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Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh breaks down Poirier loss and future plans

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In a 30-minute interview, Kavanagh goes through the Poirier fight exchange-by-exchange and whether McGregor will continue to fight after this difficult loss.

MMA: JUL 10 UFC 264 Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UFC 264 marked the first time since 2016 that Conor McGregor had gotten two fights in a year. The last was when he rematched Nate Diaz, and he dug deep to pull out a close decision win over the younger Diaz brother to split their series 1-1. On Saturday, it was another six-month turnaround for a rematch, same as the Diaz fight, and people were wondering whether to expect another hallmark performance from the Irish sports star against Dustin Poirier.

It didn’t work out that way.

For the first two minutes of the fight, McGregor and Poirier dueled across the cage and both landed some solid shots. McGregor got caught on his back against the cage with Poirier raining down ground-and-pound. And then with seconds left, McGregor’s ankle folded in half on itself (see it) and the fight was suddenly over: Technical knockout via doctor stoppage (watch highlights here), with McGregor scheduled for surgery on Sunday morning for a broken fibula and tibia (read update here).

McGregor put out a short statement on Instagram mainly focused on the backlash to the “bad guy’ schtick he ran with through fight week. Not much fight analysis there. But later on Sunday McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh went on his Wimp2Warrior Instagram for a 30-minute chat breaking down the fight and the aftermath.

“He’s in hospital right now, I’ll be heading over after this to check in on him,” Kavanagh said. “You know, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this sport has the highest highs and lowest lows. We got to take some time to assess what the next move is. Obviously now, rehab and recovery is where it’s at.”

Kavanagh broke down the fight exchange-by-exchange, revealing that they had focused heavily on cage fighting against Dustin, including a lot of work on guillotines.

“I studied Dustin a lot on the fence, his fight with Holloway for example,” he said. “And I knew Dustin’s head would be there for the guillotine. So we had drilled that a lot. Conor has a very very strong guillotine. A slight tactical error going to the back with it. We drilled getting the finish on the feet or at least it would make the takedown attempt go away and then we’d be back to the center of the Octagon and back to boxing.

“As somebody who likes guillotines myself, the temptation to try and throw that leg over the back and just get the finish is very very strong, and Conor was the one in there, he must have thought the grip was right and he went for it,” he continued. “That’s what fighting’s about, he went for it. Dustin did an incredible job getting his leg over to the right side of his head to relieve the pressure.”

As for Poirier’s ground-and-pound, which was severe looking enough for two of three judges to hand him a 10-8 round? Nothing to worry about, according to Kavanagh.

“There was a bit of a struggle to get the head free and then he landed some decent ground-and-pound,” Kavanagh said. “Most of it on the forearms and the gloves, Conor had no marks, no bruises, swelling, cuts ... anything like that. So most of it was parried, but for sure that was Dustin’s moment. He’s obviously winning there in the judges’ eyes. When Dustin stood up, Conor got off some nice upkicks. Some of them whizzed by and others landed.

“So all and all up until that point, let’s say 4.5 minutes, I wasn’t concerned at all, I was actually really, really happy,” Kavanagh continued. “And I knew what I was going to be saying between rounds ... I was just going to tell him to keep doing what he was doing with the kicks and try to close a bit heavier this time. So we’d be looking to rather than exchange punches to slide back and left hand like he did on Aldo. Look for those kinds of techniques. Slide back left cross, slide back left uppercut, and kind of let Dustin fall into that kind of open space.

“At the 4.5-minute mark, everything’s gravy,” he continued. “Energy looked good, technique looked good. A few adjustments between rounds and I thought we were on track to getting a finish there or at least keep going, keep the rhythm going for the rest of the fight.”

And then ... the leg break.

“You can watch this back, there’s lots of clips on Instagram, where he throws a leg kick, he moves away, and then he throws a teep, that’s one of the techniques we definitely wanted to apply in this fight,” Kavanagh said. “Obviously being a Southpaw, that liver side is there so we were looking to teep in that area. ... There’s a high danger of catching the elbow, and if you’re watching back you can clearly see that’s where the fracture happened.

“He very aggressively threw that kick,” Kavanagh continued. “Dustin shelled with that lead hand, and the foot wraps around the elbow in a similar fashion to Weidman and Silva, they wrapped around the shin. Conor wrapped his shin around the elbow. He stands back on it and you can see the bone almost protrude through the skin. I don’t know how he didn’t fall there. He comes in there, they both exchange crosses, they both miss with their back hands, he goes to step back on it and that’s when there’s that horrifying fold underneath.

“Again, we’ve seen it a handful of times over the years, Weidman and Silva being the big ones,” he concluded. “Of course, that’s the end of the contest. So yeah, bitterly disappointed.”

Kavanagh also revealed that McGregor had trouble with the ankle during fight camp, to the point where they took him to a doctor to look at it.

“Little bit of that ankle injury had been aggravated during that camp,” he revealed. “We’d gotten a scan on it. Did that have a small part to play in weakening it? I don’t know. ... There might have been something in there. It seems unusual that a young healthy fit man can wrap his foot around an elbow without there being something there before. But you know, you can play those guessing games all day long.

“Credit to Dustin, that’s the way fighting goes,” he continued. “He won. It’s an unfulfilling end to the night. I don’t want to put words in Conor’s mouth, but even if it goes in a way where you just get punched out, you can say ‘All right, you got me.’ This doesn’t feel properly finished, so to speak. Closure, that’s the word I was looking for.”

When asked about McGregor’s classless post-fight comments, Kavanagh rolled his eyes.

“His foot is literally hanging down. It’s a clean fracture of the fibula and tibia, it went straight through, the foot’s hanging down,” he said. “You can only imagine the rush of hormones and what’s going on in your body, the pain, it was on fire. And then someone sits down and sticks a microphone in your face, ‘How are you feeling about the end?’

“Come on, come on!” he continued. “When has he ever not been graceful at the end? Let’s get backstage, let’s get a proper assessment from a doctor. Let’s get an x-ray. So I was pretty miffed at the idea of sticking a microphone in his face at that point.”

That leaves us with the big question: What’s next?

“The 24-hour goal for today is to meet with the surgeon and his team after the operation is finished,” he said. “Get their take on it, get their assessment. It’s not til they’ve opened them up and actually looked at the joint and what’s going on in there that they can tell us what the next while is going to look like in terms of rehabilitation.”

But, Kavanagh doesn’t think this is the end.

“He truly loves this and it’s hard to imagine him not wanting to come back, not wanting to do this again. Because we really just got this fantastic rhythm. He’s turning 33, which to me is a peaking time where strength meets conditioning and mental and physical and spiritual maturity, everything’s coming together. I think we have a couple of years of this ahead of us.”


For full UFC 264 play-by-play updates and results click here. And to check out the latest and greatest “McGregor vs. Poirier 3”-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.