By Philip O’Connor
(Reuters) – “Win or learn” has long been the motto of mixed martial arts coach John Kavanagh and he says his fighter Conor McGregor has learned the lessons of his shock defeat by Nate Diaz as the two prepare for a much-anticipated rematch.
Currently the biggest star in the sport, featherweight champion McGregor stepped up two weight classes to meet Diaz but was choked out in the second round of their first meeting by the brash Californian.
The two are now set to face off again on Aug. 20 in Las Vegas as McGregor seeks his revenge.
The Straight Blast Gym (SBG) boss told Reuters that the next fight against Diaz would be a completely different ball game.
“The whole approach to this contest is different,” he said via Skype from McGregor’s training camp.
“(Previously) we were always concerned with trying to improve ourselves and nothing to do with who we are facing, but this time we are almost completely training in a specific way for a specific type of opponent,” he said.
Kavanagh said that McGregor in no way underestimated Diaz, who stepped in as a late replacement after then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of a title bout against the Irish fighter due to injury.
McGregor’s decision to move up two weight classes to meet Diaz proved to be his downfall as, despite a strong start in which he rocked Diaz several times with punches, he tasted defeat for the first time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
“That’s just Conor, he’s never going to shy away from a challenge. He was on a good run, a good roll at the time, and it was either accept him or be off the card, and he didn’t want to do that,” Kavanagh explained.
“Even though Conor connected quite a few times with strikes that have put away people in the past, Nate was able to keep walking forward.
“That has been a major part of the camp this time, being more efficient and picking shots a lot better,” he said.
Since that defeat, the 39-year-old Kavanagh has published a memoir itself entitled “Win Or Learn” which covers his 20 years to date in the fight game, from the humble beginnings of SBG in a shed in Dublin to the bright lights of Las Vegas and a world title win for McGregor.
In the book, Kavanagh says that despite being Irish champion and a black belt in karate as a teenager, being on the receiving end of a terrible beating left him searching for a more effective way of defending himself.
Inspired to take up Brazilian jiu jitsu by a videotape of Royce Gracie’s victory at the first no-holds-barred UFC event in 1993, Kavanagh and his friends started to stage their own self-defense classes, which evolved into the Straight Blast Gym.
Kavanagh went on to become Ireland’s first black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and has helped McGregor to achieve his iconic status in the fight game but only a fraction of his hundreds of students go on to compete.
Those who do are making a real mark on MMA.
“Who would have thought that a few guys from a small gym in Dublin would be some of the big names in the sport?” he asks.
Kavanagh says his next wave of young fighters could make an even bigger impact, as they are benefiting from the high-level experience accrued by their coach and forerunners.
“The sport is bigger, the gym is bigger, I really feel I’m only getting the hang of this business, of promoting and teaching,” Kavanagh said.
“My first wave of guys was my apprenticeship — now I’m ready to put a stamp on the world of MMA.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Clare Fallon)