Conor McGregor shocked the world on August 26, 2017. He lost the fight, but he fought amazingly well until he “gassed out” on the 9th round. He won 4 out of 10 rounds and he landed more punches on Mayweather than any other boxers. McGregor was moving fast, dodging punches and more importantly, he was landing punches against the best defensive boxer in the world. If he had the ability keep up his endurance for all 12 rounds, the result may have been different. However, his body has been conditioned to fight no more than 25 minutes (UFC fight time for main events). After about 25 minutes into the fight, he began to slow down and even struggled to keep his guard up. Mayweather noticed that McGregor was exhausted, turned aggressive and finished him by TKO (Technical Knockout).

Sport specific conditioning

Improving the quality of the muscles can have many different meanings. It is goal dependent. It may be about improving flexibility, power, speed, muscle size, strength, or endurance. In sports like weightlifting, 100m sprint, triathlon, and marathon, it is clear what quality of the muscles the athletes need to improve. When it comes to boxing and MMA, it is not that simple. Fighters need to have endurance, speed, power, and strength. Most fighters take few training blocks to improve one quality at a time because trying to improve all at the same time is impossible or sub-optimal. Moreover, improving one quality may come at the cost of compensating the other qualities. To make the situation worse for Conor McGregor, the physical demand between boxing and MMA is quite different. It’s not just about fighting more than 25 minutes. MMA fighters never just throws punches for the entire fight. They throw kicks, wrestle, and grapple throughout the entire fight. At an elite level, athletes’ bodies are conditioned optimally for their sport. Conor transitioning to boxing with only about 3 months notice for the fight was not enough time to create physiological changes to optimize himself for a boxing match.

Rehabilitation and Exercise Therapy

There are many physiological adaptations that takes place when someone trains for endurance. As a rehabilitation specialist, I focus mostly on muscular endurance. With cardiovascular and muscular endurance training, slow twitch muscles fibres increase, blood vessels increase in number within the muscles (angiogenesis), blood viscosity decreases, and blood plasma and red blood cell count increases. All these take place to increase the muscles’ capability to uptake oxygen from the blood.  During exercise therapy, most exercises are done with light weights for high repetitions. This is done for many reasons.

  1. Creating blood flow to the injured areas facilitates healing process
  2. Exercising with light weights involves significantly lower risk of injury during the exercise
  3. High repetition work increases the accumulation of metabolic by-products. These by-products signal hormonal changes in the body that triggers muscle protein synthesis
  4. Increased time under tension is associated with increased muscle protein synthesis
  5. It allows patients to move their joints in greater range of motion without pain and fear
  6. High repetition exercises develop type 1 muscle fibres which are generally more important for posture and daily living