John Kavanagh's description of key moment in arguably Conor McGregor's most impressive victory is something else
In the 2017 documentary Conor McGregor: Notorious, there is a scene that shows McGregor rolling with Owen Roddy in preparation for UFC 189.
Conor McGregor was in a triangle position, peppering him with punches until a worrying noise was heard. The colour instantly drained from Roddy's face. The work stopped immediately.
McGregor was in disbelief.
McGregor: "Is that a pop?"
McGregor: "On my leg?"
McGregor: "Are you serious?"
McGregor: "No... it wasn't in that (right) leg, was it? It was nothing. I didn't feel nothing. It was a pop, wasn't it? It's alright. (Shakes head) It was nothing."
McGregor removed his knee and ankle straps. A grimace washed over his face as he conversed with Dee Devlin who was kneeling on the mats. He admitted feeling no pain, but after talking the incident through with John Kavanagh, he told the cameraman, 'Get that out of me face, will ya?'
The Monday after the fight, SBG head coach John Kavanagh appeared on the MMA Hour to reveal the knock prevented McGregor from doing a single round of live wrestling during the fight camp. Not exactly ideal preparation for an NCAA Division 1 wrestler. Especially with the cacophony of doubters citing grappling as a weakness before it was even tested inside the Octagon. At the fan Q&A in Dublin that October, 'The Notorious' claimed that he had torn '80% of his ACL prior to UFC 189.
A lot has been said of Mendes coming into this fight off the couch on two weeks' notice to replace the injured Jose Aldo. However, McGregor also accepted a completely different kind of challenge than the one he was preparing for on short notice. And he did so with a serious knee injury.
Attacking the Achilles' Heel
Mendes continuously talked about the perceived grappling weaknesses he saw in McGregor's game during the media tour for UFC 189. According to 'Money', McGregor had 'no wrestling or jiu-jitsu. It was obvious from the opening buzzer that Mendes wanted to exploit these supposed chinks in the armour.
Five seconds into the fight, McGregor was on his arse. He swiftly got back to his feet in an effort to turn the fight into a standing battle. These opening seconds perfectly encapsulated their intentions for the fight. While Mendes had some success with his boxing, this was only a means to set-up the takedown. McGregor kept firing that front kick to the bread basket and each of his attacks was geared towards working that patented Celtic Cross. The one Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi famously refers to as 'the touch of death'.
Mendes completed three of four takedowns in the opening frame. But the most significant takedown of the fight would come 45 seconds into the second round.
Masking the fatigue
After taking an absolute pummeling off his back for three and a half minutes, McGregor seized the perfect opportunity to bring the fact back into his territory. Kavanagh described the moment at Robin Black Live in Dublin's Liberty Hall Theatre.
"Fighting, in general, is two things. Two scared guys and one trying to pretend he's not scared, and two tired guys and one trying to pretend he's not tired. At that moment near the end of round two, both (McGregor and Mendes) are tired. Conor is cut, Mendes is cut and there was a scramble. So Mendes goes after a guillotine, Conor did the heartbreaker, got out and they both stood up."
"The perfect technique"
After returning to the feet, both fighters were visibly bolloxed. While Mendes retreated, McGregor nodded and took a step forward. When Mendes took in a big gulp of air, McGregor stabbed his toes into Mendes' lower abdomen. This was something that he started doing in the warm-up backstage, as Kavanagh explained.
"From a technical point of view, he did the perfect technique. Just when you want to get a deep breath of air, stab the toes into the stomach. Little, funny fact in that fight - that was something we did in the warm-up. I hadn't done that with him before and that was a modern martial art technique I got from training kempo for a long time. It's not a teep, it's a particular technique... I knew the effect it would have."
After literally taking his adversary's breath away, McGregor attempted a one-two combination. Mendes blocked the left hand and slipped out of the way to reduce the follow-up right to a glancing blow. McGregor then grabbed the top of his head with his right hand and landed a nasty uppercut right through the defence. He fired a left straight, right hook, left uppercut three-piece combo before Mendes decided to try to make something happen.
The American cracked him on the chin with a huge overhand right and followed it up with a left up top. When McGregor flicked out the right hand again, Mendes knew the uppercut would be coming again. He changed levels, avoided that seismic left hand and went for the takedown. McGregor immediately got the underhook and that 'unstable' right knee somehow held up as he was driven backwards.
Mendes gave up on the takedown. When they separated, they both looked up at the clock. There were 25 seconds left in the round.
That forward step
"Now, what normal human beings want to do at that stage is take a step back. They both want to take one step back and (take a deep breath). You glance up at the clock and you see 4:34 - right near the end of the round. So they could both kind of look at each other and go, 'Let's take a couple of deep breaths. Let's go to the clock and get a minute rest and we'll go again in round three. It takes somebody special to take a step forward at that time."
Once McGregor took that forward step, Kavanagh could be heard in the corner telling his fighter to, 'Come on. Put him away." Even though there were less than five seconds left, he knew there wasn't going to be a third round. The end was nigh.
"That's why the fight changed and that's when I had a big, stupid grin on my face. Mendes took a step back, which is very natural - I'm not judging him on that - and Conor took a step forward. I could see that was when the fight changed - I knew it was over. I picked up the bucket and started walking towards the door."
And sure, we all know what happened next.
Had McGregor not taken that forward step he may not have become the superstar he is today. The vultures were circling in anticipation of his first slip inside the Octagon. That wouldn't come until after that famous 13-second knockout that turned the combat sports world on its head.