After more than 1,000 days out of the Octagon, Conor McGregor returned in style with a brilliant TKO finish in just 40 seconds over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone during the UFC 246 main event at the T-Mobile Arena overnight.
It was quick. Not José Aldo-level quick, as McGregor stunned the Brazilian inside 13 seconds to win the featherweight strap five years ago, but the charismatic Irishman’s return didn’t last very long.
In a way, that’s what makes it all the more compelling.
He meant business from the word go: abstaining from alcohol during fight camp, owning up to his mistakes in a public interview, training dilligently and winning the belief back from coaches that he was again a motivated man – but had changed for the better too.
As the first bell sounded, he raced forward landing a big knee and Cerrone was stunned after Conor connected with some vicious shoulder strikes in the clinch.
Donald’s nose was busted open as a result, he looked dazed and his strike defence was iffy as he tried to settle himself after that early onslaught. It never came.
Instead, Conor was energised by his success and edged forward.
They exchanged leg kicks, only difference being McGregor’s landed flush on Cerrone as he stumbled backwards into the cage looking to recover.
Covering up desperately trying to avoid further damage, it proved futile. McGregor was onto him within moments, landing strikes and flooring him before finishing the fight with some ruthless ground-and-pound. Herb Dean gave Cerrone ample time to recover but it was futile.
Cerrone had no answer for McGregor’s blistering start, revealing as much in his brief post-match interview:
“He got me with his elbows right away, head kicked me… what a great gameplan he had. I’d never seen anything like that, busted my nose but I love this sport and am going to keep fighting – this is what I love. I got my family right here, thanks to everyone for suppporting me.”
McGregor was more measured than usual with his assessment of the fight. When Joe Rogan asked him whether utilising shoulder strikes was something he had worked on:
“Yeah, I changed levels with that and came into it, so it was a good shot. It feels good to be back, I set history here tonight with another record: first fighter in UFC history to record knockout victories at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight – three divisions – and I’m very proud of that.”
On Cerrone’s toughness and what’s next for him:
“Donald holds records for the most head-kick knockouts, the sheer amount of records he has… so I’m so happy and proud to get him now with a head kick myself! He’s a phenomenal fighter, not easy to put away either so yeah.
I feel really good, I’m in shape and no injuries but not there yet though – still have work to do to get back to where I was, so I’ll party tonight and get back into the gym.”
Although he didn’t specify one name, there are plenty of mouthwatering fights that can be made. Jorge Masvidal, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and a rematch with lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov are the trio being pushed more than most.
Even though he’s saying all of the right things, it’s important for fight fans to temper expectations and understand that Dana White rushing to make a rematch against Khabib – who was utterly dominant in their first fight – would be far from ideal right now.
Usman is still recovering from injuries sustained in his win over Covington on December 14 at UFC 245, while Masvidal is eager for a new matchup soon after proving victorious to win the BMF belt with a R3 stoppage vs. Nate Diaz the month prior at UFC 244.
Plenty was said about Conor, who saw his star power wane significantly in recent years after making a number of poor decisions – illegal and otherwise – since the best year of his professional career. That was 2016. We’re at the start of a new decade and as promised, the 31-year-old has crucially shown signs of remorse.
He’s aware one devastating KO won’t magically sway critics, but judging by the sheer fanfare this bout generated, it’s a platform to build upon.
Should he maintain this momentum and remain active as planned, he’ll join George St-Pierre as one of very few fighters to successfully return in MMA. After all, it’s not like he needs the money…
Time will tell, though it’ll be interesting to see where Cerrone goes from this.
He’s lost three successive bouts now (Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and McGregor) and while he seems comfortable at lightweight, his list of possible credible opponents continues to lessen – that’s not a good sign for a legend who turns 37 in March.
Other main card results
The scheduled bout between Claudia Gadelha and Alexa Grasso was cancelled by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) after the latter missed weight – Grasso was 5.5 pounds over the strawweight limit of 116.
Anthony Pettis suffered his second successive defeat on his return to lightweight, as Carlos Diego Ferreira won via a rear-naked choke submission in R2.
There were also submission wins for Brian Kelleher (guillotine) and Aleksei Oleinik (armbar) over Ode Osbourne and Maurice Greene in the bantamweight and heavyweight classes respectively.
In the night’s co-main event, Holly Holm won by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27) during a rematch against Raquel Pennington.