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Conor McGregor Technical Breakdown: Part 2, Kicking

The second breakdown of this series focuses on Conor McGregor’s kicking skills.

In part one of this breakdown we analyzed the punching techniques of Conor McGregor. It is time now to examine other aspects of his game.

Although this breakdown was originally scheduled to be a two-part series, two more parts will be posted before the fight in order to cover more techniques and include some techniques from Donald Cerrone’s game.

Please note that in all sequences below, rounds and time marks are included in the image captions in order to help you locate the clips on UFC Fight Pass.

That being said let’s analyze some kicks.

Conor McGregor’s kicking techniques

As I mentioned in part one of this series, Conor McGregor is the type of fighter that can be described as a “karate-boxer/kicker.” Darren Till is another fighter that can be described as such. Conor fights with his chin up and hands down and his kicks are not your typical Muay Thai kicks where the focus is pure power.

Fans on Twitter reacted in a negative manner when I try to explain that McGregor is not a devastating kicker. He is, of course, a flashy kicker and very entertaining one to watch. That being said, he doesn’t have a single kick-related knockout in his record. Donald Cerrone on the other hand is not as flashy as Conor, but he is able to use his kicks effectively and knock opponents out in a devastating fashion.

It is not that Conor’s kicks are not strong, just that his objective is accuracy, not brute power. This prevents him from kicking by utilizing his full hip-force. For example, Conor does not kick with reckless abandon like Edson Barboza or Justin Gaethje.

On the other hand, McGregor employs a variety of kicks, originating from karate, taekwondo and other disciplines. His kicking game is effective in that it enables him to control the distance and set up his rhythm. His kicks, like Nate Diaz’s punches, have a cumulative effect and can wear opponents down.

Here are some of the flashier kicks in his arsenal:

Spinning back kicks to the head

Conor McGregor vs Dennis Siver. Rd 1, 1:40

In my humble opinion, Conor’s spinning back kicks to the head (straight or wheel) are not executed in an adequately explosive manner. Sure, he is able to mix things up and confuse his opponents, but these kicks do not look like they will knock opponents out anytime soon. I am not saying here that fighters do not care if they get hit by his spinning kicks, just that there is power and there is overwhelming power. And Conor’s scary power is in his left hand.

The proper way to execute a spinning wheel kick is demonstrated by Edson Barboza in the video below. He is able to generate great power with devastating results:

Taekwondo style crescent kick

Example #1

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway, Rd 1, 4:00

Example #2

Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier, Rd 1, 4:58

This is the least effective kick in McGregor’s arsenal and the riskier one. This specific kick does not do any damage and literally invites a grappler to go for a takedown or a Thai-style fighter to attack with leg kicks.

Side kicks to the body

This kick is great for point fighting competition but can leave a fighter open for takedowns in MMA. Conor can get away with it due to his amazing reflexes and athleticism. I personally do not recommend using crescent kicks and sidekicks with the front foot in MMA.

So now that we have covered Conor’s flashy techniques let’s analyze some kicks that may not look as impressive but are nevertheless very effective and an essential part of his game.

Spinning back kick to the body

Conor McGregor vs Chad Mendes, Rd 1, 3:10

This kick is a great way for Conor to cover distance. McGregor exhibits great form in execution but he has yet to hurt opponents with this kick.

The right sidekick to the thigh/knee

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway, Rd 1, 4:00

One of Conor’s most effective kicks is the low sidekick to the knee or the thigh. It is a great range-finding technique and he is very successful in using it.

The problem with this kick is that Donald Cerrone used to train at the Jackson-Wink MMA facility located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is the training base for Jon Jones who is a specialist in this specific kick and coach Mike Winkeljohn who teaches the technique extensively. This tells me that Cowboy is used to sparring against fighters who use this kick. Let’s see if Conor will be able to use it effectively against him.

The problem with sidekicks, spinning back kicks and crescent kicks: Conor turns his back after kicking

In the photos above against Max Holloway, Conor executes a right sidekick to the belly with his front foot. After the kick, Conor turns his back as he often does with his side and spinning back kicks. In photo 3, Conor is open for a right high kick or a takedown. In photo 4, he can be hit with a right cross, left hook or a left high kick. In photo 5, McGregor’s left leg is defenseless against a possible leg kick or a single leg takedown. I am not saying here that these counters are easy to land against a guy with Conor’s reflexes but turning your back on your opponent is not a good idea.

