Conor McGregor is a master of many aspects of fighting, but one toolset sticks out. How did he get so good at striking? His footwork, his ability to bait his opponents in, and that nasty stopping power, where did that come from?
Don’t let his defeat against Floyd Mayweather fool you. McGregor knows how to box, if not on the level of an undefeated lightweight champ with 50 wins under his belt. It’s how he got his start in combat sports, in fact!
Conor McGregor’s initial training was in boxing
The story of how McGregor discovered combat sports is a familiar one. It came out of necessity, since the rough Dublin neighborhood he grew up in was packed with unrepentant bullies. Many of them were bigger, stronger, and meaner than he was.
McGregor sought refuge, and to learn a thing or two about defending himself. He found what he was looking for at Crumlin Boxing Club, under the tutelage of former boxer Phil Sutcliffe. Within months, the 12-year-old newbie fighter was already winning junior tournaments.
“He trained very, very hard,” Sutcliffe told Boxing News Online. “He wanted to be a good boxer, and he was getting good. He was progressing well[…] but he found another love and packed it in.”
That love was basically every other fighting discipline at once. McGregor told Irish Boxing why he left Sutcliffe’s gym. “A career in a singular discipline did not interest me because I didn’t look at a man who specializes in one area as a specialist, I look at him as a rookie in 10 other areas.”
Boxing fundamentals bolstered his MMA striking
After Khabib Nurmagomedov exposed Conor McGregor’s ground game, many wondered whether striking could bail out the Irish brawler as he ages. His return to the octagon against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was a reminder that while he may need to work on his wrestling, his brutal combinations could end a fight in seconds.
That blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 40 second bout recalled the fearsomeness of McGregor’s striking. It’s a boxing-esque footwork style that separates McGregor from many of his peers. He predominantly goes with a southpaw stance and sends out jabs at a distance meant to frustrate the opponent to pull them in.
That’s where the similarities to boxing end. Once they get close, he deploys the full MMA toolset. That includes the devastating shoulder strike that sent Cowboy to the hospital and out of fighting for at least six months.
Conor McGregor’s old boxing gym still trains fighters
Sutcliffe enjoys a reputation boost from his association with a young McGregor. But surviving off amateur boxing earnings alone is difficult, especially in an era where kids are often more interested in starting with MMA rather than developing boxing fundamentals first. His gym struggles to keep the doors open, even as he continues to put on weekly shows.
McGregor hasn’t forgotten where he came from. In 2019, he made a surprise return to the Crumlin Boxing Club for a surprise fundraiser. “Conor came in for a bit of sparring and we were delighted,” Sutcliffe told MMA Fighting. “I told him he never needed an invitation to come back to his home gym and we were delighted that he came.”
He committed to showing up for future events, including fighting in their recurring Good Friday matches. He made good on that, for the first time since 2004. And he made sure to remind the gathered crowd that in any setting, he is still The Notorious One.
“It was the cheapest shot I ever caught in me life,” McGregor’s opponent, electrician Michael McGrane, told TMZ. The MMA pro touched gloves with his amateur opponent, but he didn’t go back to his corner as is custom.
Instead, he unleashed a vicious left hook. McGrane wasn’t amused. “Conor McGregor hit me a cheap shot in his own hometown.” He may have fought dirty, even with nothing on the line, but hopefully Sutcliffe can enjoy a boost in ticket sales now that the most popular MMA fighter on earth has made it clear he’ll show up unannounced and take on all comers.