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Conor McGregor is on a revenge mission. This Saturday night, he will try to even the score with Nate Diaz, who submitted the Irish man in their first meeting at UFC 196 on March 5. M&F caught up with the 28-year-old ahead of the biggest fight of his career.
M&F: Has your strength and conditioning changed any in prep for this fight?
CM: It’s exactly what it should be for this fight. I know the fighting weight  and I’m preparing for that – the size, the weight, the distance. Last fight, I felt like I was in phenomenal condition but when the weight got changed, I had to eat up to that weight and I mismanaged it. I threw out the diet. I ate a lot and I over-trained. I attacked in the first round – really went after him. But the weight was a factor…mine and his. He was breathing heavy and hurt pretty bad but he took shots well. Someone at my regular weight wouldn’t have been able to do that. I wasn’t as lean as I usually am and it affected my performance. I blew out my energy and just didn’t have anything in the tank.
I’ve looked at everything about that fight and had to evaluate my preparation. I’ve brought in the right people – flying in sparring partners that match that tall, lanky frame. I’m working with people to monitor my cardio prep. And I’m not f***ing things up nutrition-wise. I’m on a more regular routine. It’s a very different kind of camp than the past. And that’s fitting for this fight.
This time when I press forward and tee off on him, I won’t have an issue with stamina.
Which martial art is the best to start learning first?
To fight MMA? You need to learn striking and grappling, so you could start a lot of places. It’s an individual thing – what are you willing to put the time in to? I started out with some semi-contact kickboxing then went to a boxing gym. The skills I learned in the boxing ring – footwork, power punches, working with both hands, good defense – helped make me the fighter I am. But heavy sparring isn’t always the way – that fast, snappy kickboxing style is also important. I think you should train in everything, and I do that – Capoeira, Tae Kwon Do, Karate. But you can’t train in just one. I’m open to all styles of combat. You want to wrestle? I’ll wrestle. My fight style is always changing and I keep trying to learn new sh*t, so where I started doesn’t seem that important.
Any martial art is really about dedication and discipline. I used to want to be a footballer. Even then I was out every night doing drills after dark. Then when I discovered combat sports, I became even more obsessed. I don’t have more talent. I just work harder. That kind of attitude helps you more than anything – whether you’re in the fight game or on some other path.
How did you come up with the gorilla in a crown design for your chest tattoo?
Lots of people talk about tattoos and their special meaning, but for me it’s just about how it looks. My gym’s logo is a gorilla and I wanted to get something along those lines. I feel like I’m the king gorilla in the gym, so I asked for a crown. I do like gorillas – the way they carry themselves, their balance and core strength. Animal movement fascinates me.
How do you prepare mentally for an opponent you know has beat you once? Do you need to control feelings of revenge, or do you let them fuel you?
This fight, any fight…it’s always about your mental state. And I’m always in control of that. Losing was a tough pill to swallow but it’s not that big of a deal. You move on. And in a way, I celebrate defeat because it becomes inspiration. How do you prove anything to yourself unless you face adversity? I own what happened the last time and I learned from it. That’s a blessing, because what happened will never happen again. There was a lot of hate that came out of the woodwork after that fight. That’s just fuel for me. There’s a reason I wanted this fight again at 170 – it’s the same exact story, but will have a different ending. I’m facing the challenge head-on as always and I’m going to prove that I can dominate at that weight.
What do you wish people knew about how MMA fighters train?
Some people seem to think MMA training is all about lifting weights and sparring. They don’t realize fighting is a mental exercise. The most important thing is mindset – it’s my belief that makes me stronger than any opponent. Even physically, the brain is what controls our movement – it tells us when and how to move. You have to be mentally engaged at all times – you visualize everything before it happens. I think about my sport all day, every day. I don’t think of anything else.
Which exercise, in the gym or out, do you think has been the most beneficial for you, and why?
Physically, my most important skill is balance. It’s not a single thing, but exercises that are about balance are most beneficial for me. I practice yoga all the time…planks, handstands, extensions. Martial arts is all about being loose, flexible and maintaining perfect balance and yoga trains for all of that.
You’ve mentioned that you potentially over-trained the week before the first Diaz fight. What have you learned about recovery?
The weight issue affected my training for that fight. Usually, a few weeks out, I’m cutting weight. That puts you in a particular state of mind. I’m rationing food, but also energy. I stay focused on fight-specific things and preserve energy for the actual fight. Getting up to welterweight, I was eating what I wanted 24-7. So nutrition was a factor. But eating like that also gave me energy to burn. And I was not disciplined about it. My training was just too much and not focused. I’ve never been one to over train or go too hard. I prefer constant, light to medium, intelligent training and I got away from that last time. That’s not an issue now.
What adjustments have you made to your nutrition?
I’m doing what has always worked for me. I eat good food. I’m just making sure this time I get to weight in a more disciplined, performance-focused way – not eating any sh*t food. If it had a face or grew in the ground, it can be on the menu. Seriously, my typical diet is good quality meat, fruits and vegetables – fish, steak, chicken, quality greens, good carbs from vegetables like sweet potato. I stay hydrated with water or coconut water. I do like my coffee.
What supplements are you using?
I get most of my nutrition from food. There’s no cutting corners and there’s no supplement that can make up for a sh*tty diet. But when you train like I do, you need to make sure you’re getting your nutrients, and you can’t just be eating all the time. One of the things I use is a protein supplement – BSN Syntha-6 EDGE®. It delivers a lot of high-quality protein but helps keep things lean. I don’t want to feel heavy, even in the higher weight class. That hurt me last time. I want the weight to be lean muscle and the Syntha-6 EDGE® helps with recovery and muscle building without excess carbs, calories and fat. Plus, it tastes like a milkshake. People have made a big deal about some recent comments about my sweet tooth. I’m not eating any cheesecake at the moment, so the protein shakes are as good as it gets.
Can you give us a sample gym workout? Something you might do for strength or power?
There’s really no standard day for me in the gym. It’s always a mix. But for strength and power, I use a lot of free weights. I use them to build strength and balance at the same time with exercises like single-leg deadlifts and pistol squats. I do moves that utilize the full body, and bodyweight for power – dead hang pullups, muscle-ups, burpees, handstands. Handstands with leg raises and lifts are great for core and balance as well. I’m also fascinated by animal movement and incorporate that kind of motion in my workouts – like a lizard crawl for strength and agility.