Conor McGregor's rematch with Nate Diaz last month was the most revealing glimpse of 'The Notorious' that we have seen to date. For the first time in his UFC tenure he stared across the cage at someone who had made him appear mortal, the first person who had proved himself capable of withstanding the McGregor barrage which had proved too big an obstacle for any of the Irishman's opponents thus far.
When McGregor tapped twice on Diaz's forearm last March, it set in motion the exact sequence of circumstances which would conspire to earn him a win in the rematch months later. Mistakes were corrected. Oversights were addressed.
You win or you learn, as they say.
The first sign of this newly refocussed Conor McGregor was evident at the pre-fight weigh-in the day prior to the fight itself and came in direct, complete contrast to the fighter we saw back in March.
As McGregor's striking coach Owen Roddy (above, right) explains on Episode 4 of the Balls.ie MMA Show (listen below), something was different this time around.
This time it was a bit more serious. It was a bit more all about the business. We looked at the weigh-ins from the first Diaz fight and the second Diaz fight. It was something I missed the first time around. At the weigh-ins for the first fight, Conor was just laughing. He didn't do his usual crazy scream. He was laughing and joking and that totally went over my head. This time there was no messing.
Everybody knows how tough Diaz is. It was all business, but it wasn't nervousness - it was excitement. We were riled up to get in and test ourselves against them again.
As much preparation as McGregor, Roddy and John Kavanagh (among others) put in to adjust their game to counter the specific threats that Nate Diaz can pose, it is a measure of the Stockton native's toughness that he was able to appear so dominant at various stages throughout the fight, particularly rounds 3 and 5.
Both of the Diaz brothers are known for rarely altering their styles. They are both aggresive, walk-forward boxers with high level grappling games. The blue-print for beat them has been established to a degree, a document McGregor had clearly paid heed to with his leg kicks, but even when you have a fairly good idea of exactly what they are going to do in the cage, what is it that makes them - and in this case Nate Diaz - so difficult to beat?
He's got this ability to push forward all the time. It was something that I liked to do when I was fighting back in the day; I would always try and keep my opponent on the back foot because I don't care how fit you are, if you are constantly being pushed backwards it's hard to deal with. If you're hitting someone with everything that you've got and they just keep pushing forward, sometimes a little bit of doubt sets in. It's very hard to simulate that but I think we did a good job this time around.
The most important thing was letting Conor know that no matter what, he's got five rounds in him. No matter how tough it gets, there's nothing as hard as being on that rower or that treadmill or out on the bike. You really go into dark places when you're doing that kind of cardio. I think that was what was reassuring Conor. No matter what happens, no matter how tough the fight got he could still go. All he needed was two breaths and he could go again.
After that third round, which could fairly be described as one of the most difficult of his career, McGregor came back and won in the fourth - a comeback which proved absolutely crucial when it came to the scorecards being read.
And a whole lot of it traces back to those hard hours on the rower.
If you put yourself to the point of sheer exhaustion and you're in a room and we put a pitbull in that room? I don't care how tired you are, you're going to get up off the ground and you're going to climb. We always hold something back and the more you tap into it, the more you know what you have. And it was 17 weeks of Conor tapping into that all the time. In that third round [Conor] was after landing all his shots and Diaz was coming back and putting a bit of pressure on him... when the round ended we sat him back down he just closed his eyes. He was slowing his heart rate down and we knew he was able to go again.
You can listen to the full episode of the Balls.ie MMA Show with Coach Owen Roddy below.