When it comes to the MMA prizefighting game, Conor McGregor moves differently.
There are two opposing and equally dominant truths to MMA prizefighting. The first has its origin in the East –the training, respect, and philosophies that that come from the practice of Martial Arts. For instance, the touch of the gloves at the beginning of each MMA round has supplanted bowing to your opponent before a match.
The second has its roots in the West. The traditions (going back as far as the gladiators) of wrestling and boxing that involve the taunting, chest beating, self-aggrandization, and belittling of the opponent.
Both elements evolved from purely masculine pursuits, and success as a martial artist, wrestler, or boxer carries with it the perception of being a “real man.”
But it’s the Western traditions that have made MMA fighting a money machine. We wouldn’t have full-time athletes risking life-limiting brain injuries if we didn’t offer them proper compensation. With sponsorships, PayPerView and ticket sales the promoters hype up their fights to entice new fans and excite existing ones. Even the top female fighters often conform to this style of promotion. Appealing to enough people willing to put down the money to see the fight requires striking a nerve with the “wanna be warriors” for whom the tradition and art is less appealing than the hype.
Most people who watch these fights want to see a show. They want to see dominant athletes.
Promoters can hype bad-blood heated rivalries. They can’t sell respect.
On Saturday Conor McGregor stopped the world.
But this had been coming for almost a year.
His UFC championship fight with Jose Aldo was being promoted to take place in July. But Jose was out with a rib injury. The buildup continued until finally, on December 12th, Conor took Jose out with a KO punch 13 seconds into the first round.
Up until the fight Conor has displayed all the he-man hype we’ve come to expect from the sport. During the marathon promotional media tours Conor battered Jose down with micro-aggressions and schoolboy taunts. He was relentless in his verbal abuse. He was nasty, inappropriate, and abusive to Jose. He showed just how ugly the sport could be.
Jose, who does not speak English, grew up with nothing. He was known to sleep on the mats of the gym where he trained. His parents could give him nothing that could be used to create a place in the world, but his culture gave him this much – the gym and a solid immersion in the Brazilian culture of martial arts.
In that culture, respect is at the top of the list. So is humble.
So did Conor just prove that he-man hype beats respect and humility?
That’s what we often think, isn’t it? That the way to win in any game is to put down the competition before the game even begins; to talk trash and name call. Certainly Conor, and his fans, did their share of that.
But that isn’t why he won that match.
It is, however why Jose lost.
Jose has been the only Featherweight champion in the history of the UFC, he was undefeated for 10 years. He approached each fight the same way. Head down, he would walk into the ring barely acknowledging his opponent. But once he’d touched gloves with his opponent he was fully engaged, 100 percent focused, and unbeatable. Until Conor.
Conor used every media opportunity to become the opponent Jose couldn’t ignore. He had to acknowledge him well before the fight. The media marathon took a toll on Jose’s psyche and his game. He lost his focus long before he stepped into the octagon – and it showed on his face and in his body before he ever looked up. They didn’t even open the match with a touch of gloves, Jose had allowed the he-man hype to totally take him out of his game.
But that alone wouldn’t have given Conor the advantage he had. It might have cost Jose the match, eventually, but it was Conor’s preparation that gave him his true edge.
Anyone can fuel the promotional machine the way Conor did. Anyone could learn the psychological game he played. But in truth that wasn’t where he got his real edge. In fact, once the tickets were sold Conor gave up the stream of abuse and became a real martial artist.
Movement matters and precision beats power. Every time.
Like all professional fighters Conor has put in the time, focus, and energy into perfecting his punching, kicking, wrestling, and grappling. His world class coach John Kavanagh has developed Conor from the ground up. Footwork, head movement, and blocking in combat sports isn’t new but Conor has brought an additional perspective.
Conor is obsessed with movement, his focus every day is to free his body. He’s known for bringing his unorthodox style into a sport which has become a little predictable of late.
Casual fans and professional critics might say this focus on movement before all else is silly, a gimmick and a waste of time. But, through his work movement teacher Ido Portal, we can see the benefit of developing, a broader skillset of movement. A base layer, that acts as a strong foundation. This doesn’t replace sport-specific training. It makes the sport-specific training more effective. It not only gives it power. It promotes precision – in the anticipation, in the footwork, in the strikes, and ultimately in the ability to outperform any opponent.
As a movement therapist and past martial arts instructor I can certainly attest that Conor’s obsession with movement isn’t silly, and it certainly isn’t a gimmick. It’s what gives Conor his high level of “Fight IQ” and that’s priceless. We don’t need more bloody mouthpiece brawlers, they get hit more and they experience more brain trauma and a shorter career. The best combat athletes don’t need to get punished in order to win.
Conor’s commitment to his obsession with movement, regardless of traditional views on training and approach, is something we can all apply to our own win strategies.
“Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.”
But it was that comment from Conor in one of the post-match interviews that gave the real insight into what has not only fueled the win over Jose, but has been the basis of Conor’s success so far.
Most competitors, in any sport and frankly in business and in life as well, focus on beating their competition. They’re watching replays of matches, or they’re checking out the features of the other products or services on the market, or they’re keeping an eye on “the Joneses” to make sure they’re at least keeping up.
That wasn’t Conor’s focus. His focus was on the physical and mental preparation he had to do to win. Any match. Against any opponent.
That preparation, not the trash talk, not the media, not the he-man hype, is what gave Conor the ability to take out a 10-year champion in 13 seconds.
I think we can all learn something from that.
Looking for a relationship? The Good Men Project promises to have a really good one with your inbox.
Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.