The first UFC pay per view card of both the year and the decade is a good one as two of the most popular fighters of all time go at it in a welterweight clash at Saturday’s UFC 246 in Las Vegas, Nevada. After over a year away from the octagon, former lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor makes his return against former lightweight contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the main event of the evening.
It seems fitting that McGregor (21-4) makes his return to kickstart the 2020s for the promotion after helping take it to new heights in the back half of the 2010s. Breaking records and making history, at one point it seemed like nothing would slow the Irishman down. With his fan-friendly style and savviness on a microphone, it seemed like McGregor’s place in history was quickly becoming solidified.
But just a few years later, the controversies that helped make him a brand would become less theatrical and more repugnant, and the winning ways would be seen less frequently. With losses coming in the boxing ring to Floyd Mayweather in August 2017 and a mauling at the hands of current lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018, McGregor now looks to get back the luster he had not that long ago.
The man pitted against him will be no cakewalk, in fact he is the furthest thing from it, as Cerrone (36-13-1 NC) has established a Hall of Fame career in his own right. Long known for his striking acumen and incorporation of kickboxing techniques, the battle tested Cerrone holds the record for the most wins in the company’s history. While his once-granite chin may not be what it was, over time Cerrone has evolved into a very well-rounded fighter by improving his wrestling base and submission repertoire in recent years.
UFC Welterweight Bout
|Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone||+285|
McGregor, known for his exceptional counter punching ability and unorthodox stance and movement patterns, was at one point looking like a generational talent. Yet his one-sided loss to Nurmagomedov is so fresh in many people’s minds that much of what he accomplished prior has been glossed over.
To be fair, his personal life outside of the cage warrants much of the backlash, as his actions in the past two years alone justify the change in his overall reception.
But Saturday’s main event gives the former two-weight champ a chance to show that he is still the same fighter against the always-game Cerrone. Interestingly enough, it is Cowboy who has wanted a shot at McGregor since late 2015 when the then-145-pound titleholder announced his intention to move up to Cerrone’s stomping grounds of 155 and challenge for the lightweight strap, something Cerrone himself was in the process of doing.
With a respectable stint at welterweight the last few years, Cerrone has remained relevant due to his violent-yet-entertaining style and “I will fight anyone, anytime, anywhere” type of philosophy. Oh, and the guy also wins…a lot. More than anyone in the history of the UFC in case you are still unaware.
But recent losses in the forms of stoppages to elite 155-pounders Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje have many now questioning the once seemingly bulletproof Cowboy’s durability.
Styles Make Fights
If there is one fighter who knows about connecting on the button, it would be McGregor. With pin-point accuracy in his punches (particularly the counter left hook), the 31-year old Dublin native has put away some of the sports all-time greats, yet skepticism about his grappling ability still remains, as the relentless (and technically masterful) wrestling of Nurmagomedov broke down the striker in their encounter, leading to McGregor’s fourth round submission defeat.
Cerrone has 17 submission victories in his career, yet despite having a very strong grappling foundation acquired over years of fine tuning his wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, the former professional kickboxer prefers to stand and trade with his opponents as throughout his career he has demonstrated great sophistication in his striking combinations and techniques.
Incorporating Muay Thai knees and elbows as well as devastating leg and head kicks, Cerrone’s offensive output is geared for damage more so than points, and even then, he has managed to outpoint some of the game’s best as well.
While Cerrone has shown more variety in his striking however, McGregor has the edge in hands, as his application of boxing in the MMA world has been his greatest tool of success. Showing to be a master of counter exchanges and movement, McGregor installs several unorthodox movement drills into his training. This in turn allows him to be extremely fluid and he will often switch his stance between southpaw (his natural positioning) and orthodox in order to throw his opponent off balance and create openings in their guard.
The Tale of the Tape
|Conor McGregor||vs.||Donald Cerrone|
|Dublin, Ireland||Born||Denver, Colorado|
|#4 UFC LW||Ranking||#5 UFC LW|
|· First UFC fighter to ever hold title belts in two div. simultaneously (Featherweight and Lightweight)
· Holds fastest victory in UFC title fight history (13 sec.)
|Career Highlights||· Most wins in UFC history (23)
· Most finishes in UFC history (16)
· Most post fight awards in UFC history (16)
This was negated by the wrestling centric Nurmagomdeov, so one must wonder if Cerrone will swallow his pride and shoot on McGregor if the Irishman starts to win punching exchanges while standing.
If you know how Cowboy operates that is a stretch though, and because of the likeliness of Cerrone wanting to keep it vertical no matter what is thrown at him, the key factor in this one will be who decides to pressure, as McGregor’s counter left is a threat to any advancing fighter. However, given McGregor’s tendency to be the aggressor, the dynamic turns interesting if McGregor, who already holds a one-inch reach advantage, is the one who tries to swarm Cowboy.
In past years, this game may have not been such a risky one, but with concerns now surrounding Cerrone’s chin in the wake of his recent 1st round TKO loss to Justin Gaethje in September, going blow for blow with McGregor is now even more dangerous than it once would have been for the 36-year old Denver native.
It should also be noted that with the fight taking place at welterweight, more damaged can be sustained by opposition and the aspect of fatigue (particularly in McGregor’s case) is more likely to play a role. While Cerrone has proven he can adapt his gas tank to the added weight better than McGregor, both men are still natural lightweights.
I don’t see the 170 pounds being a make or break for either combatant, but to act like it makes no difference whatsoever is incredibly shortsighted.
The Pick: McGregor via 2nd round TKO (+325)
There are few fighters in the history of all of combat sports period (not just UFC or MMA) that I respect and admire more than Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. An all time great who will sit comfortably in the Hall of Fame one day for his undeniable contributions to the sport, everything Cerrone has gotten in his career he has earned and he’s always been a “pro’s pro” while doing so. That said, I just cannot envision him getting his hand raised in this one.
While Cerrone’s moxie and aggression will without question be present and McGregor cannot approach this lightly, the punching accuracy and fluidity of the latter will be too much to ever allow a finishing opportunity for Cowboy.
I see Cerrone making it outside of the first round, and while he could definitely take McGregor into deeper waters, I see the left hand being too much and connecting on its mark midway through the second. Conor should not emerge from this unscathed, and even if Cerrone sustains damage early, it will be too much when it is all said and done, with the McGregor TKO victory sealing the deal.
From the gambling angle, I am staying away from the bout’s outright winner and instead emphasizing the round by round betting and fight props to get greater value.
Speaking of Those Props!
With such an uptick in betting interest due to McGregor’s involvement with the card, there are special props available that are hard to come by in most other scenarios.
Here are a few that stand out via BetOnline: