The past year has been a rough one for Conor McGregor, the most famous MMA fighter on the planet. The pandemic, a scheduling spat with UFC head Dana White, and an early “retirement” all contributed to that. But the biggest speed bump came in January at UFC 257, when Dustin Poirier—a fighter McGregor had previously dispatched with a knockout in 2014—defeated him in a stunning upset. On Saturday, July 10 at UFC 264, McGregor will face Poirier for the third time. It’s his chance to set the record straight—and he’s not sweating it.
“I don’t focus on my opponent,” McGregor tells Men’s Journal. “I focus on myself.”
That doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy fight. Poirier is No. 1 in the UFC lightweight rankings (McGregor is fifth) and No. 6 in the men’s pound-for-pound rankings. On top of that, Poirier has been on a roll, winning six of his last seven fights, while McGregor’s lost three of his last seven.
We meant what we said: Despite the odds, none of this has ruffled McGregor. He’s famously confident (and not afraid to talk trash), but that confidence has to come from somewhere. Take a peek inside his camp, however, and it’s clear his brash attitude comes from intense, focused training.
The training McGregor utilizes today was actually born out of an earlier career crisis—his loss to Nate Diaz in 2016. By the end of the two-round fight, he was exhausted. After that defeat, McGregor joined forces with Julian Darby, a medical doctor and exercise physiologist, and a team of experts to analyze his training and improve it. They came up with Fighter Aerobic/Anaerobic System of Training, or FAST, a holistic system that leverages performance data to help him train smarter and get more insight into his body.
Instead of simply plowing through endless rounds of sparring and conditioning workouts, McGregor and his team broke down the movements and fitness demands of MMA to determine what he needed to work on. Then, they used metrics like heart rate, running speed, movement tracking, and power output to see exactly how his body was performing—and how to take it to the next level.
It worked. For his next bout, McGregor faced Diaz again and beat him by decision.
“We’ve evolved a lot,” says Darby. “We’ve gathered a huge amount of data on Conor and built a very complete picture of him.”
Training camp revolves around two-a-day sessions, says Darby. McGregor will start out his day with a skills-focused session, which, for a multidisciplinary sport like MMA, is seriously wide ranging. One day could be devoted to Brazilian jiu jitsu, and the next could involve sparring, pad work, or hitting the heavy bag.
Opponent analysis also plays a big role in skills training. “We’ll analyze everything Dustin Poirier does,” Darby says, in order to find effective strategies for countering those moves. Fortunately, that’s something McGregor excels at. “Conor is a genius. Every time they throw a shot and make a move, he’s plotting that, he’s building a picture.”
The second half of the day is devoted to conditioning, and this is where the data analysis used in FAST really shines. Like the skills training, there’s lots of variety (sprint workouts, spinning on an exercise bike, or hitting the rowing machine) but by tracking McGregor’s heart rate, speed, and effort, Darby is able to see exactly how he’s performing.
The conditioning is divided into zones: green for endurance-focused work, yellow for high-intensity exercises, and red for extreme, everything-you’ve-got workouts. By alternating between these zones, McGregor can push himself to the limit one day and recover the next, all while steadily building up his fitness and endurance. No burnouts, no guesswork—just lots of hard work backed by hard numbers.
“We have real data we can use to compare his performance,” Darby says, “so we can make changes, implement them, and progress faster.”
The emphasis on data also helps McGregor learn about his body, so he knows what his limits feel like. That’s an invaluable asset to have in a fight. Through FAST, he’s learned how to pace himself and choose the right moves at the right time in order to have sustained energy through multiple rounds.
FAST training puts McGregor through the wringer, and that’s by design. MMA demands well-rounded athletes who bring a deep skillset into every fight. In training, McGregor and Darby work to keep those skills sharp.
“I love putting in the work, feeling like I’m getting better, more dangerous, more prepared every single day,” McGregor says. “It’s tough but rewarding.”
It’s also a program that anyone can try. FAST is available as a subscription-based app, and signing up gets you access to hundreds of workouts (the same ones that McGregor himself uses) and multi-week fitness programs. And because it’s designed to create a holistic athlete, it’s useful for just about anybody, beginners and experts alike.
“Even if you don’t do combat sports yourself,” says Darby, “it’s one of the most complete forms of training you can do.”
Will FAST training be enough for McGregor to polish his legacy and put Poirier in his place? It’ll certainly help. But if you measure by the metric of confidence, he’s ready to reclaim his crown.
“Three fights against me is an early grave for any man,” he says. “I will be victorious.”
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