UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 246 card, set to take place in Las Vegas.

Updated: Jan. 16, 2020 • 9:10 AM ET

Conor McGregor is looking for a better result than his last outing vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The UFC will begin 2020 in explosive fashion, as two of the most popular fighters in the promotion’s history will headline UFC 246 this weekend at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. On Saturday night, former featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor will make his long-awaited return to the Octagon against fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a welterweight bout.

McGregor returned from a previous two-year layoff in October 2018 at UFC 229, but lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title and hasn’t fought since. During the two years prior to fighting Nurmagomedov, McGregor became a global icon and fought longtime boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a crossover fight that opened MMA to many new fans and critics.

Since the fight with Mayweather, McGregor has stayed in the public eye, more so because of controversy and less because of fighting. However, the anticipation of his return has and will always be a hot topic until he retires for good.

Before McGregor fought Mayweather, launched his own brand of whiskey, or had multiple run-ins with the law, he arguably became the biggest star the UFC had ever seen. Yes, there were Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, then Brock Lesnar followed by Ronda Rousey; but McGregor has become a fixture in pop culture unlike any fighter we’ve seen. An impressive, contributing factor to his popularity was that it felt like he brought his entire home country of Ireland to every event.

Aside becoming the first fighter in UFC history to win and simultaneously hold a belt in two different weight classes, the Irishman has achieved pay-per-view numbers yet to be duplicated. McGregor used brash, trash talk to garner attention and backed it up with a magnetic fan-pleasing fighting style.

Love or hate him, he’s a promotional monster, and a fight with Cerrone has been a long time coming. A budding rivalry sprouted at a 2015 press conference, during which McGregor was promoting his featherweight title fight against Jose Aldo and Cerrone his lightweight title fight against Rafael dos Anjos. At the press conference, Cerrone was asked to respond to rumors about McGregor moving up to lightweight.

“Conor has no right coming up to ’55,” Cerrone said. “There’s no way; he’s not gonna stand a chance. We’re too big for him, we’re too strong, so you can take your little English ass and get on.”

McGregor cleverly responded, “You’re too slow and too stiff, you’re as stiff as a board. I’d snap you in half. I see stiffness when I look in that 155-pound division. Slow, stiff. I feel like they’re stuck in the mud almost. The featherweights they hit like flyweights, so it’s nice down there just destroying them and killing that whole division. But I have my eye on that 155 division, and I see them all stuck in the mud.”

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After a bit more back-and-forth banter between the two, a new rivalry was born that has had four years of build-up and anticipation. Cerrone has welcomed a possible fight with McGregor ever since and stated as much again in his post-fight interview following a unanimous decision victory over Al Iaquinta last May.

“I want the title, whatever that means,” Cerrone said. “Unless, Conor McGregor, you want to fight me in July. I’m ready. Fourth of July, let’s do it.”

McGregor wasn’t ready to fight last July, and Cerrone has since fought twice, losing both bouts to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje by TKO.

Saturday’s bout will be Cerrone’s 52nd professional fight and 34th in the UFC. He often takes punishment before inflicting significant damage; but despite being TKO’d in his last two fights, Cerrone still plans on standing with the prominent striking McGregor.

“You know, I probably should,” Cerrone told ESPN in a sit-down interview about taking McGregor to the ground. “But I don't think I will. I like to fight, too.

“I like to get in there and throw down. Everyone says his stand-up is amazing, so why not go and test it? Everyone says, ‘You wanna just stand there, you’re gonna get knocked out. That’s such a stupid game plan, such stupid decision.’ But it's my decision. It's my stupidity…I know who I am. I look in the mirror, I know exactly who I am, so I get to go and make the decision I want. Why wouldn't I want to stand with one of the best? Why not? Can I take the punch? That's the question I wanna know. Can he take my f---ing kicks is the question I wanna know.”

Cerrone holds multiple UFC records, including the most wins (23), finishes (16), post-fight bonuses (18), knockdowns (20) and is tied for the most bouts in a 12-month period (6). He has defeated a who’s who of fighters, including Alexander Hernandez, Mike Perry, Yancy Medeiros, Matt Brown, Rick Story, Patrick Cote, Alex Oliveira, Benson Henderson, Eddie Alvarez, Jim Miller, Edson Barboza, Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira.

