We are less than a week away from the UFC’s first pay-per-view card of 2020, which promises to be a huge year for the promotion. And just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two months, it’s a pretty big one. UFC 246 – which will take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas – will be headlined by none other than the promotion’s poster boy, Conor McGregor. The UFC’s first simultaneous two-division world champion will be welcomed back to the Octagon by a familiar face for long-time fans of the sport of mixed martial arts.
Former lightweight title challenger Donald Cerrone has been tasked with the job of welcoming McGregor back to the cage, which the latter hasn’t graced in over 15 months.
It’s no surprise that McGregor and Cerrone will be sharing the Octagon as the fight has been in the works for several months. What is surprising, however, is the fact the contest will be taking place in the welterweight division.
Understandably, much has been made about the fact the pair will be competing as welterweights – mainly because McGregor has only competed in the division twice and ‘Cerrone’ is no stranger to fighting in the weight class.
History – and by history I mean the main events of UFC 196 and UFC 202 – would tell us the move to welterweight is a risky one for McGregor, who fatigued in the second half of his back-to-back 170lb fights with Nate Diaz in 2016. Cardio issues aside, McGregor vs Cerrone is stylistically a very intriguing match-up. One I’ve taken the liberty of breaking down in layman’s terms.
Conor McGregor vs Donald Cerrone headlines UFC 246
Conor McGregor will make his first appearance inside the Octagon in over 15 months at UFC 246
Conor McGregor’s keys to victory
Pressure from the get-go
It’s no secret that Cerrone isn’t the fastest out of the blocks on the UFC roster. The former WEC standout has far too often been guilty of engaging in a feeling out process for too long; the most recent exception to that statement being his UFC 214 bout with Robbie Lawler.
The prime examples of Cerrone’s propensity to start slowly being his undoing are undoubtedly his first-round losses to Rafael dos Anjos and Darren Till. Both Dos Anjos and Till immediately closed the distance to negate Cerrone’s kicks and gave him no room to breathe.
McGregor, no doubt, will have looked at the tapes of those fights – which would serve him well as both RDA and Till are southpaws like he is. So it goes without saying he has to march forward and put ‘Cowboy’ on the back foot from the outset.
Over the years, McGregor has shown a unique ability to perplex his opponents with his range and use of feints. The Eddie Alvarez fight immediately springs to mind when thinking about his distance management.
And in the past, Cerrone has shown a tendency to bite heavily on set-ups – which proved to be his undoing in his loss to Jorge Masvidal in January 2017.
McGregor can use Cerrone’s overt reactions to feints to his advantage by faking teeps and kicks to the body and stepping in to land his piston-like left hand, which I strongly believe he’ll do.
Conor McGregor’s piece de resistance at UFC 205 was down to expert distance management and counters
Stay in boxing range
Long-time observers of Cerrone will know he’s markedly better with his kicking than he is with his punching. Now that’s not to say he doesn’t have good boxing skills, he clearly does.
“Though he’s struggled in the past when he’s been crowded out and been engaged in boxing range. I’m merely pointing out the fact his best work is done when he has room to utilise his kicks.
His record would attest to that fact as six of his ten KO/TKO victories have come courtesy of head kicks. So it’s safe to say McGregor has to stay within boxing range to negate Cerrone’s kicks and crowd him out if he’s going to come out of the contest victorious.
Work Cowboy’s body
McGregor should seriously explore this avenue – which I’m sure he’s aware of – on fight night. It’s common knowledge Cerrone’s core has been compromised from an old Motorcross accident, which has left him with intestinal issues. For clarity, the accident required doctors to remove part of his intestines and his stomach.
Unfortunately for Cerrone, the accident has left him with a vulnerable core, which Dos Anjos exploited in their 2015 bout.
So McGregor should make teeps and prod away at the body every time he begins to close the distance – though he’ll have to be wary of using them too much and Cerrone eventually catching one and initiating a takedown.
Conor McGregor should pepper Donald Cerrone with teeps to the body
Donald Cerrone’s keys to victory
Don’t engage Conor in boxing range, keep him at kick range
As much as ‘Cowboy’ will say he wants to stand and trade with McGregor in boxing range, doing so – – could have dire consequences for him. As an orthodox fighter going up against a southpaw – who he’s traditionally – Cerrone is already at a disadvantage.
You might ask: Why is he at a disadvantage when the perfect counter for a straight left is a straight right? Because he tends to overextend on his punches – in particular his right hand. The overextension of his right in his last outing against Justin Gaethje proved to be his undoing as he was quickly countered and put away.
And as previously discussed, McGregor – barring the overhand right he took from Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 – is very proficient at reading his opponent’s shots and countering with devastating effect. So Cerrone’s best bet is to stay on the outside and drill McGregor’s legs with kicks before attempting to close the
Donald Cerrone should avoid engaging Conor McGregor in boxing range
I’ll admit it’s a lot easier said than done to just close the distance and get double underhooks on your opponent – it’s one of the hardest things to do in the sport. But if Cerrone has his heart set on handing McGregor his second consecutive loss, that’s exactly what he needs to do – though he’ll close the distance and avoid the hellfire coming his way.
If he can get double underhooks, he should do his utmost to make McGregor carry his weight and work to free himself. And if he can do exactly that against the fence, he’d be in a prime position to set up a potential sweep or trip – which Nate Diaz did in the closing moments of his UFC 202 clash with ‘The Notorious’.
And if he can get McGregor to the ground, Cerrone stands a real chance of submitting him – even if he somehow ends up his back.
Donald Cerrone should look to tire Conor McGregor against the fence and try to secure a takedown
Should he fail to bring the fight to the canvas and McGregor break free from his clutches, he would’ve at worst fatigued the Irishman and taken some pep out of his left hand.
Now I know I previously criticised Cerrone for being a slow starter and paying the ultimate price for his love of the feeling out process, but that doesn’t mean his route to victory lies in pouring the pressure on.
As we saw in his fight with Alvarez and his unforgettable dethroning of Jose Aldo in December 2015, McGregor is an expert at capitalising on poorly set-up blitzes.
Cerrone is more than capable of executing well-thought-out rushes to close the distance. But pushing forward at pace against a sniper like McGregor – who can close the show with one shot – is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.