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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 196's Conor McGregor resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 196 headliner Conor McGregor, who looks to successfully jump two weight classes this Saturday (March 5, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight kingpin, Conor McGregor, will scrap with long-time Lightweight contender, Nate Diaz, in a Welterweight match up this Saturday at UFC 196 (March 5, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

There are several opinions swirling around the Irish fighter at the moment. Some fans think he's already the greatest fighter of all time who cannot be stopped, whereas others write off his accomplishments as luck and eagerly await his comeuppance. Regardless of where on that spectrum one falls, there's one thing that cannot be denied:

McGregor has some serious stones.

Thanks to McGregor's willingness to ignore weight classes in pursuit of big money fights, this has been a monumental week for UFC, which now has its own emoji on Twitter.

Indeed, McGregor Mania is in full effect, but let's ignore all that to take a closer look at the technical skill that made McGregor the Featherweight champion.


There's no denying McGregor's ability to violently separate his opponents from their senses, drawing on a solid base of striking martial arts to land those blows. McGregor was a national boxing champion in his youth, and he also has trained in Taekwondo and Karate.

Even beyond all the wild circumstances of injury and replacements, McGregor's path to his title was fascinating from a striking perspective. McGregor is constantly talking of his movement being superior to the rest of the world's fighters -- and McGregor does move quite well -- but it's more interesting how McGregor moves up and down the meter from counter striker to aggressive head-hunter.

Prior to his UFC career and in his debut, McGregor operated as a devastating counter puncher. Using kicks and taunts to draw his opponent out of position, McGregor showed excellent boxing by slipping and countering his opponents with his trademark left cross.

He may have been stalking his foes, but McGregor pretty firmly operated in the role of counter striker.

However, the seemed to change following his ACL surgery and year on the sidelines. Since then, McGregor switched up his game and really went on the offensive. Rather than draw opponents into counters, McGregor was using his kicks to herd opponents into the fence or -- more to the point -- directly into his left hand. McGregor was more hittable in this mode, but it also earned him some of his biggest victories (GIF).

Then, unexpectedly, McGregor returned to his old style, jamming Jose Aldo's attempts to move forward before knocking him out with a counter punch just 13 seconds into the fight (GIF).

While all of that is painted in fairly broad terms, it's part of what makes McGregor such a difficult opponent. Nate Diaz doesn't have a real camp to prepare for this fight so his situation is odd, but look at it from Rafael dos Anjos' or Frankie Edgar's perspective. Should they be preparing to pressure "The Notorious" into the fence and avoid his counter shots or working on reactive takedowns and avoiding McGregor's own combinations?

The real answer is that McGregor's opponent likely needs to be prepared for both, which is an astonishingly difficult task.

Even with McGregor's varying stylistic approach -- which also makes writing a fully inclusive but succinct McGregor breakdown impossible -- there are some constants to his game.

Regardless of whether McGregor is attempting to counter or hunt his foe, kicks are a hugely important aspect to McGregor's offense. McGregor attacks with a wide variety of kicks, ranging from front kicks, side kicks, spinning attacks, and roundhouse kicks. Some of these kicks are more style than substance, but they still serve the purpose of keeping his opponent hesitant or causing him to push towards McGregor into a slip and counter.

The most effective of McGregor's kicks is his left roundhouse. To the mid-section or head, McGregor does an excellent job forcing his opponent to circle into the kick. When he goes high, the kick also plays off the threat of his left cross, as McGregor can cause his opponent's to slip into the strike (GIF). When going to the body, McGregor will also utilize the front snap kick, which is a very exhausting strike.

When cutting off the cage, McGregor's kicks are very useful. If his opponent tries to escape into McGregor's power side, the left kick or cross awaits him. Should his opponent try to circle in the opposite direction, McGregor can instead meet him with a hard spinning back kick.

Regarding McGregor's boxing, he's all about the left hand either way. If he's on the offensive, McGregor is usually hand fighting with his lead hand or tossing out the occasional right hook, simply trying to get the right angle to cleanly connect with his cross (GIF).

While looking to counter, McGregor can be a bit more varied. The left cross over his opponent's punches is definitely a favorite, but McGregor showed opposite Brimage that he can use uppercuts to great effect as well. Against the shorter fighter, McGregor did a wonderful job catching him ducking with his left uppercut (GIF).


After lots of guesswork, McGregor's overall wrestling ability is more clear. On the whole, McGregor is an above-average -- but not elite -- wrestler who relies greatly on his size and athleticism.

Offensively, McGregor has found similar success with the reactive double leg, although that worked for him back when he was looking to fight as a counter puncher. Like his counter punches, McGregor's offensive takedowns are aided by the fact that he stays in his stance and controls range quite well.

In addition, McGregor did finish a couple of nice single-leg takedowns on Max Holloway. Though Holloway had not yet hit his stride, that's still an impressive enough accomplishment that other grapplers failed to pull off.

McGregor's takedown defense is not bad at all. He's got a powerful sprawl and does a nice job maintaining distance on his feet. Plus, his athleticism is a huge benefit, as that really does aid him in scrambles.

With that said, the success Mendes had taking down McGregor must be recognized. Now, the situation is a bit odd -- McGregor was training for a striker, and Mendes took the bout on two weeks notice -- but it nonetheless revealed that McGregor could be taken down by a skilled wrestler who could match his athleticism. At higher weight classes, it may be easier for strong wrestlers to overcome McGregor's athleticism edge.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

McGregor is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and he's also one of the main training partners of a very strong jiu-jitsu player in Gunnar Nelson. Though both of his career losses came via submission, those defeats were some time ago.

The best part of McGregor's grappling -- or at least the only thing he's really had a chance to show -- is his guard passing. He's very heavy from top position and really weighs on his opponent using the head and arm control grip, driving into his opponent's chest and neck. Once he gets to half guard, he'll apply heavy shoulder pressure and cut through the guard. After he gets around the guard, McGregor does not settle, as he likes to slide his knee across the stomach for the mount.

Another guard passing technique in McGregor's guard passing arsenal in the smash pass, which he utilized well against Max Holloway. Once his opponent's guard is open, McGregor will look to drive both of his legs underneath one of his opponent's legs. This stacks his opponent's legs on top of each other, smashing the hips down and preventing both offense and movement. It's an incredibly effective pass that suits mixed martial arts (MMA) perfectly.

In addition, McGregor did a very nice job stacking up Brandao. When the BJJ black belt's ankles were stuck up by his head, McGregor slammed what are essentially free punches through his legs to his opponent's face. Plus, McGregor did an excellent job defending a couple of leg locks that Brandao looked to roll into, escaping the holds and punishing his opponent for the attempt.

Similarly, McGregor used Chad Mendes' attempts to grab the guillotine to stand, showing off strong scrambles and jiu-jitsu defense.

On a less positive note, McGregor showed off very little guard work in his bout with Mendes. He never looked to sweep or submit, instead holding on to throw some elbows and give away the round to his opponent.


McGregor has proven himself a great fighter with tremendous knockout power, but there are still questions left to be answered. For example, McGregor has yet to see the championship rounds or really be pushed in a stand up fight, a pair of situations that the Diaz fight could result in. And while a win would increase McGregor's fame to new levels, a loss could send him packing back to the Featherweight division.

It's a more than intriguing fight.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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