While I’m a little disappointed at how much Mendes’s short training camp (less than a third of the normal time) contributed to the end of the fight it still served its purpose. We learned a lot about Conor McGregor that none of his previous hand-picked opponents taught us.
So what did professor McGregor teach us?
3) What Happens When a Kicker Can’t Kick?
While this is a gross oversimplification, it’s safe to say McGregor uses kicks to set up his fluid boxing.
Straight punches (McGregor’s bread and butter) are vulnerable to slips and lateral movement. Those two things are countered by kicks due to the length and angle from which they come from. McGregor uses his kicks and lateral knees like the bumpers on a pinball machine, smacking opponents back and forth until they stay still long enough to eat a straight left.
Yet fighters who rely on their kicks to start their offense (Cyril Diabate, Cheick Kongo, Antoni Hardonk to a degree) never broke into the elite echelons of MMA even though they were great kickboxers.
Any leg attack is more powerful but less accurate and more risky; they have a longer recovery and throw off the body’s balance easier. The grappling of MMA means that when a kicker gets taken down whether off an unbalancing strike or a simple takedown they often stay there.
On the very first lateral jumping knee McGregor threw, Mendes caught it and introduced his back to the canvas.
From there on McGregor showed few of the round kicks and bicycle kicks that made him so dangerous against previous opponents; he was reduced to snap kicks at maximum range and the occasional spin kick which glanced off Mendes’s elbows.
Unlike the aforementioned fighters, McGregor did have his boxing to fall back on but you could see what a difference it made; the normally sublime combination puncher was whiffing on many shots as Mendes either circled or slid out of range while timing the occasional takedown because he didn’t have to worry about a shin smashing into him.
2) When Height is a Disadvantage
McGregor is an enormous featherweight; I cannot stress how impressive 5’ 9” with a 74” reach is. It means that most fighters must swing upwards which reduces their effective range and power while McGregor can fire off straight punches at shoulder level and still connect with people’s chins from the outside (like Dennis Siver).
Chad Mendes is 5’ 6” and a damned good wrestler.
While the punching range clearly favored McGregor, it was clear that the Irishman had difficulty stopping the takedown. Could his takedown defense (broad term as it is) use some work? Sure, whose couldn’t?
But the fact was that McGregor has long legs and his hips are high off the ground. Smaller fighters can get low on him easier and no matter how good you are in a clinch once a wrestler gets low it’s very difficult to stop the takedown.
This was compounded by the fact that McGregor doesn’t throw punches from his toes but his heels.
When McGregor actually puts together his scary accurate, bolo punching combinations that circumvent even the tightest guards the normally mobile fighter puts his heels on the ground. It makes sense; he throws with enough volume and accuracy that fighters cannot return fire and putting his heels to the ground adds easy power.
Against Mendes, this was a huge problem.
McGregor planted his heel against the canvas and threw a fluid right jab – left hook combination. Mendes, being the far shorter fighter, ducked under and immediately got on McGregor’s hips.
While leaning forward on punches comes with its own set of problems it does make it easier to sprawl; all a fighter has to do is throw their legs back to match the angle of their torso. But that’s difficult to do if your heel is planted.
Wherever you are reading this, stand on your toes against the floor and try to scoot your foot backwards as though you were sprawling. Now try it with your heel planted instead.
Notice how the friction and balance makes the latter scenario far harder?
1) Gomi vs. Diaz II
Chad Mendes gassed due to a partial training camp. That’s not a knock on McGregor or Mendes and it’s not anyone’s fault it’s just how the fight game goes sometimes. But the difference when both fighters tired at the end of round 2 shows a valuable lesson in terms of punching.
Throughout the first and second rounds, I would argue the punching exchanges slightly favored Mendes.
The diminutive wrestler circled, slid, and blocked most of McGregor’s long punches while darting in to smash him with overhand lefts and rights. While McGregor expertly turned his head or slid at the end of Mendes’s range to take some of the power off the punches still moved his head and caused swelling.
Mendes’s depleted tank was far more obvious but McGregor had slowed down as well; he looked nothing like the fighter that made Max Holloway look like a fool for three rounds a bum knee
Yet the striking became completely one sided. McGregor was able to hurt Mendes with what seemed like pitter patter punches while the latter couldn’t even touch his opponent. It may seem weird we saw this exact same thing happened in the legendary bout between Takanori Gomi and Nick Diaz.
Takanori Gomi is, to this day, possibly the hardest pound for pound hitter the sport has ever seen. Nick Diaz was a cardio dynamo, had a six inch reach advantage, and is what would happened if Snoop Dogg stayed out of the sun for a decade and then decided he’d become a fighter.
Gomi kicked ass in the beginning of the fight. His thunderous power looked like it was lifting Nick Diaz off his feet when it connected and the Stockton phenom looked to be in real trouble.
But as Gomi tired Diaz took over.
See Gomi (like Mendes) had a very taxing style of power punching; he would close distance and wing haymakers. While the results speak for themselves (seriously, watch that knockdown again) Gomi was clearly gassing by the end of the first round because of the enormous amounts of energy he was expending to stand toe to toe with Diaz.
Diaz however (like McGregor) had a very efficient style of striking; volume and connection from snapping punches. His double jab and snapping hooks would rattle the smaller fighter’s brain over and over again. It wasn’t knocking him down or making the highlight reel but it was clearly hurting his opponent.
McGregor did the same thing against Mendes.
When Mendes was too tired to circle away from McGregor’s combination punching it was clear who had the advantage. The Irishman’s bolo punching wasn’t knocking Mendes out but he connected them squarely and spent very little energy to do so.
Mendes couldn’t return fire because his style required energy he simply did not have. So instead of punishing McGregor as he styled Mendes was forced to cover up which does not work against a combination puncher with 4 oz. gloves. When he tried to walk away and got knocked out he wasn’t just tired he was badly hurt.
We truly learned a lot from this fight.
We learned that McGregor is far more susceptible to the takedown simply due to his style and that his boxing is rather tame without his kicks to set them up. On the other hand we also learned that McGregor has the type of style that remains dangerous even without a gas tank. Watching Aldo and Mendes take long breaks between flurries of power punches in their rematch, I cannot help but think McGregor would have torched them both in the situation.
I still favor McGregor over Aldo albeit by a slimmer margin.
Aldo isn’t a great wrestler but if he combines his leg kicks with takedowns I can see him really giving McGregor trouble. On the other hand the punches Mendes caught Aldo with will be coming in longer, harder and more frequently and he stands a seriously risk of being knocked out in later rounds.
So let’s get the unification bout in the books Dana! And then find Frankie Edgar, tie him up, put him in a flat rate shipping box (don’t worry, he’ll fit) and send him to Siberia.
Because you do NOT want him against McGregor