Why does Conor McGregor keep gassing out?

Posted on September 22, 2017

(Last Updated On: July 26, 2021)

“Why am I already out of breath?”

A pleasant surprise from my remote clientele is an affinity for MMA. I was never too into it growing up. Then I met some new people and realized there were some out there who organized big parties around UFC fights. That was unheard of where I grew up. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a diehard, but I certainly enjoy keeping up with combat sports.

This has been made easier by my remote clients. I have more conversations with them around UFC than any other sport.

The last month these have revolved around Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. I had some discussions with a couple clients I’m going to paste here.

  1. It’s fun to discuss
  2. It’s worth examining because

McGregor can’t get halfway into a fight without looking exhausted. Or as he likes to say, [hard Irish accent] “I’m just a bit wobbly.” Why is Conor getting so tired?

We will also delve into Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans.

My comments are regularly formatted; others are indented.

Before the fight

7/18: Man, I had been starting to think McGregor had a chance, then I watched some old Floyd fights and if Floyd is at least 90% of what he’s been, I’m not sure McGregor will touch him. The big thing to me is Floyd’s age and how long has he really been training. I saw Freddie Roach do an interview maybe six months ago saying when he talked to Floyd, he said he wasn’t training at all. Between that and the age difference to begin with, maybe Conor can catch him with better reflexes. Nearly a two year layoff at that age is something Floyd has never dealt with, but then again he could have been training the last year knowing the fight would happen. I didn’t realize he fought Canelo when Canelo was 23, where a 13 year age gap didn’t matter then, so I don’t know if it matters now either.

Hearing McGregor say he’s going to chase him down makes me worry. So many Floyd fights have been that, and nobody comes near hitting him doing it. I think you need to stand more or less still, make him come to you so he can’t counter all day, and then tee off and pray you connect, then push him around. That’s when I’ve seen him get hit:

You can’t chase or out box him though. If I’m McGregor, my training is geared around punching as hard and much as I possibly can each round. Basically try and bully the hell out of him. You figure McGregor has a hard enough chin from MMA to take some hits along the way to take those chances.

7/19: Agree! I think that Floyd have been working out, not in the same level of course as before but he doesn’t look like a couch potato either:) I think that he has a lot better “cardio-machine” then Connor and that this will be of a big advantage. Floyd has done 12 rounds shit loads of times and knows how to pace 3 minutes in the ring, where to rest and recover during these 3 minutes and do this 12 times. Hope Connor has put loads into his cardio/vo2max training, he will need it:) but don’t know if the time has been enough for him to get to a profitable level cardio vice to match Floyd. and yes, he have a great chin and really good boxing! Think his chin will be tested here as well:) Gonna be a cool event to see!!!

7/21: I worry about Conor’s endurance as well. He has looked surprisingly gassed in a few fights. Diaz in particular. Floyd is going to be wayyyy more in shape than Diaz in this regard, if nothing else because of how much lighter he is. It’d be one thing if Conor was on the ground with Diaz. Then you could say Diaz’s weight mattered, making him tired. But Conor just got tired from throwing a couple rounds of punches.

7/26: The MMA guys don’t seem as big on long distance running as boxers. Distance running has gotten shit on by the strength and conditioning community the last decade, but at the end of the day runners are in fantastic cardiovascular shape. It can be counterproductive to do too much, but if you do it right, an in-shape runner is hard to beat if you’re not doing any running. Mat Fraser proved this at CrossFit last year. It’s just tough to reproduce the lung demand running has with non-running exercise. For instance, hard to do any type of squatting for an hour (though a partial squat study would be interesting), but running for an hour is doable.

I saw Floyd talk about how he does this. He does all his boxing first, then about four hours later does his running. He said many boxers wake up, do their running, then their boxing, where they end up tired for the boxing. He’s spot on with this. You always start with what’s most important.

