It’s wasn’t quite a Thanksgiving miracle when Conor McGregor’s return to the UFC was announced last week, but when the Irishman’s upcoming tussle against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the main event at UFC 246 on Jan. 18 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was confirmed on Thursday it did at least give MMA fans an opportunity to experience whatever measure of gratitude they deemed appropriate for such a contest.
After all, McGregor’s imminent return to the sport that made him one of the richest and most famous athletes in the world was rumored to be among the slate of early 2020 UFC action, but no one really knew when or how McGregor would ultimately choose to continue his career.
Could he secure an immediate rematch against Khabib Nurmogomedov? Was there a serious chance he might get another shot again at Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside a boxing ring? Or might even Conor just consider calling it a career so he could focus on much easier enterprises such as selling his whiskey?
Nope, none of that seems to be the case at all. Instead, McGregor faces Cerrone in a welterweight bout in what appears to be the first leg of McGregor’s redemption tour.
McGregor hasn't fought since 2018 at UFC 229 when he suffered a submission loss to UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov. His only competition the year prior was a 10th-round stoppage to Mayweather in a boxing ring.
Both of those fights were tremendous box-office successes. Khabib-McGregor was the highest-grossing UFC pay-per-view event ever, and Mayweather-McGregor enjoyed the second-highest butyrate in boxing history.
Still, the plain truth of the matter is that the world’s most popular MMA star hasn’t won a fight in over three years.
That last win came when McGregor stopped Eddie Alvarez in the second round at UFC 205 for the UFC lightweight title in November 2016. That made McGregor the UFC’s original “champ-champ” and turned him into the full-fledge megastar he is today.
But McGregor won’t be able to stay atop the perch for long if he doesn’t handle Cerrone. While Cerrone is a popular contender, one known or producing solid action fights against whomever Dana White and company decide to pit him against, the 36-year-old American is also loser of two straight.
So what does the B/R MMA crew think about McGregor-Cerrone at UFC 246?
Can McGregor grab a much-needed win and get back to competing against the most elite fighters in the sport? Or can the affable and accomplished Cerrone shock the world by pulling off a life-changing upset in the biggest fight of his career?
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Forget Conor and the Cowboy.
In reality, the award for Performance of the Night at UFC 246 already belongs to the matchmaker.
Because by melding the most recognizable name in mixed martial arts with a popular journeyman whose street cred among informed fans is undeniable, the matchmaker guaranteed a must-see event.
Is the Notorious one the same fighter at age 31 he was while collecting title belts a few years back? Probably not. But does he need to be to handle a skidding 36-year-old with 13 losses – six in 10 fights since the start of 2017 – no matter how loved he is? Probably not.
For those somehow unaware, McGregor is known primarily for his striking skill and typically favors a stand-up fight to a duel on the ground. He often aims to end fights with his left hand and did so memorably on the way to a 13-second erasure of then-featherweight champ Jose Aldo in 2015.
Cerrone, meanwhile, would certainly love to get the bratty Irishman on the mat and add to his resume of 17 submission victories. His chance at victory most likely involves his ground game, where he can utilize his vast physical tools and durability to take McGregor into the deeper waters.
Incidentally, the former two-division champ’s last two losses – against Nate Diaz in 2016 and Khabib Nurmagomedov last year – came via submission.
So, the messier it gets, the better it’ll be for the Cowboy.
But when it comes to McGregor, that’s far easier said than done.
Ask Aldo and Eddie Alvarez.
He’ll be quicker with his hands and faster with his feet comes fight night in January, which means he ought to be able to elude takedowns while punishing Cerrone each time he ventures inside. The more of those counter lefts that land, the less likely the fight goes the distance – but if it does, it’s a shutout.
Move on to the next one, folks. Nothing to see here.
Kelsey McCarson: It’s almost like everybody wins UFC 246.
McGregor wins because he gets back to doing the thing he loves to do. Great fighters are often fish out of water in the other parts of their lives because they put so much into becoming great at their main gig. With the many well-documented difficulties McGregor has faced over the last year or so, it’s probably really important for him right now as a human being to get back to training.
Good for Conor.
Cerrone wins because he’s long been a fan favorite in the MMA community and competing in the main event of UFC 246 will be the biggest opportunity of his career. He’s basically beloved among those who love the product the UFC offers, and it’s probably a bit overdue in him being offered something like this by the company.
Fans win because it’s a huge way to kick off the new year. McGregor-Cerrone will be everything people love about watching two fighters get into a cage to engage in unarmed combat, and it will feature two of the most popular fighters in the sport whose fighting styles are stylistically complimentary.
But make no mistake. McGregor is the huge favorite because he’s been the better fighter over the course of his career, and he’s also a better overall athlete. While Cerrone is far from a gimme fight to get McGregor back into the win column for the first time in what probably seems like forever for the Irishman’s legion of fans, it’s not as if this is some kind of pick’em fight between two guys on a similar trajectory.
McGregor is coming off the loss to Nurmogomedov, but that was a competitive fight against arguably the most dominant force in the UFC right now. Cerrone has lost two straight and was completely wallopped in one round by Justin Gathje in his last fight at UFC Fight Night 158 in September.
So this fight is McGregor’s to lose, and honestly the way the two match up against each other, it shouldn’t take more than ten minutes or so for it to happen.
Still, the fight should be a real barnburner for as long as it lasts, so while McGregor is very likely headed toward another big win, it should be a fun thing to see as it happens.
Tom Taylor: In the days since this matchup was made official, I’ve seen a number of fans and pundits suggest that Cowboy is washed up; that his best gun slinging days are behind him.
I just don’t agree with that.
Sure, he’s lost his last two fights by stoppage, but those stoppages came at the hands of Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje—two of the lightweight division’s apex predators. There’s simply no shame in losing to either of those guys, and I believe Cowboy is still a dangerous matchup for any lightweight or welterweight he steps into the cage with.
That includes McGregor.
All of that being said, I’m siding with the Irish on this one.
Cerrone is still an absolute badass, but his status as such betrays the fact that he has never been particularly durable. We’ve seen him wilt when the punches start flying in the past — most notably against guys like Rafael dos Anjos, Jorge Masvidal, and Darren Till. That fragility is worrying in this matchup against McGregor, who could seemingly hobble out of a Dublin pub at any hour, shirt spattered with Proper Twelve, and still turn a heavy bag into mulch.
I expect McGregor to stop Cerrone with strikes, but not because Cerrone has fallen off. In fact, I’d pick the Irishman to win this fight at almost any juncture of either of their careers. He’s just always been a bad matchup for the American. He’s too fast, and he hits too hard.
From there, I expect belief in McGregor to be greatly restored — perhaps even enough to give him credibility in a fight with Jorge Masvidal or Khabib Nurmagomedov. I also expect Cowboy to rebound with more high-action victories. As I’ve said, he’s still got it — it’s just not going to matter this January in Sin City.