LAS VEGAS — “Just For the Fight of It.” That should be the moniker that describes UFC 246 Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, where Conor McGregor will make his return from a 15-month layoff against fan-favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
The much-anticipated welterweight bout, which will be streamed on ESPN Plus PPV, has been free of the hostilities that normally accompany McGregor fights. Trash-talk, threats and taunts have been replaced by promises from each side to deliver their very best performances for attending fans and viewers.
“It’s a different response between me and Donald,” McGregor said. “But it’s still a high intense bout. Make no mistake I’m coming with the intent and all my skills to put Donald away.”
The non-title fight will be McGregor’s first bout since tapping out in the fourth round against UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018. McGregor is 2-2 in his past four MMA bouts stretched over nearly four years and 2-3 overall, if you count losing to Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in August 2017. The UFC’s first dual-division champion has promised to be more active this year, beginning with this fight.
McGregor said he has rededicated himself to the sport and is coming off a very structured training camp that has him physically and mentally prepared for a five-round battle.
“I just want activity,” McGregor said. “I’m going to go in and I’m going to look to acquire rounds. I’m not going to be in a rush. I’m going to put pressure on Donald. I’m going to hurt Donald. But if he can last, I’ll be happy. I’ll be happy to acquire rounds and build on these rounds.”
Cerrone, 36, should have the better timing early in the fight, considering his level of activity. He fought four times in 2019 and three times in 2018, compiling a 4-3 record during that span, including losses in his past two bouts. Though he lost his last two fights, against top contenders Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson, Cerrone’s body of work makes him a credible opponent. At 36-13 with one no contest, he owns the UFC record for wins and finishes, and also holds the UFC mark for KOs with kicks.
“I’m looking forward to five rounds of hell,” Cerrone said. “We’ve prepared and we’re ready.”
Cerrone is dangerous with his feet and his fists, but is known to be a slow starter and has trouble with southpaws. That plays into McGregor’s strength. The Irishman will be looking to use his 74-inch southpaw reach to walk Cerrone into one of his powerful left hands. Cerrone’s best bet is the make it more of a battle on the ground, but that doesn’t sell well on PPV. Watch out for Cerrone’s powerful kicks, but expect more of a stand-up fight that favors McGregor.
With the bout contracted at 170 pounds, neither fighter was stressed to make weight, but conditioning could still be a factor in the later rounds if it gets that far. McGregor has a reputation of fading, something that was proven against Nurmagomedov and Mayweather.
“People keep saying they want the old, Conor, the 2016 Conor,” McGregor said. “But I feel I’m in a better place than that. I’m more experienced.
“I was sporadic with my work and with my life. I’m a lot more centered, a lot more grounded and a lot more focused.”
McGregor (21-4) seems to have maintained his fan appeal despite a number of legal issues. Most recently, he was arrested for smashing a fan’s cell phone in Miami and for punching a man who was sitting in a pub in Ireland. There was also a report McGregor is being investigated for sexual assault in Ireland.
His humbled approach this week might be more damage control and image makeover. He has mentioned his support of the relief effort to fight the fires in Australia.
“He has an awesome platform, why not be a good role model?” Cerrone said of McGregor. “Why not be a good person? It’s good to see him making the right path. I like it.”
McGregor is eyeing two more high-profile MMA bouts this year and perhaps a boxing event with Manny Pacquiao as a possible opponent. For now, it’s “The Notorious versus the Cowboy,” McGregor said.
Just for the Fight of It.
Prediction: McGregor’s inactivity is a concern, but he should start landing his powerful left hand sometime in the second round and finish Cerrone in the third.
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