8/14: Did you see the video of McGregor and his sparring partner? It was brief, but thought McGregor looked surprisingly good. Also surprised they’re trying to move down in gloves. Not sure that’s a good move for Mayweather, with him being less powerful I don’t know if he’s able to knock McGregor out regardless. But lighter gloves helps McGregor if he can get lucky and connect, now he’ll be more likely to knock him out

8/16: McGregor – seen some clips on YouTube on the sparing but not to much. I think Floyd is gonna pick him apart slowly and go 12 and win by points. He will get in so much more volume (in strikes). It will be harder to KO with the boxing gloves (even if they do the smaller variation). They are still pretty large, makes the defense easier and harder to KO. With MMA gloves that’s another ball game. Those gloves are made for one punch KOs, i.e. more for protecting the hands. If Connor wins it’s insane, I really hope he does but have hard to see him pull it of. I don’t think this will turn out as a CM Punk match when he fought Mickey Gall. Connor will give stand his ground but will now how a boxing glove tastes after this fight

8/18: The main thing I hope for McGregor is we don’t see him get tired. If after all this time and hype he looks gassed again, I’m going to have to send him a strongly worded letter.

8/22: Just saw McGregor say he’s more than ready for 12 rounds. I already have a draft saved in case he isn’t!

After the fight

Initially I was taken aback by how passive Floyd was. Later on realized he was just trying to make the fight more entertaining to start with. Think he got hit more than he thought he would, where I was also surprised Conor touched him as much as he did. Heard a stat he hit him more than Pacquiao did.

In the latter rounds could tell Floyd could have done whatever he wanted that fight. Conor hit on this in his interviews, but it’s the first time I ever saw Floyd go straight at a guy consistently. Conor said in sparring the majority of the time they had the sparring partner leaning back. That to me shows how little concern Floyd had. He actually tried to make a $400,000 bet he’d knock out Conor midway through the tenth round. He was that specific with his bet. Crazy.

Super disappointed to see Conor tired, again. In my view he was already tired by the fifth, if not the fourth, round. He talked about it in a lot of post fight interviews. I don’t know his camp well, but from what I’ve seen he’s basically had some Ireland buddies with him this whole ride. Might be time to get some more help. Something isn’t right there. A 40 year old guy shouldn’t be running circles around you conditioning wise. Diaz did the same thing, and Diaz is probably 185 lbs.

I remember hearing stories about Tyson. How people in his camp feared if a fight ever went more than a few rounds he could be screwed, because he never trained that hard for a longer fight, figuring he’d always get a knockout. Maybe something Conor is doing.

What are some of your philosophies with conditioning, specifically when it comes to something with the energy demands of MMA or BJJ?The reason I ask is it’s been a goal of mine to develop a real nasty gas tank to be able to push the pace and recover quickly, and I notice I gas pretty quickly doing a lot of the explosive work you’ve been having me do.

When it comes to energy demands of a sport, something I’m in favor of, that I don’t see done often, is going 95% or more of the demands. So say you’re a sprinter who can run a 10s 100 meters. 2-3 days per week you should be fresh, and those days we’re going to run at 95% or more of that time. (The reason 2-3 days is about the max, is because if you go more than that, then you’re doing back to back days, where you’re unlikely to be fully recovered.) Whereas a common strategy is taking a race horse and treating them like a donkey.

I don’t know the MMA world enough yet, but from what I’ve seen many of them fall into this. Where every day is hard, meaning no days are done at 95% or more because the athlete isn’t fresh enough. Then, coming into a fight, they finally taper some, but 95%+ wipes them out because they haven’t been training at that intensity. When someone gets to a high level, there is a world of difference between 85 and 100%.

Going back to the sprinter, if the sprinter is always running longer distance, doing a ton of volume, they aren’t going to be ready to run 10s or faster. You have to run fast in practice to run fast in a race.
The toughest part with a sport like MMA is weighing the technical demands with the physical. Where more practice with jiu jitsu can increase technical ability, but you have to have times where that technical ability is practiced at a very high intensity.

Using a beginner as an example, you can have them go fairly hard every day because they’re so behind technically, it won’t matter how good of a gas tank they have. That is, you could put a marathoner in a cage and it doesn’t matter.

Practically speaking, a go to strategy is hard-easy-hard schedule. Technique practice may not always be at a hard intensity though. That’s where MMA is harder. The more demands a sport has, the tougher it gets to weigh everything. But one example would be easy days are slower technique practice.

So if I understand this right, your philosophy is to wave intensity with hard/easy days so that the athlete can be fresh enough to train at an actual intensity of 95%+ rather than a perceived intensity of 95%? To clarify, I know a lot of MMA/BJJ/wrestling guys simply go hard every day and feel like they’re redlining at 100% all the time, but when you factor in the lack of recovery, they may feel like they’re at 90%+ of their ability but in reality they could be at much less than that due to the fatigue. But with your programming, you’d have an athlete waving the intensity of training days so that their output on hard days is a more realistic 95%+ intensity due to being in a fresh(er) state. Is that correct?

