Conor McGregor on How He's 'Gearing Up to Fight' This Summer and What It Was Really Like Sparring With Jake Gyllenhaal

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Conor McGregor knows the world is waiting with bated breath to see him fight. Ever since his last pay-per-view all the way back in July 2021, followers from across the world have been scrolling the internet hoping to see a fight announcement from the Irish fighter. That time is finally here, with the former UFC double champion recently confirming he'll be squaring off against Michael Chandler this summer.

But until then, fans are able to see plenty of McGregor swinging in director Doug Liman's remake of Road House (now available on Amazon Prime Video), his feature film acting debut, starring as unhinged henchman Knox opposite Jake Gyllenhaal's brooding hero Dalton. The role takes full advantage of McGregor's very particular, very honed set of skills, viscerally reminding us why he's called "The Notorious."

Men's Journal sat down with McGregor to discuss Road House, training to take on Chandler, fatherhood, his Proper Twelve whiskey, and how he plans to deploy his brutal left-handed hook once again.

McGregor as the unhinged Knox in "Road House."<p>Courtesy Image</p>
McGregor as the unhinged Knox in "Road House."

Courtesy Image

Men's Journal: You're still a very in-demand fighter. What made this jump into acting the right fit?

I've had people trying to get me on board the movie business for a long time now. I've been curious, but there's never been one that was a true fit. I've been more focused on the fight business than show business. But this is a fight movie. I was actually brought in by the people at UFC. And to get to act alongside Jake Gyllenhaal was a draw. I'm a huge fan of Jake's work, so I was honored to be doing this with him. We both have tremendous respect for each other in our respective crafts, so we were on to something really good.

Your character is a new addition to this reimagining. What did you like about getting to play this villain?

Knox is a little crazy, but he's a cool cat and I like his style. I would say that Jake's Dalton is actually a bit darker than Knox, so you get a hero with a dark side, and a villain who's got almost this playful, good side. I think it's a nice balance. We make a good duo. I also own a roadhouse, a pub, myself in Ireland. So really, I couldn't say no. I needed to be a part of this.

It all goes back to Ireland. What does it mean for you to be an Irish fighter?

It means to fight for God and for country. That's my motto. I represent Ireland with my whole heart. I'm proud of my heritage and I'm proud of where I come from. We are known for our toughness and our durability. We are known for approaching the fight game like warriors. I have those qualities and I have them in abundance.

McGregor celebrates after defeating Eddie Alvarez on November 12, 2016 in New York City.<p>Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images</p>
McGregor celebrates after defeating Eddie Alvarez on November 12, 2016 in New York City.

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

You've been a trailblazer for Ireland in MMA, but Irish boxing has a rich history. Did those fighters inspire you in your journey?

Many fantastic Irish boxers. Michael Carruth and Philip Sutcliffe Sr., who is one of my boxing coaches. These are guys who reached very high levels in the sport and in the Olympics. But one in particular was Bernard Dunne who came from my very own Dublin. He brought big-time boxing back to Ireland in a major way. He also promoted the Irish language, the Gaelic tongue. He promoted a thing called cúpla focal, which means "a few words." He wanted people to learn a few words of their country's tongue. He came from a Dublin suburb not unlike my own, it has its tough areas. Sure, there are some bad apples, but there are so many great people in these areas that we come from.

How did you start your climb in MMA?

I owe a lot to my mixed martial arts coach John Kavanagh. I looked up to him and have been in awe of what he's built. He's a mastermind in the game. There was nothing going on in this MMA world in Ireland when he started his journey. John was staying up nights learning BJJ [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] moves from VHS tapes that he would then teach us. From there, he started to build a team from scratch. This was when he was a blue belt, and he was our highest BJJ practitioner while he was running the gym. But he lifted himself up the whole time, and rose to black belt. Now his gym SBG Ireland just churns out incredible, smooth, classic fighters like butter.

There probably isn't a UFC highlight clip used more than your left-handed knockdown of José Aldo. How'd you hone that strike?

I had something pure in me there with that left hand from the beginning, but make no mistake, I was educated with it well. My boxing club, Crumlin Boxing Club in Dublin 12, we called it the "school of excellence" for a reason. I was schooled on how to throw that back hand. I learned all about how to turn the hand like a corkscrew, and bring the knuckle into the strike. Right down the pipe.

I still practice that punch every day. You need to keep the blades sharp, always. I train every day. I must. For my mental health and to stay dialed. I might wake up in the middle of the night, throwing that left hand punch in the mirror. Just watching the form, perfecting it. I make sure that my middle knuckle and my nose are in line. They are never off.

What about other crucial elements of your fighting style?

I'm not just a left-handed fighter. I've had opponents who have made that mistake before, by preparing for a left-handed fighter. You aren't preparing enough if that's the work you are doing. And there are people out there who think my left hand has won me all of my belts. What has won my belts is the accuracy of my downward striking. There is a vertical element that comes into play that isn't in traditional boxing. That's a discipline in itself. I was able to develop incredibly accurate and stable downward punching in many different positions. So when I would drop the opponent with my back hand, I was able to follow through with this truly precise striking to turn that opportunity into a victory.

And given the belts, I'm sure you've learned how to celebrate those moments.

I celebrate daily. I don't just wait for those championship moments. I celebrate the smallest things. I could wake up one morning and if the coffee is amazing, I'm noticing that. That's a celebration. I might even say, "This is a lovely coffee we have here." Of course later in the day, I'm not celebrating coffee, I'm celebrating with a glass of our Proper Twelve whiskey.

Right, another venture. What made you want to step into the spirits world?

