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UFC 246: Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about McGregor vs. Cerrone for UFC 246 in Nevada, and everything you don’t about whiskey and video games.

Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone this January 18, 2020 at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada, United States.

One sentence summary

David: The periodical son returns against the perennial cowboy

Phil: Look everyone it’s Conor and he’s fighting someone you’ve also heard of nothing else is going on shhhhhh

Stats

Record: Conor McGregor 21-4 Donald Cerrone 36-13

Odds: Conor McGregor -290 Donald Cerrone +260

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: I suppose we should address the elephant standing in the room. This isn’t just any elephant either. This elephant tore through your favorite movie posters, and buried your favorite Funko pop doll in mammalian turds. Obviously, we’re talking about the testimony facing McGregor of sexual assault allegations. I only speak for myself and say that I’ve resigned myself from believing the UFC would ever do anything even remotely honorable. So it’s hard for me to muster the energy to write a thinkpiece, which is why this paragraph will suffice. For one, Irish law complicates matters for my feeble American mind. Two, this is an organization that lets rapist Lloyd Irvin in the cage. To say nothing of Greg Hardy, or that time Dana White couldn’t believe a sheriff couldn’t be bought off just so Jeremy Stephens could make it to the cage on time. I’ve hit my moral outrage limit, and so to that end, “it is what it is.” It just sucks that for a guy who straddled the line with sincerity and theatrics, it’s unfortunate to see him become such a cliche. In addition, this is one of those distractingly one-sided fights. It’s clearly a soft ball for McGregor, no matter how much Dana wants to talk up the challenge of McGregor fighting in the valley of Frost Giants.

Phil: McGregor never advertised himself as a moral paragon, but it’s still been a bit depressing to watch the slide. On his way up there were moments of genuine courage, real guts, like when he took on Chad Mendes on short notice, or fought through against Max Holloway on a busted knee. When he promised that he’d be different, it seemed at least possible that it might be true. Then he went into a post-stardom career which was about as bland and predictable as you might imagine: a sell-out fight with Mayweather, and a general plunge into a selection of the moral and chemical plunges which come along with money and fame. Perhaps it’s worth rooting for him to turn it around. He sounds sincere about having found a new motivation for the sport... but then again, he sounds no less convincing than Jon Jones. I’ll believe it when I see it.

David: Cerrone just keeps on trucking. If he fights for another ten years, eventually ending up in the bareknuckle ring, I wouldn’t be surprised. The UFC likes Cerrone employed, and Cerrone obliges like the consummate pugilist that he is. If he were anyone else, this would be his swan song. A veteran fighter with just enough success to garner a major high profile bout allowing him to finally cash out; but probably not Cerrone. Win or lose, he’ll carry his son into the cage to take admittedly adorable photos and hope for another photo-op next fight. And why not? Beer drinking and ranching aren’t cheap.

Phil: The question with Cerrone is always: are the wheels about to fall off? Right at this point, the level of competition remains high enough that it’s difficult to say. He hung tough against Ferguson, but Gaethje plunked him quickly and ruthlessly. His personal health seems like the only thing which has a chance of stopping him. Other than that, he’s going to happily step up again and again. This is the third straight fight he’s taken which is an absolute stylistic nightmare, albeit one which is going to make him a lot more money than Gaethje and Ferguson did. I just hope he has enough of his body left to enjoy it when he finally does retire.

What’s at stake?

David: I don’t know. Cerrone is the Happy To Be Here type at this point. No, I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I just mean...well, he lost his last two fights. Nobody really expects him to win do they? Conor’s gonna end up being the anti-Cerrone: taking fun fights once every lunar eclipse with his son in the cage to celebrate after the fact.

Phil: Remember when they said the BMF belt was a one-off? Remember how no-one believed them? Spoiler: It wasn’t a one-off! So if Conor wins, he probably fights Masvidal in a fight which will be fairly fun, and which is more winnable for Conor than either Usman or Khabib. If Cerrone wins, the BMF belt likely stays dead and they both go their separate ways.

Where do they want it?

David: As much as I hate dealing with all the fan/public subterfuge that comes with discussing McGregor, he’s still an absolute blast to watch in the cage. He likes to say that “timing beats speed” and I’ve got nothing for that. Truer words, yadda yadda. Unlike in boxing, where anticipation is active and apparent, ‘anticipation’ is something of a non-art in MMA. By that I mean, few fighters go beyond mere reaction when defending. McGregor is the opposite; aware of the rhythm his opponent is about to feed him, and staying one step ahead. His absolutely destruction over Eddie Alvarez was an embarrassing (for Eddie) example of this. Alvarez seemed to think that mixing up his attack, moving around differently, and trying different entries was the answer. It didn’t matter because his timing was the same. McGregor has a unique ability to make himself look like he’s extending his posture in the pocket. In reality, he’s just leaning in to lure out counters. While he does this, he’s got a ton of options to close the distance (his snapping front kick to the body being one of the more dangerous for ‘I can get away with just standing at a distance’ boxers). I think he’s actually super capable on the ground. His initial scrambles against Nurmagomedov were textbook, and crisp. Khabib had to actually work for those takedowns, at least in the first round. He’s managed some solid offensive groundwork in some of his early Cage Warrior stuff, and of course, the Max Holloway bout being the most high profile example. It’s enough that even in a crazy scramble, and with all of Cerrone’s experience and acumen, I doubt McGregor is sudden toast.

