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John Kavanagh on UFC 246 game plan: ‘Conor knows more about fighting than the rest of us put together’

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Many high-profile MMA coaches spend hours behind the scenes watching tape, preparing plans, and aligning resources for a fighter’s training camp. There’s a different plan in action as Conor McGregor approaches UFC 246, according to his longtime coach John Kavanagh.

“With Conor’s fighting IQ, with Conor’s understanding of the game, really, this training camp is about all of us getting out of his way,” Kavanagh told The Mac Life. “Provide him an environment where he gets different looks, different feels, and support him. Where he wants the training camp to go, with intensities, and listening to him – where he has days where he has days where he wants to push hard, and days where he wants to slow down.

“It’s not so much about us coaches sitting down to game plan and then filling Conor in. Conor knows more about fighting than the rest of us put together.”

McGregor returns for the cage for the first time since a devastating submission loss to lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in October 2018. Two months after that setback, Kavanagh said he’d need to be “convinced” to take on another fight camp with McGregor, citing punches the former two-division UFC champ took in the highly anticipated grudge match. But the two later mended fences and began working together this past year in anticipation of a comeback.

The first hurdle to that goal is Donald Cerrone, an opponent McGregor was scheduled to face this past summer before a broken hand put a crimp in his plans.

Kavanagh said the name doesn’t matter so much as McGregor’s mindset. The coach said the ex-champ is the “best he’s ever been” due to “consistency over the last few months” and is “smiling on the mat.”

One major reason McGregor is in good spirits, Kavanagh said, is a full belly. With no weight to cut, training intensity hasn’t dropped off in the final weeks before the Cerrone fight, which takes place Jan. 18 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and airs live on pay-per-view.

Another, he added, is the motivation for the rematch. When McGregor returned from a submission loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, he was in a mindset to get one back on the fighter that embarrassed him on the mat. This time around, there’s no grudge to nurse, and it’s about being the best fighter possible.

“It’s different than the motivation being revenge,” Kavanagh said. “The motivation here seems to be love, and love is stronger than revenge.”

With more fuel and fire in the tank, Kavanagh anticipates a slow burn toward victory for McGregor.

“I could see it being in the championship rounds,” he said. “That’s the mindset I personally have – and be ready for that. Now, he could spark him in seconds. But there’s a bit of extra weight involved, so I think in the later rounds.”

If all continues as planned, the coach believes McGregor can fulfill a plan to fight three times this year. He didn’t rule out two prospective opponents, Jorge Masvidal and Justin Gaethje, who’ve chirped at the UFC star in interviews.

Then there’s the chance of saving the day in the event that a scheduled fight between champ Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson at UFC 248 falls apart for the fifth time. Kavanagh said McGregor can make weight within 10 days.

The bigger question is whether “Notorious” is up for the quick turnaround.

“Would it be a late-notice fight if we were already training for it?” Kavanagh said. “Weight-wise, it’s no problem. It would just be if we’re training.”