One of the more talked about aspects in the lead-up to UFC 194 was Conor McGregor’s movement coach, Ido Portal, who showed up with him at the open workouts in Las Vegas and put on a display. Particularly concerned were the Irish fans themselves, who suspected McGregor was barking up the wrong tree.
Or at very least, an unfamiliar tree.
The Israeli movement guru Portal appeared on last week’s edition of The MMA Hour, and he said he heard the general complaints going on among the Irish. And he knew he’d be blamed if McGregor had lost his title bout against Jose Aldo.
"Yeah, I became aware of it, but I did not let it diffuse me in any way," he told Ariel Helwani. "And if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. It was about coming and supporting and putting full throttle behind it, although the amount of work we got to do was minimal for me. A week-and-a-half here, and another few days in Dublin — that’s nothing to blame or to really take credit for, yet. They are a small chain of decisions, decisions that must be made right. And I was a part of those decisions. What to take, when to do, what to do, what to not do. It’s a huge part, what to not do in training, in a session. Keeping them fresh, keeping them in tune, keeping the body very soft, which is very misunderstood.
"All this machismo, all this mentality surrounding the Irish fans, the MMA game, I think Conor is very good not letting this distract him. He feels that sharpness and that ability to deliver a very potent dosage…he’s superior to the drop coffee that everybody else is drinking. He is the espresso man."
The Israeli Portal is global movement coach who segued from the martial arts 20 years ago. Since that time he and his team has taught movement to many pro athletes, including fighters. Yet with the scrutiny on McGregor at an all-time high as he got set to face Aldo — Aldo, who hadn’t lost an MMA bout in a decade — Portal became an extension of that scrutiny.
And when McGregor disposed of Aldo in just 13 seconds, Portal said business began to pick up. It’s not just McGregor that’s seeking his services.
"Right now everything is open, and [McGregor and I] haven’t really discussed things yet," he said. "We’ve worked with some fighters before, and we have a lot of incoming requests from anywhere and everywhere. It was the, this week was the center attention for pretty much everyone. I got some NBA players, some NFL players reaching out. Tony Robbins reached out."
When asked if it was all because of McGregor, Portal said it was hard to know for sure — but being there for McGregor at such a big moment didn’t hurt.
"You cannot tell because my work has been out there and I’ve received such requests before, but now even more," he said. "We’ve been exploding the last couple of weeks."
In brief, Portal explained what a movement coach was. He said that part of his job was to refine within the gray area between strength and conditioning and technique.
"The movement game takes the technical side, and takes the strength and conditioning side, and takes the mobility, and takes the pattern and the re-patterning work, and it blends everything together," he said. "So at times I was taking some technical aspects of the game and tuning them up, working and refining that, and other times I was more of the strength and conditioning guy, and at other times I was the therapist, and at other times I was the nutritionist.
"You not a specialist, you a generalist, but you see the big picture much better than anyone else in many ways. That requires a lot of study into a variety of fields. The movement teacher must be a martial artist. The movement teacher must be a dancer. The movement teacher must be a strength and conditioning coach. The movement teacher must be an acrobat. The movement teacher must be a therapist. It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of study into these fields, learning to see the common things and to see the important things and to let go of the less important things."
Portal said that McGregor sought him out after watching his footage and seeing his interviews. This was the first camp that Portal was helping McGregor out. He said he hoped to work with Conor more going forward, and that right now McGregor is ahead of everyone else in that department — though there is plenty of room for improvement.
"Conor said it best himself, he’s a white belt," Portal said. "It can get much, much, much better. It’s unbelievable how much better it can get. But the rest of the fighting game hasn’t even taken their first classes, he says. He might be a white belt, but the rest of the fighting game didn’t even start to play with those ideas. He’s a very intelligent and dedicated practitioner, but the stuff we do is extremely difficult — extremely difficult.
"Like this week he saw me doing some one-arm handstands around the house, and he asked me, ‘how can I do that? I must do that.’ And I told him, ‘no, you don’t need that. This will take too much time.’ He said, ‘okay, how much time?’ So I told him it took me three years of six hours a day training to get there. So forget about it, it’s not for you, but he still wants to get it."
Portal was near the Octagon when McGregor knocked out Aldo with a perfectly timed left counter. When asked to assess Aldo’s movement from such a close perspective, Portal said he knew what was coming.
"I had no doubt what was going to unfold," he said. "Inside the team, we all knew where it was heading. This is one fight where it was clear. It was very, very clear. With Gunny [Nelson] and with Artem [Lobov], I had a little bit less of the pieces of information to be able to make any prophecy. But with Conor it was very obvious to me. I spent also years throughout my life in Brazil. And I know the physique, the incredible Brazilian physique, and I know the mindset. It is familiar to me. I don’t want to generalize, but it was pretty obvious to me."