Forty seconds — that’s all it took for Conor McGregor to silence the haters at UFC 246.
In less time than it takes to microwave a sizeable rice meal, ‘Notorious’ demolished Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in emphatic fashion at the T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas. McGregor took the fight to Cerrone right away, battering him with hard shoulder strikes in the clinch.
Cerrone, a slow starter with a tendency to wilt under heavy pressure, quickly withered from McGregor’s onslaught, hitting the canvas after receiving a hard head kick. A bit more ground-and-pound was all it took for referee Herb Dean to call an end to the night.
The win left the usually braggadocious McGregor emotional on his knees. The fight didn’t just signify a return to form after his devastating loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov during the tailend of 2018, but this was McGregor’s first victory in any combat sport since 2016.
Now, in the aftermath, there’s a lot to digest.
But before that, it’s worth addressing the claims by some on social media that this fight was fixed, or that Cerrone took a dive. If you think that’s the case, then I suggest you turn off your TV, walk to your nearest fight gym, and get a professional to show you just what a forty-second onslaught feels like so you can add credence to your opinion. That said, let’s dive in.
Shoulder strikes are a thing now?
Like foot stomps, shoulder strikes have existed since the early days of mixed martial arts (MMA), but don’t see much use because they’re usually more of an annoyance than an actual devastating strike. McGregor’s use of his shoulder to break Cerrone’s nose is a pretty neat application of what’s usually a niche move. Expect amateur strikers worldwide to start practicing it.
What does the win over 'Cowboy' really mean?
For one, it means the long-dormant casual McGregor bandwagon fans can finally claim to be MMA experts again.
Kidding aside, the win over Cerrone showed us a few things. One, it shows that McGregor’s power has surprisingly carried over from 145lbs all the way to 170lbs. Two, we saw that his focus might finally be back on track after his troubles the last few years, and his newfound humility might actually be coming from a good place. Three, that the skills which launched him to the sport’s stratosphere are still present, and dare I say, improving.
While it was a good win for McGregor’s comeback, what remains to be seen is how he’ll fare against the best guys at lightweight or welterweight. The 36-year-old Cerrone is a fan-favorite and a legend, but he was 3-3 heading into the McGregor bout, with his last two fights against the top dogs at lightweight being stopped by TKO. He also tends to cave when the stakes are high and the spotlights are bright.
Is a rematch with Khabib looming?
There are a few fights being floated around right now, and one of them is a potential rematch with lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov. An entertaining prospect, yes, but let’s wait and see first if Nurmagomedov’s fight against Tony Ferguson, which has been more on-again, off-again than Friends' Ross and Rachel, finally happens.
Should he fight Kamaru Usman next?
In the past, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brass didn’t take too kindly to champions abandoning their weight class in search of more golden pastures. These days, though, the UFC is all about the money-making super fights between champions. During McGregror’s post-fight speech, the camera panned towards current welterweight champ Kamaru Usman, who didn’t seem too impressed with the night’s main event.
Like Nurmagomedov, though, Usman presents a stylistic nightmare for McGregor. At 6’0” with a 76-inch reach, Usman is bigger than the Irishman, has a solid wrestling base that even former champ Tyron Woodley found troublesome, and has a proven gas tank that can last five rounds. This fight would depend entirely on whether McGregor is chasing the sensible money or seeking to bolster his legacy. On top of that, Usman is apparently out indefinitely with an injury, so this fight might not work for McGregor’s plan to have a busy 2020.
What about a fight with Jorge Masvidal?
Along with Woodley, Jorge Masvidal was shown on-screen right after the fight. The year 2019 was a fruitful one for ‘Gamebred,’ whose stock soared after his record-setting knockout of Ben Askren and the 'Baddest Motherf***ker" (BMF) saga with Nate Diaz.
If McGregor is serious about campaigning at welterweight, this might be the most sensible fight to make. From a rankings standpoint, Masvidal sits at number three, and a McGregor bout could work as a title eliminator or an interim title fight, depending on how long Usman is on the shelf. The hype is there, too, given both men’s history with Nate Diaz.
And it makes sense style-wise. Masvidal’s hard-charging boxing style and durable chin would be a great foil for McGregor’s devastating left hand and potent kicks. This could turn into a real dog fight ala McGregor-Diaz 2, and powered by the marketability of both guys, it could turn out to be just as bankable.
Is he going to fight Floyd Mayweather again?
The best way to answer this is with another question: If he does fight Mayweather again, will you be just as excited as you were the first time? That first contest gave us unprecedented crossover appeal and the novelty factor was off the charts. Now? Been there, done that. The result wouldn’t be any different in 2020 than it was in 2017, but the interest in it surely would be.
What about a fight with Manny Pacquiao?
Ah, yes. The burning question on many a fight fan’s mind. There’s been a lot of talk about a potential fight between McGregor and our very own Pambansang Kamao. The boxer even tweeted his congratulations after the MMA fighter’s victory.
While this contest presents a different kind of novelty to the Mayweather fight, at the end of the day, it’s still a novelty. The fight would increase both guys’ net worth (though probably not to the level that Mayweather-McGregor did), but it does nothing for either of their careers. McGregor’s ambition to take over in every field he enters is admirable, but he can’t be a part-time MMA fighter forever. Not if he expects to remain relevant and build on his previous success.
As for Pacquiao, the twilight years of his hall-of-fame run would be best-served cementing whatever achievements he has left to add to his legacy, and not fighting an 0-1 professional boxer.