I am a willing passenger on the Conor McGregor hype train and I will be gutted if it smashes into a wall on Saturday night. I am nervous for McGregor. Chad Mendes is no joke, a solid counter puncher with elite wrestling and freak athleticism. Another reason to be nervous is McGregors insistence that he trains the same way whomever he faces. His “There is no opponent” mantra, is really compelling and us fans we love a fighter who is ready for anyone. In accepting the change of opponent so readily, he backs up this talk. Any man, any time.
Who doesn’t love that attitude, but I am niggled by the doubt that this bravado might result in the belt getting wrapped round his opponent’s waist. Game plans don’t win you fans, but they win you fights. We may not have been thrilled when George St Pierre exploited footwork and a Freddie Roach devised jab-right cross hybrid to pummel the eye socket of Josh Koshcheck over five rounds. But it was orbital shatteringly effective. Koscheck himself was just coming off a win where he used his wrestle humping to neutralise the dangerous striking of Paul Daley. (Bizarrely we might see this rematch of this fight in Bellator later this year.)
Successful coaches like Greg Jackson and Firas Zahabi see talented fighters as puzzles to be solved and have been undeniably successful with this approach. At times this kind of professional game planning has drawn the ire of fans and the UFC, but when the anger and controversy dies away, these fighters are left with W’s on their record. I hope that the SBG approach of not training for specific opponents represents an evolution in fight preparation and not them missing a trick. All fighters have tendencies, what if there is a feint Mendes always throws before he shoots for a double leg? Wouldn’t it help to have trained for that?