My grandfather, God rest his soul, told me that there are two kinds of people in Ireland: There are our master distillers, the makers of the whiskey, and then we have the master drinkers, who enjoy what is made. My grandfather was the latter. He instilled in me that there is no drink like Irish whiskey. That's how I was raised. I hope to God that some day, on some plane, I get to taste our whiskey with him.

<em>McGregor staring down Jake Gyllenhaal in "Road House."</em><p>Courtesy Image</p>
McGregor staring down Jake Gyllenhaal in "Road House."

Courtesy Image

What does your routine look like these days when you're in fight camp? How do you start your morning?

My routine has changed over the years. It's always evolving. The first thing that I take in the morning is salt, lemon, and water. I'll do my morning vitamins then as well. I have a nutritionist with a doctorate in sports science—shout out to him, Tristin Kennedy. And then I'll have my breakfast at the time he tells me. It'll usually be eggs, some sort of protein, or some sort of carbohydrate, fruit, and a micronutrient. And then I'll have my after-breakfast vitamins.

I'll do cold-water immersion, either getting into a cold plunge or doing a cold shower. And then I'll have my first training session of the day. That is followed by lunch, and any business that I need to take care of. During that time I also make sure that I'm resting in some fashion. If I'm lucky, that rest involves spending time with my family. I'll then get back into the gym later that evening. I take my last bit of vitamins before I go to bed.

Many UFC fans are excited for your return, but you have a lot of demands on your time these days. Where does fighting stand in your priorities?

This life that I'm in, we have the whiskey, the movies, and all of this business is exciting, but I feel an absence when I'm away from my fight team for too long. I need to find ways to be with my team more. I want to be back in the fight game fully. That is what was so great about doing the Ultimate Fighter show. I had to be at the gym. I had to be around fighters.

I have great people working around me [in my businesses]. I want to support them in this work effort, so my sense of duty is the only thing that pulls me from the fight game. But you know we are gearing up to fight time soon. That means isolation. That means motivation. That means being back on my island with my team. I'm excited to get back there.

What's your No. 1 motivation for getting back in the Octagon?

I love to compete. I'm still eager for a fight. I'm always eager for a fight. I always have been and that hasn't changed. The children add motivation, there is no question on that. But the fire was already there and has always been there. My kids and my family are set. I don't need to do this to support them. The businesses have worked out in my favor. If I was only looking at this as a way to make money, then I probably would have left after I beat José Aldo after the first world title.

Speaking of your kids, they're young, but have you coached them at all in fitness or the martial arts?

I would never force my kids into fighting, or into serious competition, but we will always train martial arts in my family. There is something that happens to a child when they start to study and then begin to understand the martial arts. It teaches you dedication and drive. It teaches you camaraderie and confidence. Those skills that you learn in a martial arts gym will help you achieve everything that you want.

I have been training my older kids in martial arts from day one. I've been building them up already. Right now I'm getting some lovely work out of my young boy. He's loading the bow and arrow from the back hand perfectly. He knows how to roll under a shot and how to counter with accuracy. We're having fun with it.

Does he have a strong left hook like his father?

My son is actually orthodox, but since he's young we're training in both stances right now. You kind of need to be ambidextrous in this day and age. You want to be able to work in both stances. You have to be able to punch from bth sides and kick from both sides. But my younger son Rían, I'm thinking he might be southpaw like myself. But we'll see what happens.

Conor McGregor preparing for his welterweight bout against Donald Cerrone during UFC246 on January 18, 2020 in Las Vegas.<p>Steve Marcus/Getty Images</p>
Conor McGregor preparing for his welterweight bout against Donald Cerrone during UFC246 on January 18, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Steve Marcus/Getty Images

How much have they seen of your fight camps and what life is like leading up to a fight? Or after one?

I remember after I had that injury in the last fight, where I broke the leg. The last time that my children had seen me before I left for the fight, I was able to 360-degree spin and flip-kick through the air. When I got back a month later, I was in a wheelchair. I was nervous about how they'd respond to that. But it really was a teaching moment. Sure, they saw me in a wheelchair, but they also saw me build myself back up. They saw me get strong again. I know that has a powerful effect on them. That's a great lesson. Because we all are going to face hardships in our life.

How do you feel about the matchup with Michael Chandler?

I feel great at 175 pounds and I feel great at 185 pounds. I'm the only fighter in UFC history to have really high-level knockout victories across three weight classes going up. There was another fighter, Jared Cannonier, who's done it going down. I'm proud of that. I can go up to the 185-pound weight class. I have been sparring against middleweights my entire fight career anyways.

But now I've got a smaller opponent in Michael Chandler. That's where experience comes in, and I've been around every kind of fighter. I'm bringing in bodies to replicate his size and style. He fights orthodox, which will be good for me. I've fought a few southpaws back to back. Those fighters had a bit of height to them.

You look like you've put a lot of muscle on. Do you enjoy the challenge of transforming your body?

I do enjoy it. Now, you don't want to yo-yo. You want to stay in a place of strength. You will see some guys leave camp, finish a fight, and just put on all this unnecessary weight. I see fighters who will actually get fat. Nothing against them, but I've never gotten fat or checked out that much after a camp. For me, a change in weight just means an altered goal. If I'm putting on weight or if I'm leaning out, I'm doing it because that's a goal I have. Or it's going to help me accomplish a clear goal that I have. But there is also an element here that is biology. As men get older, they just get heavier. That's how it goes. So it's kind of unnatural to work so hard so get to or maintain a weight class that isn't true to your body anymore. I know there are fighters in the UFC who do that, and it's not healthy or good for your performance.