Conor McGregor’s wrestling coach Sergey Pikulskiy talks McGregor’s grappling ahead of UFC 229

Photo Credit: Dave Fogarty

As important as it was in helping to bring Conor McGregor to the dance, it’s often wrestling which is seen as the biggest criticism and least visible asset in his game. Whilst it hasn’t been so visible due to the fashion in which fights have flown for ‘The Notorious’, one man can back up its credibility.

Sergey Pikulskiy has been working with McGregor for over a decade. Since their initial introduction, Pikulskiy feels Conor always had something very different about him.

“I met Conor twelve years ago at the old SBG camp,” Sergey revealed. “I guess at the age of eighteen and nineteen years old, you could already tell he was different. I’m from a very high level wrestling background and wrestled some of the best around, but when I wrestled Conor I already felt an energy that he brings. The intensity, the desire for knowledge and to learn to get better. It was fascinating.”

“Every session he would pick things up so fast. Everybody knows wrestling is a hard sport, but when you show the technique and practice it, he does it perfectly. He’s the kind of kid you want to work with time and time again. That’s how he was from day one of meeting him right up to today. He’s a true student of the game. He never stops improving and you will see that on Saturday.”

This weekend will see Conor face his largest test yet as he returns to MMA for his first bout in two years. This time, it’s not against somebody who will happily trade shot for shot with him. With it coming in the form of reigning UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov and his deadly wrestling based prowess, the people know what they are expecting. Sergey, however, feels Conor’s wrestling abilities should not be overlooked.

“It’s (Conor’s wrestling) fantastic, to be honest,” Pikulskiy stated. “I’d be happy for him to even do a pure wrestling match. People always confuse it. It’s a fist fight, also.”

“It’s intimidating to stand in front of Conor and you don’t know where his next punch is coming from. MMA is a totally different animal from just straight up wrestling.”

The last time Conor was tested against a bona fide wrestler came on less than two weeks notice at UFC 189. Coming up short in multiple attempted takedown defences, Sergey feels Conor’s abilities on the mats have soared since a very abrupt change in opponent that fateful summer and having entered that bout with multiple injuries, his true wrestling game was unable to be on show.

“What people can take from the Chad Mendes fight is that Conor’s fight IQ,” the Moldovan praised. “Before the fight during the Mendes camp, we had chance to get two really strong wrestling sessions in and every time I went for a single leg takedown, his knee was popping out. I was terrified. So, in that fight, he showed his fight IQ and knew when to give the takedown and, as you saw in the second round, when to stop them. He began to attack at Mendes’ body… and everybody knows what happened after that. He knocked him down. His fight IQ is a different level.”

When you watch Khabib’s bouts, you see a lot of his aggression and control comes once he has you pressured against the cage. With Conor, keeping him pinned to one location is hard enough. With Conor’s movement being such a broad range, Sergey has questioned how Khabib will be able to tackle that issue.

“Khabib is very strong. The tightness of his takedowns… He tries to keep as close to them as possible. I wouldn’t say his takedowns are the quickest in terms of his shots. I would argue Mendes would be a lot faster in singles or doubles. What Khabib brings is being bigger and a little tighter.”

“As I said earlier, when you stand in front of Conor it’s a totally different game. You don’t know what’s coming or how it’s going to come at you. His shots take you out of your gameplan. He dictates the fight – always. I believe that will be the case in this fight also.”

“This is MMA. This is a fight. You can’t come with just one attribute.”

“Conor is a true mixed martial artist. Conor has everything.”

“Everybody has their strongest points but his strongest points are on a different level.”

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