When ´The Notorious´ Conor McGregor debuted in the UFC back in April 2013, he displayed a complete striking arsenal with a cannon of a left hand. No UFC featherweight could withstand his speed, precision and power.
However, since the Irish fighter became the first-ever ‘champ-champ’ in the UFC, he has struggled to put away his opponents and has shown an over-reliance on his left hand.
Does Conor rely on his left hand too much and is it costing him in the octagon?
Conor McGregor's rise to UFC gold
Conor McGregor started his UFC career by knocking out Marcus Brimage, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver and Chad Mendes before he challenged for the featherweight championship. He finished all of these fights with punches but used kicks to create distance and set up his vicious counter punches.
The greatest example of McGregors power came when he faced longtime UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo at UFC 194 in Las Vegas in December 2015. In the fastest knockout in UFC championship history, McGregor knocked out Aldo with a counter-left hook just 13 seconds into the fight.
It remains the only one-punch knockout that Conor has in the UFC.
UFC 196 vs Nate Diaz 1
At UFC 196 Conor was scheduled to challenge UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael Dos Anjos. Unfortunately, the Brazilian had to pull out due to injury which led to Nate Diaz accepting the fight on two weeks notice.
Due to the short notice, the fighters agreed to a 170 pound (welterweight) bout. The UFC Featherweight Champion McGregor dominated the first round, rocking Diaz with big left-hand bombs. However, as the fight progressed McGregor slowed down drastically and Diaz made him pay with crisp boxing. Conor resorted to a desperate takedown and was quickly submitted on the ground by Diaz in a massive upset.
This was the first example of Conor relying too much on the power in his left hand.
Boxing Floyd Mayweather
After Conor knocked out Eddie Alvarez using brilliant counter striking to become the UFC Lightweight Champion, he decided to enter the world of professional boxing.
´The Notorious´ one called out undefeated, multi-time boxing world champion Floyd ´Money´ Mayweather, who gladly accepted. Conor had always said boxing was his first love and the massive payday on offer was too hard to ignore.
As expected, McGregor was totally outclassed by Mayweather, who looked like he carried the Irish UFC champ into the later rounds. McGregor was able to hit Mayweather early with big left hands, but the boxing legend was never hurt and seemed unfazed by Conor´s much-heralded left-hand power.
This was the second example of Conor overestimating the power of in his left hand.
UFC 229 vs Khabib
After his boxing fight with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor returned to the UFC to face UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
This was Conor´s first MMA fight in nearly two years and it showed. Most expected Conor to dominate the standup action, with Khabib needing to get the fight to the ground to win.
While Conor showed improved takedown defense, he couldn’t stop Khabib from taking him down. More surprisingly, Khabib held his own on the feet and dropped the former UFC champion with a right hook.
Conor´s path to victory was knocking Khabib out but at no point did he hurt Khabib with his left hand before he meekly submitted in the fourth round.
UFC 246 vs Cerrone
The Irish MMA legend returned to the UFC octagon to battle veteran and fan-favorite Donald ´Cowboy´Cerrone at UFC 246 in January 2020.
McGregor showed no cage rust on his return, taking only 40 seconds to finish Cerrone in the main event. Unlike his performance against Khabib, Conor displayed a wide-ranging striking game. He threw spinning kicks, elbows and shoulder strikes in the clinch, followed by a vicious head kick to drop Cerrone.
This was vintage Conor McGregor who wasn´t solely relying on his left hand to win the fight.
UFC 257 vs Poirier
UFC 257 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on January 2021 played host to the rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier. McGregor easily defeated Poirier via KO in their first fight back in 2014.
Due to the pandemic, this was Conor´s first fight in almost a year and like the Khabib fight, he did show some cage rust. The variety of strikes and the fluid movement he showed against Cerrone was missing.
Conor started well, landing some nice left hands but unlike their first fight, Poirier took them well.
Poirier made McGregor pay for loading up with his left hand and throwing the same combination over and over again. He delivered vicious calf kicks to McGregor while countering with a crisp right hook.
Conor´s lack of movement and standing heavy on his front leg eventually cost him dearly. Poirier was able to land more hard leg kicks before finishing McGregor with a beautiful boxing combination against the cage.
It seemed Conor had overlooked Dustin and once again expected his left hand to be able to knock him out quickly in the first round.
The trilogy awaits
It looks like Conor will face Poirier again in a trilogy bout at UFC 264 on July 10th.
It doesn’t give McGregor much time to rethink his strategy but if the Conor who destroyed Cerrone shows up, he has every chance of beating Poirier.
He needs to go back to being the fighter who ascended the UFC ranks by using a diverse striking game and not expecting his left hand to deliver a one-punch knockout.