John Kavanagh has carved out a name for himself as the founder of Straight Blast Gym in Ireland. He became the Emerald Isle’s first BJJ black belt and has ushered in a golden age of MMA for the Irish. With top 10 ranked Gunnar Nelson and featherweight champion and mega-star Conor McGregor behind him, Kavanagh is undoubtedly a premier coach in the game, but he knows that fight fans, and the sport itself, are fickle. With a few losses, even the most dominant of athletes can have their legacy questioned, and their coaches along with them. One needs to look no further than Ronda Rousey and her embattled coach Edmond Tarverdyan for a perfect example of quick reversals of opinion.
But at UFC 202, Kavanagh and McGregor have an opportunity to redeem themselves. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t present itself often in mixed martial arts, so Kavanagh knows that his preparation, and his athlete’s training, has him on the hot seat ahead of this rematch against Nate Diaz.
In a column for Ireland’s The 42, Kavanagh pulls the curtain back on the last few months of training with McGregor, promising a much-improved fighter, who was already elite, and a dominant performance against Nate Diaz.
This is a very important fight for Conor, but I also feel that my own reputation as a coach is at stake. This contest can be a bit of a game-changer for us all. Some observers who are obsessed with weight classes and belts don’t see this as a very meaningful fight. They’re more interested in seeing Conor defend his featherweight belt and going after the lightweight strap too.
But for me, we’re very lucky to be in a position to have an immediate rematch. In most cases, fighters have to be patient in order to get that chance. Having an opportunity to reverse an unfavourable result under the same circumstances just a few months later provides us with a chance to show that ‘Win or Learn’ isn’t just a catchy phrase.
It really is something we practice and we have done for a long time.I know Conor will do himself proud, while also proving that methodology to be correct by ensuring that this fight is very one-sided. I do believe that this win must be very dominant. It can’t be a close decision or anything like that. In that case, there won’t be much satisfaction.
McGregor’s usual bombast is still present in his media appearances with Nate Diaz, but his team seems to be putting an extreme amount of pressure on themselves for this fight, and rightfully so. Back-to-back losses won’t be a good look for a featherweight champion who has yet to defend the belt. But if Conor does pull off a dominant win, you can expect another one of these reactions.