After taking a couple of weeks off, UFC will be kicking off 2020 with a return of their biggest star of the decade taking on the most decorated veteran and record holder who has never held a title. UFC 246: McGregor vs Cerrone will be one of those events that doesn’t have a star-studded undercard, and is marketed on the strength of the main event alone.
Conor McGregor will be facing Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at welterweight; and while this is not a particularly meaningful fight from the divisional title perspective and not exactly a ‘Super-Fight’ either, it is an interesting bout which should be competitive and fun for as long as it lasts. Here, I will be taking a look at the careers of both fighters, the numerous acclaims and records they hold in the UFC, and the stylistic matchup. And if you are into UFC betting, putting some cash on whoever you think will take home the W might make watching this fight even more exciting.
Conor McGregor [Not Ranked (Inactivity)]
Pro MMA Record: 21-4-0
UFC Record: 9-2-0
Pro MMA Debut: 03-08-2008
Odds: -310 (favorite, as of January 3 2020)
- Interim Featherweight Championship
- Featherweight Championship
- Lightweight Championship
- Third fighter to win UFC titles in multiple weight classes
- First fighter to concurrently hold UFC titles in more than one weight class
- Nine total ‘Of the Night’ bonuses (tied for fifth overall)
- Six Performances of the Night (third behind Charles Oliveira with 9 and Donald Cerrone with 7)
- Two Fights of the Night
- One Knockout of the Night
- Seven consecutive wins (2013-2015)
Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone [#16 WW]
Pro MMA Record: 36-13-0
UFC Record: 23-10-0
Pro MMA Debut: 02-11-2006
Odds: +240 (underdog, as of January 3 2020)
- Most Total Bouts (33, tied with Jim Miller)
- Most Wins (23)
- Most Finishes (16)
- Second most wins at Lightweight
- Third most finishes at Lightweight
- One of 16 fighters with over 5 hours of Octagon time
- Most total ‘Of the Night’ bonuses (18)
- Seven Performances of the Night (second behind Charles Oliveira with 9)
- Six Fights of the Night (tied for third overall)
- Three Knockout of the Night (tied for fourth overall)
- Two Submissions of the Night
- Eight consecutive wins (2013-2015)
While Donald Cerrone is known primarily as a striker with a 28-0-1 record in Muay Thai, only 28% of his MMA wins have come by the way of stoppage due to strikes. However Cerrone himself has been stopped with strikes 6 times – or 46% of all his losses – and more concerningly, four of these six losses have come in the past two years.
Conor McGregor on the other hand has 18 T/KO wins compared to Cowboy’s 10, which accounts for 86% of McGregor’s total wins. And with the exception of an exhibition boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor has never been stopped with strikes himself. So while Cowboy may have better fundamentals due to his kickboxing experience, McGregor holds a very definitive advantage in KO power, as well as timing and accuracy needed to deliver the fight-ending strike. Combined with Cerrone’s age/wear & tear and apparent decline of his durability in recent years, this spells bad news for Cowboy for as long as the fight remains on the feet.
On the surface, this isn’t your traditional striker-vs-grappler matchup. However if you look a bit deeper, the key to victory for Cerrone is getting this fight to the ground and keeping it there long enough to secure a submission. The submission part is not unrealistic: Cerrone has 17 submission victories to his name – almost half of his total MMA wins – and has only been submitted once himself. McGregor on the other hand has a single submission win and all four of his losses have come by the way of tap-out. Taking Conor down and keeping him there is a different issue. Cowboy does not have a wrestling background; his takedown accuracy is 36% with only a single takedown attempted per fight, on average. With McGregor’s takedown defense accuracy of 70%, it will be no easy task for Cerrone to get this fight to the ground. Cowboy is more of an opportunistic submission artist than someone who actively pursues takedowns, and I’m sure Conor is well aware of this fact and will not be giving him many opportunities.
Donald Cerrone has been in 4 fights which have gone longer than 3 rounds, with a 1-3 record. Conor McGregor is just 1-1 in the ‘championship rounds’. Additionally, Cerrone has been in 11 three-rounders which have gone the distance, compared to only one for McGregor. While neither fighter is known as a cardio machine, Cerrone is far more experienced in longer fights, and I’ve never seen him gas as badly as Conor did against Nurmagomedov and Diaz. An early end to this fight likely favors a stoppage win for McGregor; it is in Cerrone’s best interests to drag Conor into deep waters and aggressively pursue submissions in the latter rounds.
One of the biggest criticisms of Donald Cerrone, going back to the WEC days, is choking in big fights. This is the reason Cerrone has never held a title belt in a major MMA organization: he went 0-3 in WEC title matches, and 0-1 in UFC. He has also lost several key fights which may have earned him additional UFC title shots. However in the past couple of years Cerrone has been losing more often, indicative of his overall decline as a fighter. Cowboy has never lost consecutive fights prior to 2017; since then, he has accumulated a three-loss streak and is currently riding another two consecutive losses. 6 of his 13 losses have come in the last two years, and he has been finished in 4 of these 6. In terms of pressure, this is not a must-win fight for Cowboy and even an early knockout loss will not particularly tarnish his legacy. Not having to cut to 155 lbs may also be more advantageous to Cerrone, who is a two inches taller and correspondingly bigger than McGregor, and has significantly more experience as a welterweight. However I just can’t ignore all the indicators pointing to Cowboy being headed out to pasture in the near future.
Conor McGregor has his own issues to deal with. He typically excelled in big, high-pressure fights – and all the pressure is on Conor in this one. However he has not fought since October 2018, and has not won a fight since November of 2016, over three years before he steps into the Octagon with Cowboy. In the meanwhile, he has been dealing with legal issues ranging from minor infractions such as speeding tickets, to more serious such as an assault of a 60-year old man in a bar, an arrest for smashing a fan’s phone for recording him, and even two allegations of sexual assault which have not resulted in charges however the investigations were publicized by the New York Times. It’s very questionable whether McGregor still has the hunger to prove that he is the best fighter in the world, and quite possible that his partying has affected his athletic abilities and skills as a fighter.
With all that said, what does this match-up really mean for the UFC? Outside of the obvious (any McGregor fight is a big draw), I believe UFC sees this as a fairly winnable warm-up fight for Conor, which will then immediately propel him into the title picture. And by that I mean the lightweight title picture – even though this fight takes place at welterweight and McGregor already made some comments about facing Kamaru Usman, realistically the top welterweights like Usman and Colby Covington are nightmare matchups for Conor. However if he beats Cowboy, I could easily see UFC sliding him in to face the winner of the upcoming Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson title fight – or even as an alternate, should Khabib or Tony get injured or withdraw from the fight for other unforeseen reasons. So a win here means a lot more to McGregor than it does to Cowboy, who is at the tail end of his career and not likely to fight for UFC gold again. Similarly, a loss would hurt Conor’s standing more than it would Cerrone’s. And while I would love to see Conor crumble under pressure and for Cerrone to put another feather in his cowboy hat, ultimately I believe that age will be the deciding factor and Conor will walk away with a T/KO victory.