What has gained Cerrone his level of popularity is his willingness to fight anytime, anywhere, against anyone. Win or lose against McGregor, he knows his legacy has been built upon hard work and his willingness to put on a show for fans.

“I want people to say, ‘That son of a (expletive) is the hardest-working, blue-collar American I’ve ever seen fight and I want to watch because he fights with purpose and a reason,’” Cerrone recently said via MMA Junkie. “I plan on going out there. I’m (expletive) fighting for everybody, man. This is what I love to do. There’s no other job I’d rather do. I’m doing it, I’m living it and I’m here.”

Fighting in the UFC for the 12th time, McGregor (21-4 overall) has an impressive resume of victories in his career, including wins over Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier, Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo, Nate Diaz and Eddie Alvarez. His second fight with Diaz scored 1.65 million pay-per-view buys, and his loss to Nurmagomedov drew an all-time MMA record 2.5 million buys, proving that even after significant time off, McGregor is must-see TV.

It’s important to note that his fight with Mayweather is the second-largest grossing pay-per-view event in history with 4.3 million buys, which is still a large reason McGregor has remained the UFC’s top draw. At 31 years old, he’s also still in the prime of his career, so a return to glory isn’t out of the question.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Cerrone is likely at the back-end of his career. If he loses badly to McGregor, questions about his retirement will arise. Also, how long can he fight at his current pace of at least three fights every year since 2013?

McGregor is known for getting off to quick starts in his fights, while Cerrone commonly starts slow. McGregor, however, has also been known to have endurance issues once his fights leave the first round. Can Cerrone deal with McGregor’s accuracy and power enough to get the fight out of the first round?

Cerrone’s ability to gain momentum later in fights could be problematic for McGregor, should the fight get that far. He has a clear advantage on the ground, a place where Nurmagomedov and Diaz exploited McGregor’s weakness.

 

Co-main event

Saturday’s co-main event will be a rematch in the women’s bantamweight division between former champion Holly Holm and former title challenger Raquel Pennington.

The No. 3 ranked Holm will try to rebound from a TKO loss for the bantamweight title to champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 239 last July. Since defeating Ronda Rousey to become champion at UFC 193 in 2015, Holm is 2-5 with the loss to Nunes being the worst of her MMA career.

Holm defeated Pennington by split-decision in her UFC debut in 2015, starting an undefeated run towards her first title shot. The 38-year-old former multiple time boxing champion is another bad loss from possible retirement, but a win could put her right back in the bantamweight title picture. She likely won’t get another shot if Nunes is still champion, but if Nunes successfully defends again against a fighter in the top five, why not have a rematch? Holm, however, must defeat Pennington first.

The No. 5 ranked Pennington is coming off a split-decision victory over Irene Aldana in July after losing two straight, first for the title against Nunes and then to eventual title challenger Germaine de Randamie. Including Aldana, Pennington has key victories over former champions Miesha Tate and Jessica Andrade. Like Holm, the 31-year-old Pennington could be one win away from getting back into the title picture.

 

The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. EST

Heavyweight bout - No. 12 Aleksei Oleinik vs. Maurice Greene

Women’s strawweight bout - No. 6 Claudia Gadelha vs. No. 11 Alexa Grasso

Lightweight bout - No. 9 Anthony Pettis vs. Diego Ferreira

 

ESPN Prelims at 8 p.m. EST

Women’s flyweight bout - No. 7 Roxanne Modafferi vs. No. 9 Maycee Barber

Featherweight bout - Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff

Flyweight bout - No. 7 Tim Elliott vs. No. 12 Askar Askarov

Lightweight bout - Drew Dober vs. Nasrat Haqparast

ESPN Fight Pass Early Prelims at 6:15 p.m. EST

Light heavyweight bout - Aleksa Camur vs. Justin Ledet

Bantamweight bout - Brian Kelleher vs. Ode Osbourne

Women’s flyweight bout - Sabina Mazo vs. JJ Aldrich

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