Reading Conor McGregor’s Mind

Conor McGregor will make his return to the octagon this weekend at UFC 246. He takes on another legend of the sport in Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. While Cowboy is an undeniably great martial artist and possesses a varied skill-set to threaten McGregor, spectators and fans can agree that McGregor’s own mindset is of equal importance in UFC 246s outcome. We take a stab at reading Conor McGregor’s mind by briefly going over his past and examining his present influences.

A brief history

When John Kavanagh first saw Conor McGregor, he knew there was something special. He knew there was something about McGregor that was world-class, something he believed at the time that could not be coached. The Irishman was a budding martial artist and possessed a mean left hand, but didn’t have a developed martial arts talent stack to support it.

Coach Kavanagh would take McGregor under his wing and instil discipline into the talented southpaw. Conor McGregor’s rise to the top of the sport was meteoric. After achieving double champ status in Cage Warriors, he would enter the featherweight division of the UFC and bulldoze an entire division. He would then repeat the double champ feat in the UFC by beating Eddie Alvarez. No one had managed to achieve this before him and he set the template for the others to follow – Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo.

Unfortunately, all of those achievements were only the prologue in the Conor McGregor story. He eventually became notorious for outbursts of violence where it didn’t belong, the extravagance that accompanies newly-found money in the hands of inexperienced youth and public relations gaffes. Additionally, he is dealing with several charges of an unsavoury nature.

The Conor McGregor talent stack

It’s no secret among fight fans that Conor McGregor’s superstar status is a product of many variables working simultaneously. First and foremost, he’s a tremendous fighter. Conor McGregor has a left hand that is the equivalent of a sledgehammer. It’s a signature weapon which is effective to the point of being unique. In order to make best use of that devastating left hand, Conor McGregor has a fighting system built around it. He’s perhaps the best in the business at managing his striking range.

He uses the left hand in multiple ways – whether he’s moving forwards or moving backwards. He possesses an incredible sense of timing on his counter strikes. McGregor has enough striking variety to keep his opponent wary. He’s sufficiently good at defensive grappling so as to even neutralise the likes of Chad Mendes and even show a few signs of resistance against Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In addition to his excellent skills inside the octagon, he has a natural flair for trash talk. Over the years, he has provided several memorable sound-bites:

“They call me MysticMac because I predict these things”

“It’s red panty night when you sign up to fight me”

“Who da #$@! is that guy?”

“He’s like a skinny-fat guy and I find it amusing”

“Precision beats power and timing beats speed”

His ability to cause a stir in the mixed martial arts world combined with his in-ring fighting caused him to rise to the top of the sport.

In addition to his mic-skills and octagon acumen, Conor McGregor is also a savvy businessman. He is quick to note how much the sport also grew during the period of his rising. He’s capitalised on his growing brand by launching consumer products such as Whiskey and Clothing.

However, there’s one other specific character trait that has always defined McGregor – his belief in the “law of attraction”.


Conor McGregor has always believed in affirmations. There are endless clips available on YouTube of him talking about using the power of affirmations and visualisations.

One of his favourite quotes is “If you limit yourself only to what seems reasonable or possible, then you disconnect yourself from you really want and all that is left is a compromise”.

McGregor also repeatedly talks about visualisations. Most people would agree that this is an accurate reflection of Conor McGregor’s approach to life.

While many knowledgeable fight fans scoffed at the idea of a crossover boxing match, McGregor not only believed in it but sold the dream to millions worldwide and made the event, not just a possibility but a reality.

Affirmations and visualising success is not a unique phenomenon among athletes. Cody Garbrandt, Diego Sanchez and even Firas Zahabi all have vouched for the effectiveness of visualisation. Conor McGregor takes it to a whole new level. When training for the Floyd Mayweather fight, Conor had a giant mural painted to focus his training.

There is much debate on whether visualisations and affirmations work. Largely they are great motivators. However, reality doesn’t go away when you close your eyes and imagine a better life.

His incessant use of affirmations caused him to train harder and with more purpose than most athletes in the world. He studied the game intensely. The UFC and the MMA world rewarded him for his efforts.

But there was a price to be paid. We found out about it only later.

When reality hits

On 26 August 2017, Conor McGregor was getting ready to make history. He laced up his gloves and thought to himself “I’m going to cause the biggest upset in sports history”. Inside the ring, he held his hands up and his UFC gold was on display behind him as the crowd riled up. It was an iconic moment in sports history.

There was just one problem. Floyd Mayweather was standing across the ring and he is one of the greatest boxers the world has seen. Conor landed a few shots, including an uppercut, in the first few rounds. As the fight wore on, fatigue set in and Mayweather began to dominate. The referee signalled the end of the bout and with it all of the hopes and visions that McGregor had harboured.

The brash Irishman visualised a boxing victory over Mayweather for so long that no other outcome appeared possible. Yet, there he was, in the eye of the public, with the spotlight firmly focused on him, forced to deal with the repercussions of the situation.

The fallout from that was incredible. Reading Conor McGregor’s mind at this time leads one to imagine that the destiny of superstardom was taken away and replaced by a sense of entitlement. Insecurity must have washed over McGregor, with the slightest of disrespects being amplified as insults.

While this does not excuse the behaviour that followed, it does provide important context as to what triggered it.

Reading Conor McGregor’s mind at the moment

If pride comes before a fall, it is equally true that acceptance is the first step to recovery. We saw late last year that McGregor had taken responsibility for some of his actions outside the cage. He mentioned that despite the repeated slip-ups he was trying hard to avoid the cliche of the superstar who had it all only to lose it all.

He has appeared to be in a healthy frame of mind based on some of his recent interviews, speaking about spending time with Tony Robbins, a noted life-coach to many successful people. McGregor made an active effort to pose for a photograph during the first episode of this card’s Embedded series.

Perhaps, no one has explained it better than John Kavanagh. Kavanagh noted that Conor had found a reason to fight once more. The head coach noted that a key shift in mindset had taken place, where McGregor shifted from focusing on discrete goals to an overall system of improvement. Kavanagh perhaps borrowed the terminology from Scott Adams, whom he appears to be fond of, but it was an extension of some of the ideas that Kavanagh touched upon in his own book, Win or Learn. Finally, Kavanagh notes that it’s not just the fight with Cowboy that matters, but also how Conor will respond immediately after the fight.

McGregor’s entire camp reflects this positive mood-swing. Apart from Kavanagh, Owen Roddy and Phil Sutcliffe have been working together in what appears to be a largely co-operative manner.

While McGregor appears to have grown and perhaps learned to control the downside, he hasn’t given up on his ambition. He still aims at holding a boxing title. He aims at being a billionaire athlete. This indicates that he has not thrown out the baby with the bathwater. While his image is currently fragile, the future is bright for Conor McGregor should he be able to maintain what looks like newfound sobriety.

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