Phil: Conor is not a fighter whose approach has shifted much across the weight class divide. From featherweight up to welterweight, he closes the gap quickly and pressures his opponent up against the fence. Then he opens up with the tricky lead hand, body shots and snapping kicks, until the opponent tries to crash the distance. Then he hits them with the left hand counter. The things which make it work have also remained the same: primarily the ability to be remarkably focused and to be dialed in enough to land counters on the very first time he sees a strike coming at him. It makes him one of the fastest-starting and most immediately dangerous fighters in the sport. Conversely, however, it’s a level of focus that he can’t maintain. He tends to settle into a more sedate pace later in fights, and his counters are less clean and shocking. While he’s a decent grappler, his gas tank simply doesn’t seem to hold up to long exchanges, or in a fight where he’s not dictating the action.

David: Cerrone’s rhythm has more or less stayed the same. From his days in the WEC (RIP), when he had to fight guys like Jamie Varner and Mark McGrath — to Robbie Lawler, he’s an opportunistic finisher, always looking for specific strikes or submissions to end the fight as quick as possible. He’s never followed a specific pace. Sure, Cerrone can finish fights with the best of them (read: Kenny Florian) but I’ve never really thought of him as a pressure fighter in the strictest sense. Nor is he a counterfighter. For that reason, Cerrone is something of an anomaly. He’s like Sam from Ronin: just extremely, but violently resourceful. He rarely has a specific gameplan he’s looking to implement. But like he did against Lawler, that’s not to say he isn’t prepared, or incapable of tactical adjustments. The fight happens, and Cerrone interacts with a series of fight-ending movements that sometimes work in his favor, and sometimes don’t.

Phil: Unlike McGregor, we have seen differentiation in Cowboy through two weight classes. The lightweight Cerrone was very much focused on leveraging a size and reach advantage, with a boxing game which seemingly existed entirely to push people back to kicking range, and a step-knee and defensive subs which were there to take care of level changes and takedowns. At welterweight, he was more consistently forced to engage with people who came at reach and height parity. So, to his eternal credit, he showcased a better boxing game (perhaps helped out by Six Gun Gibson), with a more coherent jab and left hook, a more aggressive clinch, and actual head movement. This was also when his own wrestling really came alive, as he could change levels himself to hit double leg takedowns. Of the two approaches, his first has almost certainly been more effective (Cerrone is something like 16-1 in fights where he has the height advantage), but his sojourns up at welterweight have allowed to layer in some valuable depth into a boxing game which was always a liability. It’s still depth which can be stripped away over time, but if this fight goes the way many think it will, then every moment of survival will be vital.

Insight from past fights

David: This is just a bad stylistic matchup for Cerrone. One of the things I’ve seen Cerrone do more of in recent bouts is reach in with his strikes. Any of that from Cerrone, and the exchanges will look exactly like the ones McGregor beat Alvarez with. Tag to that: Alvarez has a better chin at this point in their respective careers. Tag some more to that: McGregor’s body work is lethal, and Cerrone is notoriously vulnerable there. Tag even more to that: oh forget it. McGregor will win for one simple reason: he’s the superior striker, and Cerrone doesn’t have enough skills to avoid striking for the first ten minutes.

Phil: Remember that time when Cerrone beat a fast-starting, pressuring southpaw puncher? Nah me neither.

X-Factors

David: Both men have been friendly with each other. All the more reason for Cerrone to make sure he doesn’t say ‘no’ to a shot of Proper 12.

Phil: Is Cerrone shot? Is McGregor’s new physique actually for anything, or is it just a worthless Mir muscle suit? Is his head in the game?

Prognostication

David: Ok so we doubled down two weeks ago and said Rampage would destroy Fedor, and it didn’t happen. And? I didn’t know Rampage would be fighting at Jabba Weight. These two men don’t have that problem. This is McGregor’s fight to lose. Conor McGregor by TKO, round 2.

Phil: Can Cerrone win this fight? Sure he can, he’s a dangerous, dynamic finisher who can build up amazing attritional damage as well as winning fights in singular moments from both subs and strikes. But, those things were true in every one of his fights against poisonous style matchups in the past, and he lost those fights every time. Conor McGregor by TKO, round 1.