Light the lantern in Old North Church. Conor McGregor is back and he is ready to ride again.
In the main event Saturday at UFC 246, McGregor (22-4) flashed the creativity, smarts and sheer power he used to conquer the fighting world nearly five years ago. In 2015, McGregor reached new heights when he knocked out featherweight champ Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. It took 40 seconds Saturday for McGregor to lay waste to UFC all-time wins leader Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (36-14-1) with a convincing TKO.
"Etch my name in history one more time," McGregor told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "This is for the Irish people."
McGregor Nation is jubilant, as well it should be. There is no more famous or successful (in an overarching sense) fighter in the history of MMA—and, with ESPN behind his sails, his ongoing transcendence should continue apace—and he appears to be all the way back from his four-year, on-and-off hiatus.
Hey, speaking of which, it's that very hiatus that forces McGregor, his fans and everyone else to place an asterisk next to even his best moments. At least for now. McGregor is right about his name being etched in history. It's just a matter of which words will be there.
As for the fight itself, it was an irreproachable dandy. McGregor charged forward with a wild punch, which Cerrone ducked. Cerrone quickly initiated a clinch, but McGregor responded brilliantly, literally hopping up to land what looked like three nifty shoulder strikes that landed cleanly across Cerrone's face. That softened Cowboy up.
With Cerrone stunned, McGregor fired a head kick that landed, if you'll pardon the medical jargon, upside his head. Cerrone had quickly moved from stunned to hurt.
Then the floodgates opened.
It's what everyone wants to see: that magical left hand, the iron hammer that has nailed down so many of McGregor's now-19 professional knockouts. It's like if you go to see Steely Dan: You better hear "Reelin' in the Years." McGregor can get as experimental as he likes with his shoulder strikes and whatnot, but if he doesn't play "Reelin' in the Years," then what was it all really for?
Anyway, here came the lefts, toppling Cerrone over with a thud. With Cowboy turtling ever tighter on the canvas and McGregor jackhammering away, referee Herb Dean waved it off. (Cerrone was subsequently transported to a local hospital for treatment, per ESPN's Ariel Helwani.) Conor turned and strode to the center of the Octagon, sweating a bit but otherwise unchanged. And the crowd, as they say, went wild.
"I've never seen anything like it," said a battered Cerrone after the fight, half to himself and half to Rogan.
OK. We've had our party. Turn on the lights. It looks like we all just forgot for a moment why there's no party like an MMA party. With an MMA party, the hangover comes while you're still at the club.
Most sports fans and plenty of others besides are familiar with the ongoing sexual assault allegations McGregor is facing in his native Ireland. This is reality, and this will follow him and more unless or until it’s resolved. There's no other rational conclusion to draw. Uncharacteristically, McGregor was silent on the matter during this fight week—something that didn't go unnoticed in the national media.
Let us now imagine that we live in a magical, frictionless universe, and in that universe, we can with clean consciences talk freely about McGregor's next opponent. This will surely be interesting, as it always is with McGregor.
McGregor, for one, thinks the next recipient should be at welterweight, where Saturday's contest took place. However, his true success has come one weight class down at the 155-pound lightweight division and another step down at the 145-pound featherweight division—the two divisions he ruled as the first fighter to simultaneously hold two belts.
The welterweights were quick to respond. The leader in the clubhouse has to be the BMF himself, Jorge Masvidal, who just happened to be sitting cageside. Also in the building, however, was new welterweight champ Kamaru Usman (16-1), not far removed from that beating he laid on Colby Covington. When the cameras hit him, Usman mock-yawned after McGregor's open challenge to the rest of the division (Warning: language NSFW).
How about a fellow slugger in Justin Gaethje? A trilogy fight with Nate Diaz? There are others; with McGregor, there are always others.
"Any one of these fools can get it," McGregor said. "All of them, every single one. It does not matter."
The money fight to end all money fights, of course, is back down at lightweight, where champ Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) looks as terrifying and ravenous as ever. McGregor knows better than anyone that this rematch needs to happen sooner or later.
It looks like McGregor wants later. And you know what? That's perfectly OK. Both men are 31, and neither appears to be going anywhere, at least for the foreseeable future. McGregor has earned the right to try a welterweight run if he wants. Make no mistake: Size will come into play. Cerrone spent the majority of his career at lightweight. Most any proper welterweight will be markedly larger than McGregor.
But those are problems for another day. For now, we celebrate the return of MMA's golden god and/or goose. If you're McGregor, you might as well ride the wave.
Let's hope it doesn't crash too hard.
Scott Harris writes about MMA and other sports for Bleacher Report.