This is interesting to me, especially using the sprinter example. I read some articles awhile back talking about the training of Usain Bolt and other Olympic sprinters, and how they supposedly only go over 90% every once in awhile and mainly do a lot of their training at a moderate intensity like Charlie Francis’ tempo training. Is something like that even effective, or are these guys just succeeding despite their training rather than because of their training? I assume that’s an example of pushing the race horse like a donkey?

I think I’ll toy around with this idea of the hard-easy-hard waving when I get back into it. As I said before, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to being optimal, so I’m highly intrigued at developing a system that produces the best conditioning results possible. I’d like to be able to apply it to myself since I’ve never really had a world class conditioning level, but also to my fellow training partners.

I find the hardest thing to implement with this idea is to keep sparring intensity low(er) for the easy days. It’s easy to say, “hey lets go light today, man” but suddenly you’ve cranked the intensity ten fold 3 minutes into the round and you guys are going at it like it’s a UFC title fight, lol.

That’s exactly right. Want to be at the absolute intensity rather than a perceived / relative intensity. Where if you have a PR of 100, you want to be training at 95+ of that, rather than at say 80, even if it feels like 95%.

This is the disciplined aspect of training hard. The irony is you end up training harder from an absolute intensity standpoint. If you’re training every day as hard as you can, you’re not actually training at as high of an intensity as someone training hard less frequently.

Bolt’s camp followed Charlie’s style quite a bit. Moderate intensity for them is 75% or *less*. Charlie believed 75-90% was no man’s land. 75% and you could get some aerobic benefits, some recovery benefits, but you didn’t tax the person enough to affect the next day, which would be 95%. If you trained at 80%, you weren’t training hard enough to get much benefit, but it was hard enough to negatively impact recovery.

If you weren’t recovered enough to go 95% or more, Charlie moved on to weights, or made it a recovery day. Rather than hit that day at 85%, take the day off, come back in a couple days and go 95%+.

The Jamaicans have been cryptic with their training over the years, but before he passed I was on Charlie’s forum when they were coming into dominance and he knew what they were doing quite well. Different style of his principles, but they were there. He often couldn’t say who he was talking to. If the media got wind he was consulting for someone, the drug sniffers went into overdrive. Would be like Lance saying he’s helping a cyclist these days. Last I saw, he inconspicuously suggested the Jamaicans had quite the drug program going on. (But he’d always say the Americans were no better, but our track training was just terrible.)

From a volume perspective, they do a lot more work at 75% or less, but that’s not where the improvements are coming in. If memory serves me right, it’s about 1800 meters of 95% and 3200 meters of 75% or less per week. Divided into 3 days each.

Charlie was big on the tempo work but I think it’s overrated. Think what it really does is control the athlete’s schedule and helps you keep an eye on them. If you have a group of 20 year olds, only being with them a few days a week is a lot of free time. In other words, I doubt doing tempo runs is any better than going for a nice walk recovery wise. You don’t want to sit around doing nothing because that’s not great for general health, but you don’t need “blood pumping” workouts either. Have a post coming about this.

But with a sport like MMA, easy days can be a lot different due to e.g. technique work or film study. Not much of a concern with sprinting.

At that level of sprinting, not much is happening in spite of the training. The level is too high, and Charlie set the bar too high training wise. Raw talent can’t get you 9.58. The training has to be there.

The other person aspect is huge. I have an equation I use for intensity, and however many people is however much I (on average) say the intensity will be bumped, because of what you said. People always say “let’s go light,” but that’s like saying “hey, let’s go have a beer.” Five hours later you’re left wondering what happened. Sparring is a perfect example. Boxing the heavy bag compared to sparring and the intensity is undoubtedly going to jump, a lot.

Using Charlie again, once his athletes got to a high level, he didn’t have them run with other people. He didn’t want someone trying to chase down the top guy trying to prove something, compromising form, or going all out every run. The very hard aspect of all this is you want to be at 95% or more for improvement, but being at 100% every high intense day can’t happen either. You have to actually wave between those intensities, throughout the week, and throughout training. That is, even if only going 100% a few days a week, deloads have to happen

Managing this is truly the art of training, because it’s hard to have strict rules. Charlie would ask his athletes how traffic was certain days. If an athlete was stressed about their commute, that could be ground for giving an easy day. “First: Do no harm.”

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