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Technically, there isn’t anything official up for grabs in the UFC 246 main event on Saturday night.
Conor McGregor is fighting for the first time in 15 months, though, so there’s a decent chance that the result of his matchup with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is going to have a major impact on the direction of the UFC’s lightweight and welterweight divisions throughout 2020.
This is a guy who managed to somehow convince the world to buy into a boxing match between himself and Floyd Mayweather, so there’s little question that if McGregor beats Cerrone he’s going to get to call his shot and pick a big-name opponent – and quite possibly one who currently carries a championship belt.
But what about the matchup with Cerrone itself? Saturday night’s big fight pits two accomplished strikers against one another.
McGregor made himself the biggest star that MMA has ever seen by finishing opponents with a devastating left hand. His career started at 145 lb., though, and it will be fascinating to see whether his power holds up now that he’s fighting 25 lb. heavier, at welterweight – something he’s done twice before, to be fair.
Cerrone, meanwhile, holds UFC records for most wins, finishes and post-fight bonuses. Anyone writing him off needs to get their heads straight, he’s got loads of weapons and holds a slight size advantage.
Here’s the tale of the tape for Saturday’s main event.
Age : 31
Fights out of: Dublin, Ireland
Height : 5-foot-9
Weight: 170 lb.
Notable accomplishments: First ever fighter to hold UFC championship belts in two different weight classes at the same time, having won the promotion’s featherweight championship in December 2015 when he knocked out Jose Aldo and then winning the lightweight title by defeating Eddie Alvarez 11 months later.
Last fight: Fourth round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229
How he can win: When McGregor is at his best, he puts constant pressure on his opponents right from the opening bell and picks them apart with his precise striking. He’s also got legitimate one-shot knockout power in the lower weight classes where he first made his name, but that power didn’t completely carry over in his two previous fights at 170 lb. against Nate Diaz. Expect McGregor to try to get this one over quickly and go for a first-round knockout. The early-going is when he’s at his most dangerous.
How he could lose: People tend to exaggerate McGregor’s struggles with takedown defence, but if the fight does go to the ground there’s no question that Cerrone’s jiu-jitsu will give him a distinct advantage. That’s been true of plenty of McGregor’s previous opponents, though, and they’ve rarely managed to take him down – Nurmagomedov was the notable exception. Cerrone is dangerous when he’s standing, too, though, so McGregor can’t be overconfident when they’re exchanging strikes. McGregor is also going to want to get this one done early. His cardio could be a factor with him carrying more weight and fighting at 170 lb.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
Fights out of: Albuquerque, N.M.
Weight: 170 lb.
Record: 36-13, 1 no contest
Notable accomplishments : UFC record for most wins (23), finishes (16) and post-fight bonuses (18) and holds stoppage wins over Matt Brown, Charles Oliveira and Jim Miller. Has fought for the UFC’s lightweight title.
Last fight: First round TKO loss to Justin Gaethje in Vancouver on Sept. 14, 2019
How he can win: Vegas bookies may have Cerrone listed as a sizable underdog, but make no mistake, there are a lot of ways that Cerrone can beat McGregor. Cerrone is better on the ground, mixes in devastating kicks with beautifully crafted combinations of punches and is the naturally bigger man. He went 4-3 fighting at 170 lb. before making a move back down to lightweight at the start of 2019 and while he went 2-2 last year, his losses came at the hands of Tony Ferguson and Gaethje, two of the legitimate monsters of the 155 lb. division. Cerrone is as well-rounded as they come and can beat anybody on his day. If he can get out of the first two rounds, Cerrone should arguably be considered the favourite.
How he could lose: The knock on Cerrone has always been that he doesn’t perform well in the biggest moments of his career. It’s not an entirely fair assessment – he’s beaten some big names in big moments – but it’s not entirely unfair, either. He has a tendency to start fights a little slow, and that’s a real worry against someone like McGregor, who is incredibly dangerous in the early-going. Cerrone has also promised again and again that this he and McGregor are going to put on a show on Saturday night. That likely means they’ll stay on their feet, which completely negates any advantage his jiu-jitsu might give him.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020