Conor McGregor is back.
The 31-year-old’s long-awaited return against Donald Cerrone at welterweight will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18 at UFC 246 according to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
McGregor hasn't fought since October 2018 at UFC 229 when UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted the Irishman in the fourth round of the highest-grossing UFC pay-per-view event in history.
While he lobbied hard for the rematch against Nurmagomedov after the loss, it looks like McGregor will instead have to fight his way back into contention. McGregor’s march back to the top starts against Cerrone, the loser of two straight contests but also the fighter with the most wins in UFC history at 23 and the highest total number of overall fights at 33 (tied with Jim Miller).
McGregor-Cerrone had long been rumored as a possibility, but now the deal is officially set in stone. If that’s not an early Christmas present, I’m not sure what is.
Both fighters have given MMA fans plenty of spills and thrills over the years, so there already seems to be a genuine interest in the fight among the MMA community.
McGregor was the first fighter to simultaneously hold UFC titles in two weight classes. His crossover boxing battle against Floyd Mayweather in 2017 was one of the biggest PPV events in boxing history, and even after suffering the loss to Nurmagomedov, McGregor probably remains the single biggest draw in the sport.
That’s some serious star power.
Cerrone, on the other hand, is an affable contender UFC fans just seem to adore. And why wouldn’t they? The 36-year-old American has earned more bonuses than anyone in the promotion's history at 18 and a whopping six of them for Fight of the Night.
But bigger than the fight itself being announced on Thanksgiving Day was simply the return of the UFC’s biggest star, McGregor. So that’s what the B/R crew got together to discuss today after stuffing our faces with food during the holiday.
Hey guys, what’s your reaction to McGregor’s comeback?
Lyle Fitzsimmons: The big-box stores were opening. The malls were buzzing. The online sites were revving.
In fact, at the very moment holiday dinner tables around the country were cleared, the retail season began.
So it's nothing if not appropriate that the return of the UFC's biggest brand came at the very same moment.
Love him or hate him, the return of Conor McGregor is the best kind of news for MMA fans, for precisely that reason.
Nearly everyone -- casual or hardcore, novice or veteran, domestic or international -- has an opinion on the "Notorious" one.
It's the same rationale that makes the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. marketing monstrosities.
And it means an imminent needle move for Dana White and Co.
The opponent almost doesn't matter.
Oh sure, it's perfectly OK with me and everyone else that the bratty Irishman will climb in the cage with a guy possessing Donald Cerrone's street cred. It'll provide the sort of instant buzz that a match with the more anonymous likes of Justin Gaethje would have had to build toward.
The press conferences will surely be fun. The cowboy hat will probably get flicked off. A scuffle will more than likely follow.
All the stuff that a live editor's dreams are made of.
Of course, competitive questions are plentiful, too.
Is McGregor the guy he was when he vaporized Jose Aldo and rumbled with Nate Diaz? Can he regain his aura after the Khabib beatdown? Have non-octagonal legal issues curbed the ferocity at all?
All are relevant to ask. All will need to be addressed.
But that can come later. This is a time for celebration.
Yes, Virginia... there is a Santa Claus.
Conor McGregor is back.
Scott Harris: In his heyday, McGregor was celebrated for doing exactly what he said he was going to do.
Earlier this month, McGregor stood in front of a Dublin judge, while pleading guilty for the latest in his series of assaults on the social fabric, and said: "nothing of this nature will happen again."
Team McGregor better hope he goes back to the old days and re-learns how to walk his talk. He's still the biggest name in MMA, but his star power is no longer the kind that can't be viewed with fully open eyes.
Is his return a good thing? Hard to say. Sure, it will make money, which is certainly beneficial, at least for the small circle of people for whom that actually makes a difference. But that reality alone isn't enough to make his return objectively and unquestionably "good."
This will be a good thing if McGregor comes back and proves he's a real fighter again. Somehow, someway, he has wrung from himself the lion's share of the juice he earned inside the cage. Replenishing that juice means getting back in that same cage and earning some more. Cerrone is a great foil for that, a high-wattage but a beatable opponent who will gladly shift into aw-shucks-I'm-gonna-send-this-character-back-to-Ireland mode for as many media events as the UFC wants to put on his plate.
Take out a worthy Cerrone and go from there. A matchmaking discussion, particularly the welterweight vs lightweight situation, is worth having. But first things first. The sport's biggest star needs to re-discover his true power core. If he can do that, he will beat Cerrone, take another opponent, get back to training, and right will be restored. If he can't, we could return right back to the land of petty assault and social media potshots and overzealous street marketing. In the latter case, it's hard to know when we might expect our next best chance at competitive lucidity.
Tom Taylor: I remember being legitimately shocked when Conor McGregor tapped out to Nate Diaz in early 2016. I probably shouldn’t have been, but somewhere along the line, I took a big gulp of the Kool-Aid. I’d bought what the UFC was selling and accepted McGregor as the next Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre or Goku or whatever, and when he was defeated, I was frankly flabbergasted.
It’s hard for me to remember what it feels like to be surprised to see McGregor lose.
It’s not like he loses a lot. In fact, he’s won two of his four most recent MMA bouts. But he’s lost enough in recent years that his aura of invincibility is long gone.
I think he can recapture that aura — or at least something resembling it — with one well-placed punch against Cowboy.
At this stage, Cowboy isn’t a particularly difficult guy to defeat. Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje have done it this year, and guys like Leon Edwards, Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal have also done it recently. For all his skill, for all his popularity, the beloved American gunslinger is a beatable fighter. But he’s also good enough that a win over him means something.
If McGregor beats him — particularly by knockout — I think it’s going to mean an awful lot.
Really, that’s how I see this whole thing going. I envision McGregor planting one of his C-4-packed gloves on Cowboy’s chin, and in an instant, recapturing a bunch of the mystique he once had.
Even with a knockout win over Cowboy, not many people will buy McGregor as the guy to beat Nurmagomedov, but a big pocket of the combat sports community will once again buy him as one of the best in the world. That means more big fights to follow — be it against Khabib or Jorge Masvidal some other worthy dance partner.
Time will tell how he performs when faced with those more difficult matchups.
Kelsey McCarson: McGregor’s comeback bout is exactly what MMA fans needed to get excited about the new year.
The UFC plans to close things out with a bang at UFC 245 on Dec. 14 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That massive card includes three title bouts. Kamaru Usman faces Colby Covington for the UFC welterweight title. Max Holloway puts his featherweight title on the line against Alexander Volkanovski. Amanda Nunes defends her bantamweight belt against Germaine de Randamie.
The following month just keeps things rolling now.
McGregor kicks off 2020 against popular action fighter Cerrone in a bout that should provide some real action. If McGregor is still near the top of his game he should dispatch of Cerrone in explosive fashion. But if he’s slipped at all, Cerrone has the combination of grit, talent and skill to send McGregor packing.
Those cards, along with the subsequent UFC light heavyweight title defense of Jon Jones against Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 on Feb. 8 in Houston means the action is basically going to be nonstop with top-flight stars competing on important cards for the foreseeable future.
So yeah, my reaction to the news that broke on Thanksgiving that McGregor was coming back to fight Cerrone just about five weeks from now couldn’t be more appropriate.
I’m super grateful.