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John Kavanagh: Conor McGregor has ‘800 horsepower, 5-liter American muscle car type engine’ heading into rematch

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Heading into his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on Saturday night, Conor McGregor made some wholesale changes in his training regimen. Namely, he and his Straight Blast Gym coach John Kavanagh have added structure to his training camp. They have structured the workouts to help maximize his endurance come fight night on Aug. 20 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Or at least, that’s the hope.

After losing to Diaz at UFC 196, Kavanagh took steps to ensure that gassing out early in the fight wouldn’t happen again. McGregor succumbed to a rear-naked choke towards the end of the second round after his cardio faded, and the focus — his coach says — has been on improving his "engine."

"Each fighter has his own personality, and I’ll model the training camp based around their personality," Kavanagh said during a spot on The MMA Hour on Monday. "Some fighters you can tell them what to do, and set down a certain schedule. Some you can’t. And with Conor, he has his way of doing things, and it’s hard to argue with somebody who’s going out and knocking out legends in 13 seconds. So his system was working very well for him. But, it obviously didn’t in the last fight. So, we said look, what’s the definition of insanity…it’s doing the same thing and expecting different results. So we changed things up."

Kavanagh has been with McGregor since well before his days competing in Cage Warriors. With McGregor racing to a 6-0 record in the UFC, and knocking out the likes of Jose Aldo to unify the featherweight title in December, Kavanagh didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken.

Yet now that McGregor has suffered his first loss — if even a loss that carries asterisks for being on 11 day’s notice and at a foreign weight — the thinking has been very different ahead of the rematch. Part of McGregor’s training has been endurance-based exercises, which Kavanagh orchestrated.

"I’m lucky that I have a good friend for a long time, he’s actually the guy behind the camera of TheMacLife," he told Ariel Helwani. "He’s an ex-professional cyclist. I reached out to him and his teammate from back in the day who is now a doctor, and there’s not much they don’t know about human performance. Being a cyclist, it’s not the most technically demanding sport, as compared to say mixed martial arts…in general there’s not a lot to it, other than having a huge engine. It’s about your VO2, it’s about your heart and your cardiovascular system. So, Dana [White] helped him make a machine, and that’s what we’ve spent the last 17, 18 weeks doing, is upgrading Conor’s engine.

"Now it’s a super-charged, 800 horsepower, five-liter American muscle car type engine."

Kavanagh, who is a proponent of rigid routines, said he believes he has close to a perfect fighter in McGregor, who will face Diaz at the same weight of 170 pounds on Saturday night. He says that he believes he and McGregor have hit a new stride with the structured training, and he plans on keeping it going after the Diaz rematch.

"This is 100 percent the way forward for now," he said. "It would have always been my personal choice to coach. I’m kind of like that. I like structure, I like order, I like to know what I’m doing. Conor’s more of sort of a free-flowing, artistic type of personality.

"Like I said, bringing in this performance specialist and explaining that your hormone levels at different times of day. There’s a reason that Olympic records are usually broken around about 3pm in the day, as opposed to 2 in the morning. So a lot of simple things that were being overlooked, and I hold my hand up to that. I didn’t come from a sports science background. I came from engineering. And I was always obsessed with the technique of martial arts, but I’m learning about the weight cutting side of things, and I’m learning about the performance side of things.

"But we’ve outsourced that, we’ve subcontracted it. We brought in a specialist, and I’ve learned probably more in the last 18 weeks than I learned in the last 18 years old training. Not only does Conor benefit from that, I benefit from it. And the next wave of SBG fighters will all benefit from this."

Kavanagh insisted that the loss to Diaz was an eye-opener in all the right ways.

"I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, that I truly believe, March 5, that loss — in retrospect, in a few years time — will be seen as a turning point for the better," he said. "And probably the most positive thing that’s happened to the team as a whole."

Along with the structured training days, Kavanagh said that McGregor has of course been working the composite disciplines to help sharpen himself for Saturday. And that includes jiu-jitsu, which for many fans became his glaring weakness in light of the fight that took place back in March.

"On top of that we’ve been working on technical errors, and what we do every training camp, is try to get better in all areas," he said. "I got a lot of tweets there, how much time are we spending on jiu-jitsu, it’s the same as we’ve always been doing. I was just thinking, we did a six-day training cycle, and only one after six days did not involve jiu-jitsu or grappling, because only one was a boxing day."