Coach: Conor’s a whitebelt but rest of sport hasn’t started
“They don’t move like I move. They don’t tink like I tink.”
Mixed martial arts is defined not by the body of technique that fighters employ, but rather by the engine behind those techniques – real fights. because the sport is barely 20 years old, new techniques and approaches are constantly being innovated.
The latest is Movement Training. Rather than develop speed, strength, and above all endurance, Movement Training seeks to a increase balance, coordination, and range of motion, freeing the body to move more effectively.
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor saw Israeli movement coach Ido Portal, and sought out his coaching. The results speak for themselves.
Portal is a somewhat controversial figure, with some charging that he is playing the ancient, tired, pathetic guru game – speaking in mysterious fuzzy platitudes that the needy and gullible can read whatever they need into. Others say he is an wildly innovative and successful coach. Others say he is both.
In any case, Portal appeared recently on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, and talked training McGregor. The coach echoed remarks from the earliest days of mixed martial arts. In 1994, Carlos Machado was quoted in Black Belt magazine with words that have been widely repeated since.
“One way or another, we’re going to hit the ground, and we’ll be in my world,” said Machado. “The ground is my ocean, I’m the shark, and most people don’t even know how to swim.”
Portal describes a situation where once again, one fighter possesses invaluable skills that the rest of the sport has yet to acquire.
“Conor said it best himself, he’s a white belt,” said Portal, as transcribed by Chuck Mindenhall for MMAFighting. “It can get much, much, much better. It’s unbelievable how much better it can get. But the rest of the fighting game hasn’t even taken their first classes. He might be a white belt, but the rest of the fighting game didn’t even start to play with those ideas. He’s a very intelligent and dedicated practitioner, but the stuff we do is extremely difficult — extremely difficult.
“Like this week he saw me doing some one-arm handstands around the house, and he asked me, ‘how can I do that? I must do that.’ And I told him, ‘no, you don’t need that. This will take too much time.’ He said, ‘okay, how much time?’ So I told him it took me three years of six hours a day training to get there. So forget about it, it’s not for you, but he still wants to get it.”
“The movement game takes the technical side, and takes the strength and conditioning side, and takes the mobility, and takes the pattern and the re-patterning work, and it blends everything together,” he said. “So at times I was taking some technical aspects of the game and tuning them up, working and refining that, and other times I was more of the strength and conditioning guy, and at other times I was the therapist, and at other times I was the nutritionist.
“You not a specialist, you a generalist, but you see the big picture much better than anyone else in many ways. That requires a lot of study into a variety of fields. The movement teacher must be a martial artist. The movement teacher must be a dancer. The movement teacher must be a strength and conditioning coach. The movement teacher must be an acrobat. The movement teacher must be a therapist. It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of study into these fields, learning to see the common things and to see the important things and to let go of the less important things.”
Some Irish fans were dubious of the techniques showed at the UFC 194 open workout, and would have likely given him a beer swirlie or something had McGregor lost.
Portal said he was not concerned.
“Yeah, I became aware of it, but I did not let it diffuse me in any way,” said Portal. “And if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. It was about coming and supporting and putting full throttle behind it, although the amount of work we got to do was minimal for me. A week-and-a-half here, and another few days in Dublin — that’s nothing to blame or to really take credit for, yet. They are a small chain of decisions, decisions that must be made right. And I was a part of those decisions. What to take, when to do, what to do, what to not do. It’s a huge part, what to not do in training, in a session. Keeping them fresh, keeping them in tune, keeping the body very soft, which is very misunderstood.
“All this machismo, all this mentality surrounding the Irish fans, the MMA game, I think Conor is very good not letting this distract him. He feels that sharpness and that ability to deliver a very potent dosage…he’s superior to the drop coffee that everybody else is drinking. He is the espresso man.”
“Right now everything is open, and [McGregor and I] haven’t really discussed things yet,” he said. “We’ve worked with some fighters before, and we have a lot of incoming requests from anywhere and everywhere. It was the, this week was the center attention for pretty much everyone. I got some NBA players, some NFL players reaching out. Tony Robbins reached out.”
Portal was asked if the association with McGregor is responsible for the increase in people reaching out.
“You cannot tell because my work has been out there and I’ve received such requests before,” he said. “But now even more. We’ve been exploding the last couple of weeks.”
Portal watch McGregor beat Aldo in 13 seconds live, and said he knew McGregor would win.
“I had no doubt what was going to unfold,” he said. “Inside the team, we all knew where it was heading. This is one fight where it was clear. It was very, very clear. With Gunny [Nelson] and with Artem [Lobov], I had a little bit less of the pieces of information to be able to make any prophecy. But with Conor it was very obvious to me. I spent also years throughout my life in Brazil. And I know the physique, the incredible Brazilian physique, and I know the mindset. It is familiar to me. I don’t want to generalize, but it was pretty obvious to me.”