CONOR McGREGOR was just a schoolboy when he first went into Phil Sutcliffe’s Crumlin amateur boxing club.
Two decades later, Sutcliffe is still in the UFC legend’s corner as one of his coaches.
Conor McGregor Jr training with his dad
Phil Sutcliffe with McGregor
The Irish trainer is a double Olympian who has worked with a host of amateur champions.
But his gym in Dublin is synonymous for welcoming McGregor into the world of combat.
At the time, the future MMA icon was playing for a local football team when he stumbled into Crumlin BC.
And after being told to take his muddy boots off and have his parents fill out a membership, McGregor’s fighting journey began.
In his later years, McGregor trained away from the boxing gym as he became entrenched in learning mixed martial arts.
But Sutcliffe says the superstar was as talented as any other boxing champion he had – which was clear even from the age of 12.
He said: “In pure boxing ability he was as equal to them but he didn’t put in enough for the one talent.
“It’s like if you wanted to play rugby but you play on the soccer pitch. It’s hard to master the two.
“If you want to play rugby you need to be tough, you want to be fast but in soccer you want to be skillful you want to be avoiding.
“It’s the same in the boxing. If you want to box, you stay boxing. But Conor mastered the ability of reading. Reading the shot that comes at you.
“He always mastered that from an early age of 12 he was able to avoid, he was able to move comfortably.”
McGregor left Crumlin and Sutcliffe to pursue MMA with his sights set on the UFC.
In the years following, he became the sport’s biggest and most well-paid star.
His fame and fortune skyrocketed in 2017 when he returned to his boxing roots for a crossover clash with Floyd Mayweather.
He lost in ten rounds but the defeat sparked a reunion with Sutcliffe – who became a part of McGregor’s MMA camp.
And it also changed the veteran trainer’s mind about the often brutal sport of MMA.
Phil Sutcliffe with McGregor
Conor Jr training at Sutcliffe’s gym with dad Conor
Conor Jr is already learning the ropes
Conor McGregor pictured as a child before growing up to become the face of UFC
Sutcliffe said: “I was never fond of mixed martial arts, I thought it was barbaric until I got involved and saw the amount of work these boys have to put into it.
“I saw it and thought this is interesting.”
Sutcliffe’s influence has rubbed off on McGregor, who is already teaching his six-year-old son techniques.
And Sutcliffe admits he cannot help but see himself when McGregor gives Conor Jr a masterclass in boxing.
He said: “Every time he’s on the pads with his son, I see me.
“Every time he’s teaching him I see me, every word out his mouth – except the f’ing and all that type of stuff – I see me.
“He’s learned a lot and I’m so glad he’s learned a lot from the person that taught him so much.”
Conor Jr strikes a remarkable resemblance to his famous fighting father and Sutcliffe is already blown away by the youngster’s skills.
He revealed: “He’s an athlete. I saw when he was wrestling with Cian Cowley’s son. They’re all friends.
“Little Conor is an athlete and his little girl is not bad either! Conor Jr is a natural, you see on the sticks and on the pads but there’s more to that, he’s making his son hard for life.
“He’s an athlete, no matter what he does. He’s got flexibility, he’s strong, he has no fear.”
McGregor, 35, is currently working towards a comeback having been out since July 2021 when he broke his leg.
He is expected to face American Michael Chandler, 37, in his return which UFC president Dana White has hinted will be in the summer.
McGregor is back training again and Sutcliffe insisted he is still as hungry and driven as ever.
He said: “If you see him spar or you see him fight, you see the devil in him and that’s what I love. He still wants it.
“He hates losing and I love that, he wants to win because he’s a winner no matter what he does.
“He has a few years left, get few more fights get this Chandler out the way. He’s more talented than Chandler.
“Chandler will be a rough person to beat but he’s so talented, skill base and everything, wrestling, his pouches, jujitsu, his kickboxing, he’s special.”
McGregor is set to fight Michael Chandler in his UFC return