UFC 202 further proved that Conor McGregor is still a work in progress, but also the most exciting fighter to date.
McGregor’s highly anticipated return to the octagon following his first UFC loss back in UFC 196 came and went, but there was plenty of storyline available for experts and fans alike. McGregor’s tug of war against UFC brass, which led to his short-lived retirement following his removal from the UFC 200 card, remains a topic of discussion. More importantly, McGregor’s performance was anything but perfect, although we were able to watch him persevere and dig deep in order to pull off a close decision victory against the terminator-like Nate Diaz. McGregor’s cardio or lack thereof will remain a question in his next bout and possibly the one after that.
Five months is probably too little amount of time for an athlete to drastically improve their conditioning, especially considering McGregor didn’t really have incentive to get on his bicycle with the fight being set at 168 lbs again.
Another interesting take could be McGregor’s inclusion of leg kicks to his arsenal, which helped him secure the first round. McGregor’s comments during the post fight presser and the crutches he needed to get to there are signs that we are unlikely to see McGregor make them a part of his repertoire. Up until Nate Diaz, McGregor never needed to throw more than a handful of leg kicks, but we’ve seen what a lack of variety in striking can do to knockout artists. Rampage Jackson is a perfect example of how the MMA game can pass you by if you fail to adapt and instead stick to your predictable bread and butter. Although, McGregor does possess indeed possess wild spinning kicks to the head as well as oblique kicks, which has earned him the center of the octagon on plenty of occasions. The problem with that is that they were deemed ineffective against Nate Diaz in their first affair, which is likely why we saw very little attempts of those kicks in their second bout.
Another flaw witnessed in McGregor’s latest performance was his struggle in clinch fighting. Diaz managed to outmuscle McGregor, although it’s fair to say his lack of conditioning had something to do with it as well as Diaz’s advantage in weight on fight night.
McGregor’s next bout is rumored to take place at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden against Lightweight Champion, Eddie Alvarez. Both men possess excellent boxing, excellent chins, and are unafraid to stay in the pocket and bang it out. Alvarez is coming off the most impressive performance of his career, and with McGregor expressing his disdain for leg kicks, Alvarez is likely the favorite going in. Donald Cerrone did an excellent job of displaying Alvarez’s weakness in checking leg kicks, which could come in handy for McGregor. The problem is Alvarez is a lot closer in reach against McGregor than he was against “Cowboy.”
Pressure has been the name of the game for McGregor in most of his UFC affairs, similar to Rafael dos Anjos. We all witnessed what happened when dos Anjos attempted to pressure and unleash on Alvarez. Even with his guard up, Alvarez was able to land a partial right hand that was enough to stun the former champ and eventually dethrone him.
McGregor has a long hill to climb at the 155 lb division, but he can quickly cement his name in history if he able to secure both the UFC featherweight and lightweight titles at the same time. After another quick turn around, we’ll likely see McGregor still in need of improvement in his all around game, but with his power left hand, it may just be enough to earn his second win against a top UFC lightweight and the current best in the world.