In defence of Conor McGregor’s Ground Game

Diaz took the fight on short notice and by all accounts was holidaying in Cabo the week before he got the call to face McGregor.

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One week on from UFC 196, Conor McGregor’s stock remains as high as ever. True, the keyboard warriors celebrated across the various social media platforms and conservative critics at home continued to voice their disgust at the perceived barbaric nature of the sport. Many media outlets even went as far as taking a clip from a UFC behind the scenes video showing McGregor’s family reacting to his loss. Tasteless, but that is what passes for journalism in a world where it’s hard to see what differentiates the likes of Joe.ie and the Irish Independent from the red top rags. Despite this, the MMA world has reacted rather positively to McGregor’s willingness to step up in weight and take a fight when the original championship bout fell through.

I listen to podcasts regularly, and this week I tuned in to Bruce Buffer’s It’s time, Chael Sonnenn’s You’re Welcome, The MMA Hour, Severe MMA Podcast, and The Fighter and the Kid. By and large the Irish man was praised by commentators, pundits and former fighters alike. Almost everyone spoke admirably of McGregor’s behavior in defeat. The general consensus, however, is that the way to beat McGregor is to get the fight on the mat and exploit his perceived weaknesses on the ground.

 

Pundits constantly reference the Chad Mendes fight where McGregor was taken down at will but prevailed by staying patient and pressing home his advantage on the feet. Much is made of Mendes having taken the fight on two weeks notice, and many have stated with certainty that Mendes would have won that fight had he been afforded the luxury of a full camp. Obviously, credit has to be given to the Team Alpha male fighter, and it has to be taken into account that he was not in shape for a championship bout. However, it also has to be noted (as Simon Samano of USAtoday.com neglected to do in his hatchet job of an article entitled “Conor McGregor isn’t a great UFC Fighter and never has been”) that McGregor prepared for that fight with a serious knee injury.

 

On The Church of What’s Happening Now comedian and host Joey Diaz slated McGregor’s ground game during a conversation with MMAJunkie’s George Garcia. The two reiterated what many have stated over, and over and over; that McGregor’s ground game is suspect and that Frankie Edgar must be chomping at the bit. I don’t know what fight they were watching, but here’s what actually happened in the first round: Diaz took McGregor down, ended up getting swept and the round came to a close with McGregor in a dominant position. Granted, when McGregor tried for a takedown in the second, Diaz stuffed it, attempted an unsuccessful guillotine before passing McGregor’s guard “like a knife through butter” as UFC color commentator Joe Rogan put it, and softening him up with punches before taking his back and strangling him. It must be noted, though, that McGregor was rocked on the feet and looked to be flailing and his ill-fated takedown attempt was essentially an act of desperation and a sign that he was mentally checking out.

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Indeed, it was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast that the owner of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, Eddie Bravo, again reiterated that he had witnessed McGregor’s ground game in person and felt that the Dubliner was adequately skilled in the department.

 

All in all it was, as McGregor stated post fight, an inefficient performance.What is worrying is that McGregor seemed to break when things weren’t going his way. He may be justified in his belief that he would fare better were he to make some adjustments, but the other side of the coin is that Diaz took the fight on short notice and by all accounts was holidaying in Cabo the week before he got the call to face McGregor. It is a sad state of affairs that a highly popular veteran of several UFC fights and former title challenger has to take opportunities at short notice in order to get a big payday. The Stockton native at least has some leverage in future negotiations with the UFC and can look forward to some marquee fights against big names opponents.

 

One thing is for certain, Frankie Edgar should absolutely be next if McGregor returns to featherweight. I fully expect McGregor to end that fight prematurely with a hard left cross, but Edgar is as deserving of a title shot as anyone, including Jose Aldo.

Pádraig Martin @paidimartin