Here is a similar example:

In the photos above Conor connects with a right kick to the thigh and Max Holloway follows up with a right high kick that barely misses.

If you need more proof, here is Rose Namajunas countering Michelle Waterson’s right sidekick with a right hand and a right kick to the head:

Rose Namajunas vs Michelle Waterson, Rd 2, 3:54

Left straight/snap kick

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway, Rd 1, 2:40

One of McGregor’s best tools is the straight left kick with his back foot. He is very efficient with this kick and he is able to use it to mix things up, stop his opponent’s momentum and create openings for the left hand. He does not use this kick in a manner similar to that of a Muay Thai practitioner. This is not a teep/push kick. Conor strikes the target with the ball of the foot, mostly following an upwards trajectory. His hips remain square, in position to sprawl if needed, and Conor is free to use his hands in order to land punches or push opponents away.

Most importantly, Conor does not use any telegraphed movement when attacking with this specific kick. He can also mix it up with jabs, left hands and left roundhouse kicks. He destroyed Mendes and Holloway with this kick and this was his most successful striking technique against Khabib Nurmagomedov as you can see in the photos below:

Conor McGregor applying his left snap kick against Khabib Nurmagomedov

Left roundhouse kick

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway, Rd 1, 1:07

Conor’s left roundhouse kick is a Taekwondo snap kick. After kicking, he pulls the foot back to his main stance in a snap-like motion. The Thai version of this kick is thrown with reckless abandon using penetrating force and focuses on landing with the shin. Conor’s kick on the other hand uses the instep as the striking surface. Some Thai fighters though, kick the head in a manner that is similar to Conor’s version.

This is a fast kick and Conor is able to land it often. There is power behind it but, again, I would not call it a devastating kick (see Cro Cop). Pulling the leg back limits the trajectory of the foot, thus preventing it from going past the target. Here is a devastating version of the kick:

As you can see in the two sequences below (photos 2 and 5) Conor launches his left round high kick in a motion similar to that of his front snap kicks. This keeps opponents guessing.

Jumping left roundhouse kick or knee

Conor often uses a jumping-forward version of his roundhouse kick in order to close the distance and finish with punches. This flying switch-kick enables him to mix things up and keep opponents guessing. Opponents do not know if there is a kick or a knee coming their way. Here is an example.

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway, Rd 1, 3:18

Conor often executes the kick like a knee strike, with his foot not fully extended as in the sequence above. The example below is a version with a full extension, thus connecting with the instep:

Conor McGregor vs Dennis Siver, Rd 1, 1:41

Please notice in photo 3 above, how Conor lifts his right foot up before launching his left foot in a scissor-like motion.

This move works for Conor but it can be countered by stepping left and landing a left hook as demonstrated by Max Holloway below:

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway. Rd 2, 2:28

Alternatively, an overhand right can get the job done as Fedor Emelianenko did against Andrei Arlovski:

Here is the video:

Mixing kicks and punches together: enter Superman punches

Conor often combines left snap kicks with superman punches as you can see in the sequence below.

Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes, Rd 1, 1:52

McGregor mixes things up by combining his left snap kick to the body with a follow up left superman punch. Lifting the foot up when executing the superman punch functions like a fake left kick, often making opponents drop their guard. This enables the punch to land.

Jabs, left hands, superman punches, left snap kicks and left roundhouse kicks to the head work very well together.

Low kicks

Conor does not attack with low kicks frequently but he did use them in his second fight against Nate Diaz. Here is an interesting read on the subject:

Here’s Why Conor McGregor’s Leg Kicks Did Not Stop Nate Diaz

The article above offers several interesting points but Conor was somewhat effective in using low kicks against Diaz. They enabled him to compromise Diaz’s mobility. Stopping power is a great thing but cumulative damage can also do the trick.

Here are two examples of McGregor’s low kicks:

To summarize, here is an extensive highlight of Conor’s kicking game:

That’s all for now. See you soon with the third part of this breakdown focusing on Conor McGregor’s grappling game and its vulnerabilities.

For a list of the author’s previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).