After his recent losses to Dustin Poirier, are you wondering about Conor McGregor’s fighting style and whether it’s changed throughout his MMA career? Did you see something different?
In this article, we’ll explore Conor McGregor’s fighting style and whether it’s changed throughout his MMA career, the martial arts he knows and uses, and more.
What Is Conor McGregor’s Fighting Style?
As a whole over his 15-year MMA career, Conor McGregor’s fighting style is boxing-heavy with a focus on striking and avoiding grappling and jiu-jitsu exchanges. His fighting style is aggressive and fast-paced in which he likes to be the fighter applying forward pressure.
Although he likes to pressure and control the center of the octagon, McGregor’s fighting style is that of a counterpuncher. He puts opponents on the back foot by jabbing and kicking as he can control the range with his long 74” reach – which is 5 inches more than his height of 5’9”.
Here, he scores points and does damage, but he also baits and waits for opponents to close the distance where he then uses his excellent footwork and movement to evade and counter with powerful and precise punches, especially from his left.
Keeping his opponents at range and being the aggressor also helps McGregor keep fights standing as he’s leaning forward and ready to evade strikes and takedowns with swift footwork, head movement, and counters.
At the same time, his opponents find it harder to shoot for takedowns and initiate clinches as they’re moving backward.
While McGregor’s main fighting style is boxing-heavy in terms of strikes and gameplan used (keep the fight standing), he’s also influenced heavily by capoeira, taekwondo, and karate.
In order to fully answer, ‘what is Conor McGregor’s fighting style?’, we need to look at what martial arts Conor McGregor knows and how each art influences his fighting style.
What Martial Arts Does Conor McGregor Know and Use?
Conor McGregor’s fighting style is comprised of the following martial arts.
Boxing was the first combat sport Conor McGregor started to learn aged 12, so it’s no surprise he boxed Floyd Mayweather after his huge success in the UFC.
Conor McGregor’s fighting stance is southpaw, as he mostly has his right foot and hand forward – but he can also switch stances and fight in the orthodox stance. His most dangerous weapon is his left-hand cross, straight, or hook (especially counters); which he crafted through dedication and focus on boxing.
Further, he uses a bladed boxing style which means his feet are far apart, his body is positioned side-on or 45-degree to his opponent, and his back foot is pointed at a 90-degree angle to his opponent (perpendicular).
His boxing can be seen in all of his UFC fights and it’s his most lethal and effective way to win, with 19 of his 22 MMA wins coming by way of knockout. Of the 19 knockout wins, 17 have been by way of punches, one a corner stoppage (TKO), and the other via elbows.
He has a 74” reach and is 14th on the list of UFC fighters with highly positive ape indexes. His long reach significantly influences his boxing-heavy fighting style in the UFC.
Conor McGregor also knows the martial art capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art first used by slaves in the 16th century. Capoeira incorporates dance, fluid movements, acrobatic kicks, and spins.
Capoeira focuses on evading strikes as opposed to blocking them, which is very evident in Conor McGregor’s fighting style. He loves to evade and set up strikes and counters with slick footwork and fluid and unpredictable dance-like movements.
As Conor McGregor’s fighting style is that of a striker, he always tries to keep his distance by evading close contact with an opponent. Even if he does get tied up in a clinch or grapple, he’s always trying to push an opponent away and evade them.
Capoeira also teaches fighters to immediately get back to their feet when taken down. They should initiate scrambles, scoop backward or roll to create space, push their opponent off at the hips, and look for sweeps.
This has been very influential to Conor McGregor’s fighting style of avoiding ground fighting and keeping the fight standing as much as possible.
In terms of striking, Conor McGregor often uses the capoeira half-moon kick, which is putting one hand on the ground and swinging the heel upward and around. It’s essentially a reverse roundhouse kick.
While McGregor’s fighting style is boxing-heavy, he’s trained in taekwondo and integrated it into his fighting style.
