How to maintain drive and ambition when you’re a millionaire and life has become luxurious beyond your wildest dreams? It’s a conundrum few humans inside or outside of combat sport ever have to contend with.
But former UFC fighter Mark Weir believes it’s a key mental puzzle to solve for Conor McGregor if he is to return from the first KO loss of his MMA career, suffered this past weekend in the rematch with Dustin Poirier.
“He’s got to be hungry. And one of the things he talked about when he was coming through, was that he didn’t have two pennies to rub together. He wanted a car, he wanted a house and when he saw Floyd Mayweather’s big boat, he wanted a boat,” Weir told Sky Sports.
“Everything he wanted to achieve, he’s achieved. He’s got his own whiskey. What else is there for him to do?”
“The only thing is, to create a legacy. He needs to focus on why he’s fighting. He needs to focus on what he wants to achieve. If he doesn’t focus, the old Conor is never going to come back and he’s going to do more damage to his reputation.”
That’s the quandary facing many fighters, who often hail from humble beginnings and view material success as the goal to ignite their ambition and fuel their training. Often those fighters see the establishing of a comfortable lifestyle and a healthy bank account as the moment to call time on their careers.
But Weir says McGregor can still achieve higher levels of performance and achievement, if he redefines his ‘why’ and chases mastery and legend status.
“The only thing is, to create a legacy. He needs to focus on why he’s fighting. He needs to focus on what he wants to achieve. If he doesn’t focus, the old Conor is never going to come back and he’s going to do more damage to his reputation.
“People will focus on what he is now. People coming through now and seeing his performance, they’re going to think, ‘oh, he’s not that great.’ People have got short memories. They look at what’s happening now,” Weir said.
Of course, some fighters ascend here-and-now analysis and are remembered as all-time legends. Weir believes Conor too can achieve long-term reverence, if he resets his goals to focus on achieving consistently elite performance levels.
“It’s legacy and it’s all time. You want to set a standard that they’ll talk about you for a lifetime. You want your children and grandchildren to know about you. You want to be the Bruce Lee of the sport.”
And Weir, a former Kickboxer and MMA fighter, suspects McGregor might find benefit in making his environment uncomfortable in his preparation for fights and could draw inspiration from a Hollywood boxing classic.
“You look at Rocky. What do they do? They dragged him out when he’d lost in Rocky 3 and put him in a down and out, rough gym. They said, ‘look in the eyes of those guys, they’re all hungry’. Training in that rough, run-down place made him feel like he had to achieve something.
“I know it’s only a movie, but there’s a lot of reality in that. Conor needs to go back to what he was and remember what made him train and fight so hard.”
Another mental trick fighters have employed for generations in the build-up to combat is to distance themselves from the civilizing effects of family. McGregor took his with him to Fight Island and Weir says mentally preparing for the brutality of fighting is more easily achieved away from loved ones.
“I’d never do that. I never had my family around me, getting ready for a fight. No chance. I would always say ‘goodbye’. My wife got to the point where she’d disappear to her parents’ house because she couldn’t be around me. She wanted me to win. She didn’t want to calm me down. She wanted me to be aggressive.
“I’m Mr. Nice Guy. But leading up to a fight, you can’t bump me. I’m so edgy. I switch. I couldn’t be the normal person I am and then try and take somebody’s head off. It doesn’t work, it’s yin and yang.”
Weir, who achieved Kickboxing success outside of MMA, also believes McGregor needs clarity over which sport he’s pursuing and believes the flirtation with boxing is detrimental to his performances in the cage. For, Weir maintains, MMA boxing is fundamentally different to the techniques employed in the sport of boxing.
“I’ve done this myself. Before I retired, I had both a K-1 title and an MMA title. When you do boxing for MMA, the hands are out further to stop opponents shooting in.
“The gloves are bigger in boxing, it’s easier to defend. You put on MMA gloves and there’s a gap straight through the middle still. You don’t have to worry about kicks, knees, people shooting in – there are so many elements missing.”
“He needs to be putting that time in the gym in a cage to get all that (MMA) ability back. If you’re not using it, you’re losing it and it’s a different sport (to boxing). Boxing demands you to be fixed for delivery and taking the hits, MMA requires you to be light and floating – one minute you’re punching, the next you’re kicking.”
Weir is confident that McGregor, a two-weight champion can comeback from his fifth career loss to dominate in UFC again – if he recalibrates his mindset and remembers the traits that brought him success and global fame.
“He’s got the history books, he’s got the videos of himself fighting. So, if he puts the time in and remembers himself, it’s going to be no problem.”