Pundit Arena spoke to Dr. Julian Dalby, a constant presence in The Mac Life video series, about his conditioning work with Conor McGregor ahead of UFC 202 and that famous victory over Nate Diaz.
Obsession. That’s what drove Conor McGregor to seek an immediate rematch with Nate Diaz after the Stockton savage choked him into agonising submission back in March. And that’s what caused the still-reigning UFC featherweight champion to demand the sequel take place at the exact same weight as the first fight, the welterweight limit of 170lbs, contrary to the advice of all those around him.
UFC president Dana White has often spoken of visiting McGregor’s temporary Las Vegas residence hours after that defeat, and he has attested to the intense singularity of the Irishman’s focus. His fixation on the idea of revenge.
“Obssessed,” is how White has always described his mindset.
Others too, including the fighter himself, used that word, or variations of it, with great regularity in the wake of his maiden UFC setback.
Obsession. It’s the thing that earned ‘The Notorious’ one his vengeance at UFC 202, after months of listening to haters revelling and doubters doubting.
However, while it was raw at first, this all-consuming infatuation was brought under a degree of control long before fight night. Because it had to be.
You see, while obsession may have paved the road to that redemptive majority decision victory, it had also played a major role in McGregor’s demise at UFC 196.
“The basic problem with Conor is that he is a man obsessed,” Dr. Dalby recently told Pundit Arena. “If he is left to his own devices, he will self-destruct. He will train himself into oblivion. And that’s what he had been doing in the past. He had been over-training to the point that he would make himself ill and then he would take time off.”
During a Q&A session at Dublin’s Mansion House several months ago, McGregor admitted that he had over-trained prior to his shocking loss to Diaz. In his eagerness, he had been hammering the self-destruct button by taking part in unnecessarily lengthy and arduous training sessions in the weeks leading up to the bout.
Dalby, a former professional cyclist with a degree in medicine and an extensive background in exercise physiology, was brought into the camp by SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh following the defeat to ensure that this would never happen again.
It was his job to harness the positive powers of McGregor’s obsessive nature and banish the chaotic negatives with a scientific structure.
“The first thing that I did was to restructure his training to incorporate scheduled rest periods,” said Dalby. “So the whole training system had an overhaul and a new long-term schedule was made out. Then we did some laboratory testing, to get some basic parameters set up. We did stuff like lung capacity, power output, lactate profiling, V02 max, stuff like that.”
“Then the training was set up so that he would do the skills based training in the morning and then in the evening he would do more cardio and conditioning based stuff.”
“We were very, very focused. It was very goal-orientated.”
Only a couple of months after the doctor came on board however, circumstances beyond his control seemed to threaten the flow of the camp. McGregor was pulled from UFC 200, the event at which he was originally scheduled to rematch Diaz, after he refused to attend certain press events and claimed on social media that he had retired.
A period of uncertainty followed, before the fight was eventually rescheduled for August 20th and UFC 202. This delay could have easily proved troublesome, but Dalby claims that the whole thing was blown out of proportion and, rather than interfering with or negatively impacting the plan that he had put in place, he feels it actually helped his cause.
“It was probably something that was a little overrated,” he said. “From my standpoint, as a performance coach, the extra two months gave us more time to train. So from my standpoint it was useful.”
The fight itself was not only a chance for McGregor to exact vengeance but also, as both he and his coach said in the build-up, a chance for the fighter to display all the new things that he had learned over the course of a lengthy camp.
And he displayed his enhanced skill-set with aplomb.
The 28-year-old Pay-per-view star showed a greater understanding of his opponent’s awkward style, an improved clinch game, a more resolute defence, greater composure and utilised vicious leg-kicks to a degree that we had never before seen from him – all things that reflected the intense specificity of his preparation.
His conditioning also saw him through a gruelling, bloody, five-round war of attrition with a man who is relentless to a seemingly super-human degree.
Still, some claimed that McGregor’s old stamina issues were evident at the end of rounds two and three, when Diaz had his best spells.
Wow Connor is gassing and the pace of the fight wasn't even high.
— Ben Askren (@Benaskren) August 21, 2016
Hold up you spent six figures on a training camp and you're gassed after 2 rounds? Wtf! 🤔😩 #UFC202
— Brendan Schaub (@BrendanSchaub) August 21, 2016
Dalby had only one word to describe such suggestions.
“The end justifies it all. The fact is, he went a hard, hard five rounds and he won at the end of the five rounds. So that answers the question. The man is capable of going a hard 29 minutes. His fitness level is exceptional now. You can see how quickly he can recover in the one minute between rounds, he comes back up fresh again [at the beginning of each new round].”
However, the St George’s University of Grenada graduate predicts that with his continued involvement and McGregor’s dedication, the Dubliner’s endurance will improve even further.
“His fitness is only going to get better and better,” said Dalby.
“Within a matter of hours [after the fight], Conor was back training. He has a tremendous work ethic. For anyone who trash-talks him or thinks he is soft, I can tell you categorically that is absolutely untrue. The man will do the work and when everyone else is sleeping or taking time off, he is out and he is training hard. He is very, very intense. As soon as the fight was over, it didn’t matter that he was bruised up, he was back training hard.”
While those “bruises” to which ‘The Doc’ refers may not have hampered McGregor’s ability to continue his cardio routine, they have resulted in the weight-hopping SBG product receiving a provisional medical suspension of six months. If he can get his ankle/shin injury cleared by an orthopedic doctor though, this suspension will be reduced. Something that Dalby believes is a mere “formality”, as the problem doesn’t appear to be as serious as early reports suggested.
Either way McGregor is not allowed to engage in contact training until October 5th.
According to Dalby, however, this does not rule the heavy-handed southpaw out of the UFC’s massive show at Madison Square Garden on November 12th.
“He can be in peak form for November,” Julian told PA.
“There are a lot of variables there. I mean it’s up to what Dana White wants him to do, it’s up to whether any of the other contenders want the fight. But from a medical standpoint, there is absolutely no reason why he can’t fight in November. It’s more down to the logistics of it, from the UFC and the other fighters, nothing to do with his health or conditioning.”
When asked about a possible opponent for his man’s next outing, be it at UFC 205 or beyond, Dalby was keeping tight-lipped about recent murmurings within the camp. He was however, willing to offer up his own personal opinion, as a self-professed “fanboy”.
While he feels as though McGregor’s optimal weight for performance is 155lbs, Dalby said that he would prefer to see ‘The Notorious’ one make a return to featherweight next time around, for yet another rematch.
“I would like to see him fight [Jose] Aldo. There is some unfinished business that’s going on there.”
Regardless of who McGregor does fight next and when, Dalby is likely to play a prominent role in the preparatory process. But don’t expect to see his name crop up in relation to other UFC fighters over the coming months, as he has no plans to become a conditioning guru to the stars off the back of this recent increase in notoriety.
“Everything’s good,” said the one-time Irish National Road Race winner. “I enjoy working with Conor and the guys around in the camp. It’s for personal pleasure. I like the guys and I like being around the guys. I don’t need a career. I have a degree and I can make good money anywhere. I am not doing this to forward my career.”