Conor McGregor is a phenomena in the MMA world, and as a brand he’s arguably bigger than the UFC itself. After an electrifying string of fights that saw him holding two weight division world championship belts at the same time, Conor is currently on sabbatical and trying to work up a money fight with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather. So, while Conor McGregor is out of action it’s time to reflect on what a Kung Fu student can learn from this modern day master of the martial arts.

While the early days of MMA frequently looked more like a barroom brawl than a martial arts contest, Conor  McGregor is part of a new generation of fighters and has an almost balletic grace to his movement. He relies on timing, distance and technique to deliver perfect wheel kicks, side kicks and a straight left to die for. Let’s look at his abilities in four key areas: distance, timing, kicks and attitude.

Conor McGregor 4 Abilities

1. Distance

Conor McGregor loves to dart in and out and to do this he uses a long, side-on stance that is a world away from the typical ‘earmuffs on’ kickboxing pose we’re used to seeing from MMA fighters. Conor’s stance is more like the Horse or Half Horse stances you see in Hung Gar, Choy Lee Fut or any Wu Shu style.

To avoid damage he pulls his front leg back, almost into a Cat stance, and skips back in a straight line to get the attacker to overcommit forward, and then darts back towards him with a counter. If you want to see a perfect example of  managing distance then watch Conor in his fight with Marcus Brimage, where the aggressive Brimage runs forward into Conor’s attacks time after time.

Conor McGregor

2. Timing

Conor is a master of the counter punch. He stands in front of his opponent with his left hand always at the ready, and always ready to retreat using his side-on stance. If his opponent decides to rush in and close the gap without properly disguising his movement then that counter left hand is going to give him an early night.

Catching somebody as they step in is a perfect example of the Kung Fu philosophy of using the attacker’s force against them. Check out Conor McGregor vs Jose Aldo for perhaps the finest example of a well-timed counter punch that you’ll ever see:

Conor McGregor

3. Kicks

While his knockouts come from punches, it’s Conor’s kicks that grind his opponent’s down. He uses many of the kicks found in Kung Fu that are rarely seen in MMA, like spinning back kicks, wheel kicks and switch kicks, and the more basic, but under-used, side kicks and front kicks. He uses kicks to the body to wind his opponent and kicks to the head to make them open up for his notorious straight left:

Conor McGregor

4. Attitude

The final thing a Kung Fu student can learn from watching Conor McGregor is his mental attitude. Conor believed he was going to be a two-belt UFC champion from his early days knocking around in a shed in Dublin with his childhood friend Tom Egan and coach John Kavanagh. To most people this seemed a ridiculous goal, but Conor’s self belief shines through in interviews from the time:

Conor McGregor

When he beat Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 he achieved his dream of becoming a two-belt champion. The kid from a working class background in Ireland had risen all the way to the top of the most prestigious mixed martial arts organisation in the world and become a household name in the process.

The message is simple: Believe in yourself, struggle through adversity, and amazing things can happen. That is the path that every Kung Fu student must follow.

Conor McGregor
Andrius Petrucenia
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