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Conor McGregor coach John Kavanagh was 'super-impressed' with Will Smith's fighting skills

‘Oh my god, this is the guy who played Muhammad Ali. This is a scene from that movie'

Coach Kavanagh with Will Smith

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh has posted a picture on Twitter of himself with Hollywood star Will Smith from the time they trained together in Dubai last year.

In the wake of the Academy Awards controversy when Smith smacked Chris Rock live on stage on Sunday, coach Kavanagh shared a throwback photo of when he trained Smith in 2021.

John and Smith linked up in Dubai during one of McGregor’s training camps.

According to Kavanagh, Smith was determined to learn a thing or two about fighting.

“That was a weird situation that popped up,” Kavanagh explained.

“I was in Dubai training with Conor and his people were on to my people, as they say. Would I be interested in doing a session with Will Smith?

"Absolutely I would. I’m a massive fan, I couldn’t believe it.

“I got to go out to an incredible sport complex out there. I’ve got a warrior programme and I put him through a typical session. I was super impressed with him.”

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In 2019, Will Smith starred in Ali, where he portrayed the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, focusing on his notable triumphs and controversies between 1964 to 1974.

“One of my favourite moments was that between rounds, he goes and sits down, just like a fighter would and I’m sitting by his side just like I would when I’m cornering a fighter and giving him advice in the ear,” coach Kavanagh recalled.

“I really try to get them in the mindset of a fighter. While I was doing that, Will was hunched over, very focused, staring into space.

“I thought: ‘Oh my god, this is the guy who played Muhammad Ali. This is a scene from that movie.’

Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

“It was one or two seconds of: ‘What the hell is going on with my life! How did this happen? Fresh Prince of Bel Air here, Muhammad Ali and he’s tuned into everything I’m saying.”

Smith has issued a public apology to Chris Rock after slapping the comedian at the Oscars.

The 53-year-old called his behaviour at the Academy Awards "unacceptable and inexcusable" and said he was embarrassed by his actions.

Smith added that the joke about his wife's medical condition had caused him to react "emotionally" but "violence in all its forms is poisonous and destructive".

In a statement posted to Instagram the actor said: "I would like to publicly apologise to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong.

"I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.

"I would also like to apologise to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world.

"I would like to apologise to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family.

"I deeply regret that my behaviour has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us."

Smith concluded his apology by saying: "I am a work in progress."

Smith has been condemned by the Academy as it launched a formal review into his altercation with Rock during the Oscars ceremony.

The 94th annual awards show was thrown into chaos when Smith went onstage and hit the comedian in front of a star-studded audience, after Rock made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and her hair loss.

Rock had compared Smith's wife - who suffers from the medical condition alopecia - to "GI Jane".

Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith attend the Vanity Fair Oscar Party held at the Wallis Annenberg Centre for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills (Doug Peters/PA)

The incident overshadowed a night which saw Coda, which features a predominantly deaf cast, named best picture, while Troy Kotsur made history as the first deaf male actor to win a gong.

Kenneth Branagh won the best original screenplay prize for his semi-autobiographical film Belfast.

Smith, who won his first Academy Award for King Richard, appeared to take offence to a gag Rock made about Pinkett Smith's short haircut.

The Magic Mike XXL star and Red Table Talk host has previously spoken about her struggles with alopecia and said it is what prompted her to shave her head.

Referring to Pinkett Smith's buzzcut, Rock said: "Jada, can't wait for GI Jane 2," prompting the actress to roll her eyes.

However, Smith walked up on stage and hit Rock before returning to his seat and shouting twice: "Keep my wife's name out of your f****** mouth."

Smith apologised to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but not to Rock, as he collected his gong (Chris Pizzello/AP)

The altercation left Rock shocked and flustered as he tried to resume presenting the best documentary feature category.

In a statement on Monday, the film academy said: "The Academy condemns the actions of Mr Smith at last night's show.

"We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law."

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