The Question: Is Cowboy Cerrone vs. Conor McGregor the Right Fight for UFC?

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterNovember 16, 2018

Conor McGregor poses during a ceremonial weigh-in for the UFC 229 mixed martial arts fight Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Las Vegas. McGregor is scheduled to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is no dummy. After his submission win over former teammate Mike Perry on Saturday, the UFC mainstay did what everyone who is even Conor McGregor-adjacent should do when given the opportunity—he challenged the Irish megastar to a fight.

McGregor, who established himself as the biggest drawing card in combat sports with blockbuster box-office performances against the likes of Nate Diaz, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Khabib Nurmagomedov, is the kind of fighter who can change a peer's life forever. His opponents will likely never be in a bigger fight, under brighter lights, for more money than when they step into the cage with the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion.

McGregor calls the effect "red panties night" because that's what his opponent's significant other will be wearing when he cashes that big check. So, it's a fight that makes sense for Cerrone to pursue.

But does it make sense for McGregor or for the UFC? 

McGregor won't be fighting anyone until he squares away some unfinished business with the Nevada Athletic Commission in December. When he returns, the UFC will have some serious decisions to make. Will they include a major payday for the Cowboy, a company man with a track record of putting on exciting fights?

Bleacher Report senior writers Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden discuss. 

It's Cowboy Cerrone and a baby!
It's Cowboy Cerrone and a baby!Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jonathan: UFC is facing the kind of conundrum they haven't encountered in their 25 years in the MMA business. Conor McGregor is both the most famous prizefighter in the world and an extremely vulnerable former champion in desperate need of a victory to shore up his faltering reputation. Booking his next fight will be a tricky, delicate business. The opponent has to be credible, notable and also extremely beatable.

Locating the perfect foe will require a deft hand.

Unfortunately for McGregor, from Dana White on down, the UFC's decision-makers are not exactly known for their subtlety. Traditionally UFC's matchmakers have been reckless with the talent. The basic premise is to throw everyone together into the proverbial Lion's Den and see who walks away from the resulting fray. Fighters are rarely given preferential treatment, with even the most successful box-office attractions forced to face potent opposition from day one in the promotion.

And maybe that will be what happens to McGregor, too, despite his outlandish box-office clout. Maybe McGregor will face another top star, consequences be darned, chips falling wherever they may. The company is located in Las Vegas, after all. Perhaps rolling the dice is in its genetic code?

The smart move, however, would be to find someone even a rusty, aging and comically rich version of McGregor can almost assuredly beat en route to building him back up to another mega-fight. So, what do you say, Chad? Is a 35-year-old Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone the predator or the prey in this scenario?

Chad: Wasn’t the lesson of last Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 139 co-main event that we underestimate the Cowboy at our own peril?

Sure, during the last two years Cerrone appeared to enter a new phase in his long, strange UFC career. Prior to 2017, he’d put up a 20-4 record inside the Octagon and defeated everyone he faced aside from a few once-and-future champions and Nate Diaz. Since then, he’s slumped to 2-4 and has been used as a stepping stone for lesser-known fighters like Darren Till and Leon Edwards.

It’s easy to imagine matchmakers had a similar springboard effect in mind for 27-year-old up-and-comer Mike Perry when they slotted him in against Cerrone last weekend in Denver. Instead, Cerrone ended Perry’s night via first-round armbar and walked away with his first performance-based $50,000 bonus since August 2016.

Cerrone beat Perry by armbar.
Cerrone beat Perry by armbar.Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

I guess what I’m saying is, while I’m reasonably confident McGregor could beat Cerrone, I’m not sure it’d be an absolute slam dunk for him, either. While a slow starter and occasionally vulnerable to someone who brings the fight straight to him (a la Diaz), Cerrone possess a diverse striking attack and is sneakily dangerous where McGregor is weakest—on the ground.

Business-wise, it would also surprise me if these rumors turned out to be true. One would imagine McGregor would have a litany of higher profile and more sensical options for a next fight. Wouldn’t more people tune in to see a rubber match between McGregor and Diaz, anyway?

What say you, Jonathan?

Diaz and McGregor have already had two legendary fights.
Diaz and McGregor have already had two legendary fights.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jonathan: While there is a big difference between Mike Perry and two-time UFC champion Conor McGregor, I'll concede that it's a risky fight for the Proper 12 proprietor. Cerrone has a varied skill set and has proved that he can be competitive with the world's top fighters on the right night.

McGregor is a gifted fighter, great but flawed. That's part of what's so interesting about him. I can't recall a single contest in his UFC career that felt like a blowout. He's always going to be vulnerable, making each bout a fraught affair for his fans and a huge opportunity for the haters.

Part of that is his style—he's a reflex-based counter puncher who pressures a fighter into the cage and then waits for them to panic and do something stupid. Because it's MMA, they usually do. But, when a fighter keeps their composure and pushes McGregor out of his comfort zone, he's proven to be fallible. And his approach, practically daring his opponents to wallop him, can be a dangerous game as Khabib proven with a brilliantly timed haymaker.

With that in mind, Cerrone is just like any other good fighter, by which I mean a real threat to McGregor. That's why I think the UFC should give up on the idea of "protecting" McGregor. There is no such thing as manipulating outcomes in this sport. He's in a class now where everyone he fights at 155 pounds is going to be a malicious mauler.

I say every McGregor fight should be considered an opportunity to cash in the chips he's piled up with his brilliantly crafted persona. Each one should be the biggest bout you can possibly put together at the moment. You say that fight is with Nate Diaz. And it seems like the Diaz brothers may have caught the fighting spirit. What do you love about completing what will go down as one of MMA's all-time great trilogies?

Chad: A trilogy fight with Diaz seems like an easy sell to me for all parties involved.

For starters, it allows the UFC to book McGregor in a fight it can be reasonably sure he’ll win. It’s also a fight that will do big business at the box office, since the first two McGregor-Diaz bouts were the company’s top-selling pay-per-views of all time before Nurmagomedov came along.

You can also do the fight in numerous weight classes—lightweight, welterweight or even this fabled 165-pound class we’ve heard might be in the offing. In theory, this would allow you to prop McGregor up as a contender in any of those divisions, so long as he locked up the victory.

For McGregor, it’s another pile of money in a fight he’d probably win.

For Diaz, it’d be a payday large enough to lure him off the bench. If he won, he could go right back to pestering the UFC with outlandish demands, knowing he’d once again become one of the organization’s top stars.

Moreover, I guess I just don’t understand a potential Cerrone fight. Despite the fact Cowboy has turned himself into a cottage industry in the UFC by being an action fighter willing to fight anyone on any amount of notice, he’d be the lowest-profile opponent McGregor has had in a minute.

It’s also never been McGregor’s bag to pick off aging former contenders who are clearly on the back end of their careers. That makes the agenda of getting him back on the winning track seem even more obvious than it would against Diaz.

I’d rather see him continue to fry bigger fish.

Chad Dundas is an acclaimed novelist and author of Undertaker: Rise of the Deadman. Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and is currently crowdfunding a biography of UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock.