The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will return from its longest layoff in recent memory, and the promotion has brought Conor McGregor with it. The Irishman’s comeback rightfully headlines UFC 246, particularly since there is not much meat on the bone for the rest of the pay-per-view card. Anthony Pettis and Diego Ferreira should provide some excitement, but the other three fights are either uninteresting or not particularly high-level in nature. Still, hardcore fans have plenty for which to look forward, as the preliminary card is loaded with blue-chip prospects who could have used the shine that goes with being on a main card for a McGregor fight.
Now to the UFC 246 “McGregor vs. Cowboy” preview:
WelterweightsConor McGregor (21-4) vs. Donald Cerrone (36-13)
ODDS: McGregor (-300), Cerrone (+250)
While McGregor’s return will likely do huge business at the box office, it feels like an unusually subdued affair. Why? First, there are sexual assault allegations that reportedly hang over the Irishman’s head, leading to his wanting to keep a low profile with the media in the leadup to this fight. Second, this is McGregor’s lowest-stakes bout in quite some time. In the last four-plus years, every McGregor appearance has either been a title fight or part of his all-time great feud against Nate Diaz; this is just a plain old bout at welterweight against Cerrone. There was the germ of a build to this fight years ago when the two had words at a press conference, and Cerrone was apparently the runner-up to Diaz for the McGregor bout in March 2016. However, without the usual hullabaloo that comes with a McGregor fight, this one feels relatively flat. Of course, it is being compared to an extremely high standard, given that McGregor has been a legitimately transformative figure for the business of the sport, exerting his leverage in a way that eventually led the UFC to overhaul its entire matchmaking structure, all while generating enough money to make the promotion an attractive purchase for Endeavor. McGregor’s peak years were truly a wonder to watch, as the Irishman seemingly willed every success that came his way into being, particularly after his 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo capped his 2015 campaign. Even an upset loss to Diaz only improved McGregor’s profile, as the rematch remains one of the biggest fights in mixed martial arts history. By the end of the year, the “Notorious” Irishman was back on top, becoming the first concurrent two-division champion in UFC history after headlining the promotion’s debut in Madison Square Garden. Since then, McGregor’s successes have been measured more by money and fame than any actual sporting accomplishments. His boxing match against Floyd Mayweather was yet another example of McGregor seemingly making something happen out of sheer will, but his lone MMA fight since then was a clear loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Essentially, since 2017, McGregor’s career, such as it has been, has been more about hand trucks, post-fight brawls, whiskey and whispers of legal trouble than anything else. That is the background for this bout against Cerrone. This is mostly about McGregor’s ability to look like his old self and set up a profitable 2020 for everyone involved.
It remains a risk to overlook Cerrone, however. While he is coming off only the second losing streak of his career, it feels like “Cowboy” has been written off as a contender time and time again, only to come back just as strong as ever. Most of Cerrone’s career has been marked by his willingness to fight anyone anywhere at any time, but his 2015 defeat to Rafael dos Anjos feels like the turning point in which he transformed from an ascendant fan favorite into a beloved veteran gunslinger. A previous loss to dos Anjos in 2013 seemed like the final straw for Cerrone as a lightweight contender, but thanks to his prodigious pace, Cerrone managed to rack up eight straight wins in less than two years, moving into position for a rematch as dos Anjos’ first challenger. Cerrone uncharacteristically took the approach of a normal fighter, taking time off and going through a focused training camp, but none of it paid off. He has historically had trouble with pressure fighters, and this was dos Anjos at the peak of his powers, leading to a 66-second blowout victory for the champion. That led Cerrone to move to welterweight, which was a mixed bag. Early on, Cerrone showed off a more diverse striking game than ever and went undefeated in 2016, but once opponents adjusted and he faced better athletes and the divisional elite, the losses stacked up to the point that “Cowboy” returned to 155 pounds. Since then, Cerrone has settled into a clear gatekeeper role: The best-of-the-best fighters have managed to take care of him, but wins over Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta showed that he has enough experience to exploit his opponents’ weaknesses, as long as they do not take him out first.
This is far from the gimme for McGregor, but it is still a favorable style matchup the Irishman should take if he is anywhere near the peak of his powers. In a straight striking match, McGregor should manage to apply the pressure that has traditionally given Cerrone fits. The Iaquinta fight showed that Cerrone has gotten better dealing with aspects of that style matchup, as he managed to fight from range and keep “Raging Al” from ever finding a groove. However, McGregor has two advantages Iaquinta does not. McGregor’s considerable reach and long fighting style should always keep Cerrone within distance, and while both men are durable, McGregor does not get cowed by a hard punch the way Iaquinta does. While Cerrone is a legitimate danger on the ground, McGregor’s fight against Nurmagomedov showed some much-improved takedown defense, suggesting he can keep this fight standing as long as that is a focus. Cerrone’s kicks may cause some trouble, but otherwise, most of the paths to a “Cowboy” victory focus on things that are out of his control. If Cerrone can survive the first round or two, there is a chance that some combination of ring rust and the additional muscle McGregor has packed on at 170 pounds will cause the Irishman to gas. Even then, that likely requires Cerrone to take some early damage; and while “Cowboy” has gotten better at this point in his career at avoiding that damage, he is reacting worse and worse once he actually gets hit. Remember, that has been against fighters who have not been nearly as accurate as McGregor. The pick is McGregor via second-round knockout.
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