How Conor McGregor Should Have Trained To Beat Mayweather

Many of us watched, followed or at least heard of the "Fight of the Century" between Mixed Martial Artist, Dual Weight Class UFC World Champion Conor "The Notorious One" McGregor and arguably the best defensive boxer and multiple time, undefeated, undisputed World Champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr.

The highly-touted combatants engaged in months and months of hype prior to the fight. Verbally assaulting each other at every chance and creating a great deal of both interest and speculation. People who never had any interest in fighting of any sort were coming up to me and asking my opinion about what I thought would happen.

And what occurred was pretty close to my prediction, except Conor lasted a few rounds longer than I thought he would.

Did the event live up to the hype?

Conor McGregor with a 0-0 professional boxing career and not one amateur boxing match on his record stepped into the ring with a master of his craft. To McGregor’s credit, he hit Floyd 111 times and had a striking percentage of 26%. That was 20 more total strikes and a full 7% higher striking percentage than multiple time World Boxing Champion Manny Pacquiao.

That’s pretty damn impressive for a rank-amateur boxer. Floyd did what he did best, as he had done 49 times prior in his professional career—win. He won with a flawless game plan, incredible conditioning and extreme professionalism.

But could Conor have defeated all the odds and won?

My answer is "Yes". OK, I realize that it’s a fairly bold statement, but I’ll harken back to the conversation I had with our studio’s boxing coach after the fight. Two Time North American Boxing Champ Joe Rubino and I had a discussion that Conor gassed out and lost the fight. You should never lose a fight due to fatigue. You either didn’t train hard enough or you trained incorrectly.

While some may argue that Floyd knew where to rest and take his breaks during the bout—and Conor didn’t have that experience—he could have trained better and more effectively to last and have some knockout power on reserve for the later rounds.

Conor revealed that he was doing "roadwork" on an underwater treadmill. It’s a known fact that Conor has had knee and other joint issues, so participating in some meaningful roadwork, intervals, hill sprints and the like were not a consideration.

We must also look at Conor McGregor’s fight record. Out of 24 professional fights, only two have gone to decision and only one of them was a five-round fight, his second with Nate Diaz. In round 4 of that fight, he looked very bad, but rallied in round 5 to secure the unanimous decision. All of his other fights ended via stoppage in two rounds or less.

At round 9 in his boxing match, he’d already been out there 27 minutes, 2 minutes longer than he had ever fought. Contrast that with Floyd’s going all 12 rounds in every but two matches in the past decade. Conor should have been better prepared to enter into the "uncharted waters".

How could Conor have trained better to have given himself a fighting chance to win?

Knowing that Conor might have to fight for 36 minutes—and that interval roadwork was out of the question—Conor’s fight camp should have employed some other tactics.

First of all, if he trained for a 36-minute bout, he would have to access and condition the proper energy systems. The phosphagen system is first to be depleted and is gone in round one. His training should have had him toggling between the anaerobic glycolysis and aerobic phases.

Additionally, his body should have been conditioned to enter into the Cori Cycle, which is a phenomenon where the lactate produced enters into gluconeogenesis and is converted into glucose in the liver and pumped back into the bloodstream for energy. In an episode of Fight Science, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture astounded scientists with his ability to actually reduce the amount of lactic acid in his bloodstream the longer he grappled! This was due to a training regimen that conditioned his body to respond in this fashion.

As Conor’s fight camp progressed, starting at week eight, I would have had him build to 24 rounds on the heavy bag after his sparring sessions. If a fighter is slated to go for 12 rounds, prepare for 24. I also would have had him skipping rope for at least 50 minutes in a row.

When I was competing, I used to do 32 minutes at a clip and I only fought 6 rounds at the most. Plus, I was doing my roadwork. In lieu of building his muscular endurance with interval running, I would have had him use kettlebells. The raw strength aspect should have been addressed as one of the building blocks in his "out of fight camp" strength and conditioning.

