Cian Cowley went from being an Irish Muay Thai champion to one of the most talked about MMA fighters in Ireland, without ever contesting a professional bout in the new discipline.
Such was his standing in the Thai boxing community that John Kavanagh was interested in seeing the Dubliner enter the fold at Straight Blast Gym. Shortly after he did, Cowley was drafted into Conor McGregor’s camp and his contribution to the UFC 202 effort was one of the most notable based on the performances we saw from SBG at the Las Vegas event.
“When Conor started putting his camp together for the Diaz rematch he started to look for specific body types and skill sets that could prepare him for it,” remembered Cowley.
“As soon as the Diaz fight was announced, I was put into Conor’s group straightaway. I was blessed to get an opportunity like that and you only have to look at how far I’ve come since then.”
A new aspect to both McGregor and Artem Lobov’s game was evident on the August night at the T-Mobile Arena. Both fighters utilized leg kicks throughout their bouts with Chris Avila and Nate Diaz and it was Cowley’s influence that saw the technique become a part of both fighters’ repertoire.
As Lobov and McGregor’s understanding grew, so did Cowley’s popularity given his proximity to the biggest superstar in Ireland.
“I think John realized what I was good at and thought it was a good idea to bring me into the camp. Let’s be honest, it’s no mystery that Diaz doesn’t like leg kicks and because that is one of my strengths, it made a lot of sense to bring me in.
“It worked out perfectly for me because the main focus of that camp turned out to be leg kicks.
“It felt crazy to be sitting in the stands and watching Artem and Conor throwing my style of leg kick. That’s crazy for me to think about, those guys using my thing in their fights.
“The timing of the kicks and how he was using it off the jab is exactly how I’ve used it over the years in Thai boxing. Owen Roddy started to incorporate it into the pad rounds too so he could get used to it. To know that I played even a very small part in that fight is amazing.”
McGregor booted the legs out from under Diaz in the first two rounds, but as the fight wore on he began to favor his hands. At the event’s post-fight press conference, ‘The Notorious’ insisted that he would never use the technique again due to the damage that his foot sustained, but Cowley believes the featherweight champion might go back on his word.
“I know he said that he would never use them again after that, but his foot was sore after a five round war at that stage. That’s the thing with leg kicks, you have to sacrifice your foot a lot of times, but they’re so effective it’s worth it.
“I really see them as one of the most effective techniques in the fight game because they completely neutralize your opponent with them. Three or four solid leg kicks will make guys not want to stand with you. Nate is very tough and that’s the only reason why he was still in there.
“The way I see it, he is too good at throwing leg kicks now and the technique is too effective for him not to use them again.”
Although many believe that Eddie Alvarez will hold the advantage in the clinch over the Dubliner, Muay Thai expert Cowley is adamant that McGregor is very capable in that area.
“He’s the best guy I’ve ever trained with. I know people think he’s all about that left hand and his boxing, but the things he does in training is absolutely incredible.
“The clinch he developed in that camp was unbelievable. He was using sweeps and elbows off the Thai clinch like he had been doing it his whole life. That’s why he’s not afraid to switch things up – he’s just too good at adapting.
“Against Diaz in the rematch, that was a completely different style than what we saw out of Conor before.”
Cowley also pointed out that McGregor has been working on a fight-finishing sequence from the clinch.
“I’ve seen him do some things in the clinch that he didn’t use in the Diaz fight, but if it comes off he’s going to completely clean someone out with it. There are other sides to Conor’s game that people don’t expect to be there. He can adapt to any style whatsoever.”
While a lot of people have spoken about Alvarez’s durability being strong enough to force the fight into the later rounds, Cowley is confident that McGregor will put him to sleep.
“You can be durable and take a lot of shots to the arms, forehead and body, but when someone catches you clean that goes out the window. I really think the left hands that Nate ate would drop him. On Saturday night, Eddie is going to sleep.”
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