and he makes sure the masses know about it every step of the way. It’s the type of shrewd maneuvering uniquely tailored to his era, where everyone is connected by a device in their pocket or on their desk or in their lap and they can voyeuristically watch his rise to the top whenever they fancy. 

Love him or hate him, there is no ignoring him.

The inability to ignore McGregor has blossomed into full-blown fascination with him now, in sports and beyond. The rich and the famous will be ringside to see him fight Mayweather, and people all over the planet will plunk down $100 to watch him do the same from their homes. 

It’s reasonable to expect McGregor, win or lose, will use the opportunity he’s created for himself on August 26 to transcend sports culture and bleed over into the mainstream going forward.

There’s evidence it’s happening already, in fact.

It’s been a meteoric rise the likes of which has almost never been seen in sports, and it’s culminated in circumstances that would never have been possible at any other point in history. It also wouldn’t have been possible with any other athlete.

McGregor understands what it takes to be great in his craft, but he also understands what it takes to be great outside of it. He’s exploded from the shackles of the UFC to become a one-man enterprise, an athlete and promoter who’s the richest in his sport and looking to become the richest, period.

If his bank account continues to grow like his profile has, before long there’ll be nothing absurd about his Billionaire Strut at all.

 

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder

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Mayweather vs. McGregor: Showtime ‘All Access’ Episode 3 Top Moments, Reaction

The huge night in Las Vegas is getting closer and closer. With just over two weeks to go before Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor square off in their boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, both fighters are starting to turn up the inte…

The huge night in Las Vegas is getting closer and closer. With just over two weeks to go before Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor square off in their boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, both fighters are starting to turn up the intensity in their preparations for the fight.

Preparations, however, are not the same as training sessions, at least for Mayweather. Through the first two episodes of Showtime’s All Access series, the undefeated fighter had not gone into a serious training mode. He had vacationed with his family, showed off his bricks of $100 bills and gone on shopping sprees, but he did not pummel the speed bag, overpower the heavy bag or spar with partners.

In the third episode of All Access, Mayweather still was not in the training mode at the start. He was riding horses, buying a black hat and having a good time with his crew. It left observers wondering what was going through Money’s mind as he prepared for this huge fight.

McGregor was in the UFC training gym working on his boxing skills. His main striking coach is Owen Roddy, who has been part of McGregor’s team since he started his career. Roddy’s influence has been an essential part of McGregor’s success in the UFC, because the Irish fighter’s greatest weapon is his ability to hurt opponents with his punches.

However, hurting UFC fighters and making contact with Mayweather are two different things. Mayweather’s defensive prowess has been remarkable throughout his 49-0 run in the ring, and if he has some rust to his game, it is not likely to show up on the defensive end.

When Mayweather finally returned to the gym, it was to host his good friend Snoop Dogg. The entertainer has long been a friend and supporter of Mayweather, and he came to Las Vegas to conduct an interview for his podcast. Did Floyd put on his gloves and train in a serious manner? No.

While this was going on, Paulie Malignaggi returned to the ring to spar with McGregor. Once again, McGregor refused to let the All Access cameras tape the action.

McGregor emerged saying he scored a decisive 12-0 victory over the former fighter and current analyst. McGregor thanked Malignaggi for his effort, but he said he dominated all 12 rounds.

Malignaggi was not happy. He acknowledged he was on the canvas at least once, but he said it was the result of a shove from his opponent. He was asking McGregor to release the tape of the sparring session so the world could see. The request fell on deaf ears.

Finally, after showing his humanity by welcoming a young cancer patient named Taylor Hammond to his gym, Mayweather did some training at the end of the show.

While he was not shown sparring, he had his gloves on, he was working up a sweat, and he was preparing for the fight. It might not have been the most rigorous training session, but he was finally working out in the gym.

Will that be enough to prepare for the cocky McGregor? That will be determined when the two men meet Aug. 26.

The countdown is on.

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