The first influence is how his striking defense is taekwondo based. Having the hands down helps him with the speed of movement by lowering his center of gravity and also allows him to have an exceptional vision of his opponent’s every move.
Having the hands low makes it easier to defend takedowns because he can sprawl or get underhooks, and it also helps with bouncing in and out because it improves balance. Having low hands also helps him box from different angles and is very effective for the uppercut.
McGregor’s fighting style is also influenced by taekwondo as it emphasizes maintaining distance and evasion by using darting in and out and lateral movements.
In terms of striking, Conor McGregor mostly used his taekwondo striking skills such as the hook, back, and spinning kicks in the featherweight division; but not so much as he moved up in weight. The momentum of the bounce in his footwork was used to throw his kicks.
The taekwondo kicks McGregor used were effective because they were unpredictable and added to his unorthodox style. They were also used to let his opponents know they were an option, but mostly they were used as a smoke screen before picking them apart with his boxing.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (Bjj)
For Conor McGregor, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is his most underused martial art because he avoids the ground as much as possible.
Out of his 6 MMA losses, McGregor has lost 4 by submission – the neck crank by Khabib and the rear-naked choke by Nate Diaz are two examples. Offensively, McGregor has only won once by submission, a rear-naked choke win in Cage Warriors (CWFC).
Despite being a Bjj brown belt – awarded to him in 2014 by his coach John Kavanagh, Bjj is the weakest part of McGregor’s game. It’s not that McGregor’s bad at Bjj, it’s that he sees himself as an elite striker and his fighting style is representative of that belief.
Behind boxing, Shotokan and point karate influenced Conor McGregor’s fighting style the most. Point and Shotokan karate fighting are all about controlling the distance to control the fight, and they also focus on speed and mobility.
McGregor fights with this in mind by bouncing in and out and laterally from his opponents with nimble footwork. They both also emphasize fast and direct attacks, which is why McGregor so often throws power and precision punches down the pipe.
Conor McGregor’s fighting style is also influenced by the classic karate move of switching stances between southpaw and orthodox. For defensive tactics, karatekas keep their strong side to the back, and if offensive, the strong side is to the front. As McGregor’s a counterpuncher, he’s mostly in a defensive style.
In terms of karate striking techniques, Conor McGregor uses the side push kick from the lead leg; but not too often. The side-on karate stance is the best for spinning kicks and sidekicks, which McGregor often uses to distract his opponents and add some unpredictability.
Karate also hugely influences Conor McGregor’s fighting style because of the karate stance he adopts. While he modifies his stance to work for MMA specifically, Conor McGregor’s fighting stance is most similar to the Shotokan kokutsu-dachi, or back stance.
Overall, the martial arts Conor McGregor knows and uses are boxing, capoeira, taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and karate. He has also trained in kickboxing and muay Thai, but they’re much less influential to his fighting style than the other martial arts.
What Is Conor McGregor’s Fighting Stance?
Conor McGregor’s fighting stance is a modified blend of the Shotokan karate kokutsu-dachi, or back stance, and a bladed boxing stance.
With the blend, McGregor’s feet are wide and L-shaped with his back foot facing 90 degrees outward and his front leg facing his opponent or slightly at an angle.
His heels are aligned, both knees are bent (for bouncing), and his body is either side-on or at a 45-degree angle to his opponent where he switches from his favored southpaw to an orthodox stance often.
With this wider stance, Conor McGregor can more easily defend takedowns and evade strikes as he can keep his distance and bounce in and out quickly like a karateka.
In this modified back stance, Conor keeps his weight centered with a 50/50 weight distribution to each leg, which gives him that optimal ratio of mobility and stability. This allows him to keep his punching power while also being ready to move out of range and evade any strikes.
Did Conor McGregor’s Fighting Style Change?
Yes, Conor McGregor’s fighting style changed throughout his MMA career. From 2008 to 2017, McGregor’s fighting style was a blend between a boxer and a Shotokan karateka: counterpunching, evasive, light on his feet, and with quick darting in and out movements in order to control the distance to control the fight.
