Conor McGregor vs Justin Gaethje was described by John Kavanagh as ‘the best fight he could imagine’… so who would have come out on top if the pair locked horns?
- Conor McGregor was in negotiations to fight Justin Gaethje but since retired
- American went on to beat Tony Ferguson and has now earned title shot
- McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh lamented deal for Gaethje clash collapsing
- He said it was ‘best fight he could imagine’, so how do they match up on paper?
Conor McGregor’s coach described a potential showdown with Justin Gaethje as ‘the best fight he could imagine’ and lamented the deal collapsing.
McGregor was in talks to face Gaethje earlier this year but they broke down. The American then went on to beat Tony Ferguson and set up a title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Meanwhile, McGregor announced his retirement from the sport for a third time, with many sceptical that he genuinely means it.
Conor McGregor was in talks earlier this year to face Justin Gaethje next in the octagon
Gaethje went on to beat Tony Ferguson (right) and now has a title shot to look forward to
Kavanagh said: ‘It was close to being done. It’s kind of sad now that it didn’t happen. I think we could’ve been getting ready for that fight any week now if things hadn’t happened the way they did.
‘I think the Gaethje fight is probably the best fight I could imagine because he has the style that really matches well with Conor.
‘Gaethje likes to march forward. He sits down on his shots, he throws heavy shots. He doesn’t seem to care about being hit.
‘And he likes coming forward. Conor’s always done very well as a counter fighter. Although he does walk forward, he responds to people’s attacks very well.’
So is McGregor’s long-time coach accurate with his analysis, and if the pair had have locked horns in his fantasy match-up, how might it have played out?
McGregor is of course an elite athlete but Gaethje is among the most relentless fighters in MMA.
His engine is regarded as one of his finest qualities whereas there have been doubts about McGregor’s ability to stay the course in previous encounters.
In fact, the interim champion said as much recently when pondering how a fight with the Irishman would look.
‘I think he’s got about three rounds, and then it’s hell, and he doesn’t want to go to hell, so I think he’s good for now,’ Gathje told ESPN.
Gaethje prides himself on an ability to break opponents by pushing a relentless pace
It was in the first fight against Nate Diaz when McGregor’s endurance was first seriously questioned.
Once Diaz absorbed some of the usually concussive punches and shook them off, his opponent had little left in the tank.
McGregor was so exhausted that he shot for a takedown and rapidly ended up being submitted on the ground.
Fatigue was also a factor in McGregor’s defeat by Khabib when he tapped out in the fourth round having been battling off his back for large parts of the fight.
Nate Diaz choked out McGregor after the Irishman tired and shot for a takedown
Gaethje on the other hand puts on a blinding pace and prides himself on the ability to break opponents. Tony Ferguson is renowned for arguably the best cardio in the UFC but Gaethje went into the fifth round of their encounter looking sensational.
The other important factor to consider here is which weight this would take place at.
McGregor looked in prime condition at welterweight in his 40-second victory over Donald Cerrone in January but would have to cut back down to 155-pounds, shedding some muscle mass. A tough cut would also reduce his ability to go five rounds at a frenetic pace.
When you look back through McGregor’s CV, it is hard to argue against him in this category.
The picture perfect dismissal of Eddie Alvarez, the 13-second KO of Jose Aldo and the not inconsiderable experience of 10 rounds in the ring with Floyd Mayweather are all feathers in his cap.
His left hand remains one of the most potent weapons the UFC has seen and usually he finds a home for it.
The 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo remains one of the most memorable moments in the UFC
Gaethje’s approach often looks chaotic and wild which doesn’t quite do justice to his technique. He’s spoken out in annoyance at being pigeonholed as a frenzied striker and is adamant there is real calculation in the madness.
He also has a rock solid chin which is a trait he’d no doubt need against McGregor. But even in the one-sided win over Ferguson, Gaethje was hit by 118 significant strikes.
There’s no way he could afford to do the same against McGregor.
Gaethje has also suffered stoppage defeats by both Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, two men McGregor beat.
Gaethje has real power but his technique is perhaps not as polished or clean as McGregor
As Kavanagh said, Gaethje’s style is to be the aggressor, marching forward and imposing his will.
This would appear to suit McGregor down to the ground as he is a sensational counter puncher. The one caveat to this would be Gaethje’s leg kicks. They are brutal and he lands them with such ferocious regularity that they can completely destabilise opponents.
In this match-up much would depend on whether McGregor could evade the leg kicks and find a way to control the distance effectively.
On paper, this is a crowd-pleasing fight with fireworks from the off and a grappling match would not be in the script.
Gaethje’s background is in wrestling but he’s a stand-up fighter in the octagon.
Sometimes it is a surprise he doesn’t use his wrestling more but like McGregor, he thrives off the mano-a-mano combat.
McGregor’s coaches and training partners are always very complimentary of the Irishman’s ground game but we have rarely had a chance to see it in action, at least from an attacking perspective.
All of McGregor’s losses have come by submission, including this by Khabib Nurmagomedov
All four of McGregor’s professional defeats have come on the ground so it would perhaps be a wise gameplan for Gaethje to deploy, but it all likelihood, this scrap would remain on the feet possibly until desperation gripped one of the competitors.
Gaethje has never lost by submission and only won once by forcing the tap, eight years ago now.
Both of these fighters build their approaches around the stand-up game and the changes of a rounded fight would be slim.
That said, you would have to give the edge to Gaethje given the way McGregor has suffered on the mat before and the American’s collegiate wrestling pedigree.
Even more subjective a category than those above but an important one to consider nonetheless.
McGregor is a deep thinker, an obsessive about the minutiae of techniques and in Kavanagh and his striking coach Owen Roddy, has two superb coaches in his corner.
He was seen repeating the same movements over and over again on the pads in the dressing room before mirroring them exactly in the cage to beat Aldo and win the featherweight title.
McGregor learned from his mistakes and came back to beat Diaz in their second encounter
He also showed he learned a great deal from losing the first Diaz fight, adapting his training and resting at appropriate points in their bloody rematch.
Gaethje may not come across in the same manner but is also a student of the game and is happy to share his insights.
On a clash with McGregor he said: ‘Distance control is the No 1 factor in any fight.
‘It’s established in the first 30 seconds. It’s not visible, but it’s established, and that would be a huge factor in our fight. Who can control the distance?
‘I think the best thing about me is I can kick the (expletive) out of people, so when they are trying to control distance or maybe they are winning at that, I can kick them in the leg and try to reset that. So I think I would knock him out to be honest.
Gaethje’s mentality is rock solid and he put on a career-best display to beat Ferguson
This might not fall under the ‘Fight IQ’ bracket but mentality is also a crucial component.
McGregor loves to start fast but the longer a fight goes on, the more his opponents feel like they have a chance.
Gaethje, like many wrestlers, has an iron will and capacity to endure great physical exhaustion but keep going. He would also be heartened by the fact that McGregor has been seen to tire dramatically before.
I have a sneaking suspicion this fight is not just a fantasy match-up for Kavanagh. It still feels unlikely that McGregor will stay on the sidelines for good so perhaps one day it will happen.
Of course myriad factors would have to be considered, such as the weight class and frame of mind McGregor is in.
The Irishman’s cardio over five rounds is still up for debate and perhaps the ground game would be inferior to Gaethje but his striking is on a different level and there’s little chance of a grappling match anyway.
If, and it’s a big if, he could find a way to avoid too many of Gaethje’s scything leg kicks, then I would tip him to land a huge counter at some stage and win by knockout.
Some doubt that McGregor is gone for good and fans could yet see him fight in the UFC again
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