Most people watching the UFC 205 main event figured Conor McGregor was putting his hands behind his back against Eddie Alvarez as part of his showmanship. It appeared that McGregor was almost daring Alvarez to take a swing at him.
There might have been an element of that in the historic fight. But that doesn't the primary reason why McGregor did it, according to his coach John Kavanagh.
Kavanagh told Ariel Helwani on a recent episode of The MMA Hour that McGregor was actually clasping his hands behind his back due to an injury. McGregor's right index knuckle was hurt during his UFC 202 fight with Nate Diaz, per Kavanagh, and that was his way of protecting it in training. Photos have surfaced online of McGregor doing that in sparring at his SBG Ireland gym.
"He found that if he actually held his right hand behind his back, it kind of reminded him not to throw it as much," Kavanagh said. "That's why he started reaching back and actually grabbing his hand.
"It was almost like a mental note: take care of the right hand."
McGregor still landed the right hand on Alvarez often, including in the wicked combination that sent the then-champion to the canvas in the second round, leading to McGregor's TKO victory. The win made McGregor the first UFC fighter to hold two titles in two separate weight classes at the same time.
Kavanagh did acknowledge that the hands-behind-the-back maneuver did have dual purposes. Whenever something like that is seen in boxing or MMA, it's usually to draw an opponent in and get them to commit on strikes.
"If you put your hands down, an untrained person will try to swing at your head," Kavanagh said. "It's a base instinct — I want to punch the guy in the head."
Someone like McGregor, with a lifetime of boxing training, can exploit that kind of aggression. Kavanagh said some in MMA are still catching up to his level of boxing and striking, much like Irish fighters are still behind Americans and other countries in wrestling.
"If you have a very high level of striking, boxing like Conor does, you understand rules like that," Kavanagh said. "And there are many of them. And I don't think others are kind of catching up to that level of skill."
Maybe McGregor should injure his right hand more often.