And while boxing was his main weapon, he also used a fair amount of flashy taekwondo hook, back, spinning, and roundhouse kicks, as well as the karate-style side push kick.
This changed in 2017 when Conor McGregor’s fighting style became even more boxing-heavy. Along with this came flat-footedness and more reliance on head movement rather than karateka-like nimble footwork and fluid evasive in-and-out movements. McGregor also hugely reduced his kicking.
Why Did Conor McGregor’s Fighting Style Change?
Conor McGregor’s fighting style mainly changed because of the monumental boxing match between himself and Floyd Mayweather. This crossover to boxing changed Conor McGregor’s fighting style for the following reasons.
1. Conor McGregor spent 1 year since his last MMA fight against Eddie Alvarez training himself as a boxer.
Conor McGregor trained as a boxer from 12 years old and was already fairly boxing-heavy in MMA fights, so this year of boxing pushed him further into boxing styles, stances, and habits; which he’s found hard to shake away since coming back to MMA.
Boxers don’t have to worry about kicks, which is why Conor McGregor now kicks less, and they also stand shoulder-width, which is why Conor McGregor’s stance is not as wide as it used to be.
2. His ego stopped his evolution as an MMA fighter.
Conor McGregor’s change of fighting style is also down to his ego. Being the first of only five fighters to become a UFC double champ made McGregor think he was invincible and that he’d achieved all he wanted in MMA.
Also, the amount of money he made from boxing Floyd Mayweather way surpassed anything he’d made in MMA, so mentally this made him believe boxing was the superior fighting art; especially since he was one of the best boxers in the UFC and nearly all of his knockouts and wins were a result of it.
Overall, going the distance with arguably one of the top 5 boxers of all time and the wealth he earned sent his ego into the stratosphere and led to him having a fixation with boxing. His MMA journey halted and his fighting style changed as his learning and progression stopped.
3. Moving up in weight
However, his old MMA fighting style started to change before his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather which can be attributed to his move up in weight from featherweight to lightweight/welterweight.
Being heavier meant he didn’t have the same nimble footwork as he did at featherweight and he therefore couldn’t move around as efficiently. It also meant he had to be more mindful of energy efficiency to not gas out; so he simply moved less.
His fighting style also changed as he fell in love with his power, which only increased as he went up in weight. Planted feet allowed him to put his weight into his punches but it also meant he was less evasive and therefore not as great at counterpunching and controlling the distance.
Being heavier, less mobile, and more focused on boxing also meant Conor McGregor slowly phased out his taekwondo-style kicks.
Lastly, Conor McGregor’s fighting style change can be attributed to ankle and knee injuries as he had less confidence in his movement for fear of repeat injuries, and because of the pain with deep bending at the knees and darting in and out movements.
Even when he was fighting pain-free, it’s possible his ankle and knee injuries left him without the same ability to move in and out as well as he once did.
In terms of injuries, after his second UFC fight against Max Holloway in 2013, Conor McGregor had a complete tear of his ACL and an MCL strain.
Also, 3 months before his scheduled title fight against Jose Aldo in 2015, Conor McGregor tore 80% of his ACL and practically fought on one leg against Aldo’s replacement, Chad Mendes. This made worse his movement and ability to kick in this fight.
The Bottom Line
So, ‘what is Conor McGregor’s fighting style?’
On the whole of his 15-year MMA career (2008-2023), McGregor’s fighting style is that of a forward pressure boxing-heavy counterpuncher whose movement and stance are heavily influenced by shotokan karate and somewhat by taekwondo.
However, his fighting style started to change in early 2016 after moving up two weight divisions to welterweight to fight Nate Diaz. Being heavier made him less nimble on his feet and happy to remain flat-footed for more powerful boxing and energy efficiency.
His fighting style changed the most when he started to train as a boxer for 1 year from November 2016 before his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. On his return to the UFC in 2018, Conor McGregor’s most recent fighting style has seen him win once and lose 3 times; albeit against Khabib and Poirier twice.