Phil Ross Skipping Rope
But in a fight camp, we would employ a regimen of swings, punch swings, snatches, squats, presses, rows, cleans and get-ups. We would also mix in a fair amount of bodyweight exercises of push-ups, pull-ups, handstands, hanging abdominals, dips, squats, lunges and bridge work. Due to the often "unbalanced" nature of combat sports, I would employ single side work and offset work.

The single side exercises are movement conducted with one side of the body only and the offset versions have two kettlebells of different weight being used simultaneously. My focus for Conor’s kettlebell work would have been to challenge and develop his system with a combination of Ladders, Tabatas, Scrambled Eggs and the Warrior’s Challenge. Incidentally, all training sessions begin with skipping rope, generally for 500 to 1000 skips.
Ladders: The Ladder training would have helped him keep and ultimately increase his endurance during the round. I would have used Ladders starting with one repetition each side and increasing by one rep all the way up to 10. The next set, beginning at one again. We wouldn’t go back down the ladder—the end of the set should be the hardest.

Tabatas: The credit goes to Japanese physician and researcher Doctor Izumi Tabata for developing this method of training. The method features 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Select three to five movements that make sense and do sufficient rounds to encompass 12 to 20 minutes of work. An example of this would be snatch right, snatch left, bottoms-up squat, two hand swing and double kettlebell press. Perform this for 5 to 8 rounds and this is preceded by 3 rounds of six bodyweight exercises.

Scrambled Eggs: After a solid warm up and either several rounds of calisthenics or mobility with and without a kettlebell, we select 8 exercises and work for 4 to 5 rounds. These may either be timed at 30 to 60 seconds each or done with specific number of repetitions per exercise for the duration. There is no rest. Move from one exercise to the next either at the beep or when the timer beeps. The muscular and cardiovascular systems are simultaneously challenged.
Phil Ross Kettlebell Rows

Warrior’s Challenge: This is routine that consists of a solid warm-up and mobility segment very similar to what we’d do prior to the Scrambled Eggs, but not as long as the one for the Tabata.

The Warriors challenge consists of 8 exercises, for 4 to 5 rounds with 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest. Dr. Tabata can’t take the heat for coming up with this one, feel free to blame me. Although I’m certain that other fight trainers use a similar format. My wrestlers and fighters were doing these before I even knew who Dr. Tabata was!

The major difference with this method and the Tabata is that the athlete can do the workout longer and with a heavier load. The additional 5 seconds of rest enables just enough more of a recovery time to push harder and last longer. Plus, Conor needed to be prepared for 36 minutes, so the 5 rounds would have had him moving for 30 minutes non-stop for a 5-round session.

Phil Ross Kettlebell Get-upMy whole game plan for Conor would have been to challenge his energy systems with intervals and circuits leveraging the muscular endurance and explosive power developed by high repetition calisthenics, plyometrics and the ballistic as well as high repetition kettlebell movements.

Conor needed reserves to win his bout with Floyd and it was quite evident that he didn’t have it. This cost him the victory in the later rounds.

I wonder how many times, if at all, Conor was so challenged that he "saw the devil" in his strength and conditioning sessions. Did he know that his endurance would wain so maybe he trained like he was convinced that he could only win the fight if it were in the first few rounds? We may never know the answer, but if his fight camp consisted of the aforementioned elements, maybe he would have fared better and shocked the world with a victory over Floyd.

Brown, Luke. August 8, 2017. Revealed: Why Conor McGregor has been using an underwater treadmill to prepare for fight with Floyd Mayweather. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/boxing/mayweather-mcgregor/conor-mcgregor-training-camp-floyd-mayweather-live-fight-exclusive-interview-hydroworx-a7878186.html

Bryant, Cedric X. Green, Daniel J. 2010, 2011, 2012. Pages 222-223. ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. Library of Congress: 200911191. ISBN 9781890720315.

PhilRossKettlebellRows thumbnailPhil Ross, Master RKC, 8th Degree Black Belt, PCC, ACE Certified and Registered IBJJF Black Belt. Adjunct Professor and former UFC Coach. Author of Ferocious Fitness and Survival Strong.