Saturday will see the return of Conor McGregor, but questions circulate on whether he can still galvanize the fanbase like before and get back in the win column as he faces Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246.
By the time Conor McGregor makes the walk for UFC 246, it will be a little less than a year and a half since his last appearance inside the cage. But for all he has accomplished, there are even more questions surrounding his return: Will he have the same pay-per-view drawing power as he once did? Is he still an elite level fighter in today’s landscape? After all his financial success, does he have the same drive that pushed him to such great heights in the first place?
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— UFC (@ufc) January 3, 2020
The answers can be found by asking just two questions. Firstly, is he the same? In other words, despite the set-backs in blockbuster match-ups with Floyd Mayweather (in pure boxing) and Khabib Nurmagomedov, are all of his skills as sharp as they were when he defeated José Aldo, Eddie Alvarez, and Nate Diaz to become the biggest star the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen? Secondly, are his abilities still enough to reach the summit? At lightweight alone, the top three of Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, and Justin Gaethje all have a grappling prowess that poses a mighty challenge to McGregor. That is not to mention the bigger athletes that make up the welterweight division where Saturday’s contest will be contested.
The match-up with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has been one that fans have been excited for since rumors circulated early last year about a possible fight between the two. No other fighter has recorded more UFC victories or performance bonuses, and he has done so with several years less in the company than his peers Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre who come the closest in victories. His reputation is set in granite as a perennial contender who is nearly always involved in an exciting contest.
However, there is speculation that fighting at such a high rate has led to Cerrone burning the proverbial candle at both ends. He has been in countless exciting battles, surviving some highlight reel combinations and being stopped by others. Now in 2020, there is question if he is still as durable as before as he enters a fight with the heavy-handed McGregor. He is coming off back-to-back stoppages that lends credit to the notion. But he has been in a worse position before, rebounding from a three fight skid to go 4-1 in what is considered one of the most impressive resurgences seen in recent years.
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McGregor has never been one to pursue a grappling match, and Cerrone has promised to keep the fight standing despite having a dangerous submission game that could pose problems for the Irishman. “The Notorious” will get in-and-out where he can conserve energy and look to land the powerful shots. Cerrone fights from a more traditional kickboxing stance and will look keep McGregor at mid-range where he can keep “The Notorious” at the end of his diverse attack of punches and kicks. The x-factor in this fight is that it will be contested at 170 pounds which is expected to heavily favor Cerrone. McGregor, though still formidable, infamously slowed down in his two welterweight contests with Nate Diaz. “Cowboy” spent several years at welterweight and figures to be able to carry the extra weight more efficiently on his taller frame in a five round contest.
Of Cerrone’s many victories, none would be bigger or sweeter than to dispatch McGregor by knockout. The name recognition and cross-over fame that comes with facing McGregor is enormous and would set-up a big 2020 going forward. “The Notorious” has made it clear that he took the fight at welterweight with the intention of setting up a mega-fight with BMF champion Jorge Masvidal should he win. A return to the lightweight division to get another shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov or a fight with Tony Ferguson would be a major option on the table and one that would undoubtedly do huge numbers for the UFC.