Only a few more sleeps till we see the Notorious one back in the Octagon. Conor McGregor makes his return on Saturday facing Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at Welterweight in Viva Las Vegas.
It’s no surprise that the rise of Conor McGregor has been the pinnacle of sports fame and notoriety. As the Shakespearean tragedy goes, a man who came from nothing, and earned everything before fame and power corrupted him. After a year off, he is back, but is he intending to stay?
However this blog won’t go into the details of his personal life, once again this is a purely data based look on what we could expect Saturday night between the two fighters.
Cowboy Cerrone has no doubt earned his spot in the UFC hall of fame history for breaking almost every record out there. He has the Most Wins, Most Finishes and Most Bouts in the UFC, and will, without a doubt bring his experience, grit and skill against the Notorious one.
When McGregor announced his return, it was a surprise that Cowboy was the man to get the call, my initial thoughts on opponents would have been a Nate Diaz trilogy, Justin Gaethje, or (although highly unlikely) a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov.
After pondering this for some time, I was convinced that Cowboy was the right choice, looking at the calibre of opponents above, it would have been a difficult return to form for McGregor. Cowboy presents the rights threats and skill for McGregors long and controversial hiatus. Getting through Cowboy is no easy task, and it will show exactly where McGregor lines up among the fighters on the UFC roster.
Right off the bat, the initial analysis for this fight is in the striking department. The last thing Cowboy should do is to stand and bang with McGregor. His famed left hand demolished all opponents on McGregors initial rise in the UFC, and like a sniper, his left hand is ready for the One Shot Kill. Cowboy needs to move around constantly, if he has any chance of staying around in the later rounds. If you take a look at his fights in Featherweight all his opponents were standing right in front of him trying to trade shots, this just won’t work, he is too quick and too powerful for a still target.
However in a recent interview with Brett Okamoto, Cowboy was willing to stand and bang with McGregor, may it is a tactic, maybe he is telling the truth, but if this is his strategy, it may be a tough night for Cowboy, none the less it would be a great fight for the fans.
We saw what happens to McGregor when he gets pushed to the later rounds, it was seen in both Diaz fights. The disadvantage of having fast twitch muscles (such as McGregor) is the rapidly declining gas tank. The reason McGregor is so explosive is because he usually gets the KO in the first couple rounds, but as soon as he is dragged into deep waters, it becomes a fight for survival and attrition. This is all based off his fights of yesteryear, we saw the new training video of McGregor recently, and he certainly looks new and improved. However that doesn’t change the fact that he still has fast twitch muscles, I don’t believe he can change that, he can however train himself to be more conservative throughout the initial rounds, and not to throw punches at 100% power every time, and to release the explosiveness in the later rounds.
Both fighters have quite similar fights times in the ring. McGregor’s average fight time of 9:02, and Cerrone, 9:57, so both fighters (on average) end their fights in Round 2. This may prove advantageous for McGregor, if he can get the KO early.
Cowboy is certainly no slouch when it comes to striking, his famous head kick KOs could also come in handy, if he manages to set McGregor up as he did with his previous opponents.
I think Cerrone’s biggest advantage comes in the grappling department, if Cowboy can take McGregor down and in the early rounds just to tire him out, and then start striking in the later rounds, Cerrone has a chance to take the win. McGregor has only been finished by submission in the UFC, first by Diaz and then a mauling neck crank by Khabib. According to Firas Zahabi,Cerrone has excellent grappling technique, and is well rounded on the ground.
During his hiatus, we could assume that McGregor would have worked on his ground game, and we could also assume he is more proficient in this area now. After facing Khabib, it is fair to say he faced the best grappler in the UFC by a large margin, so Cerrone may not look as much of a threat as Khabib, but he can certainly use it to his advantage if he wants to edge a decision victory over McGregor, or perhaps get another submission victory under his belt.
Both fighters are quite similar in their stats, in terms of their accuracy and defence, the biggest difference is in the fighters takedown accuracy. Currently there are no total takedowns landed for McGregor, which confirms the advantage for Cerrone’s ground game strategy.
Cowboy is truly a legend when it comes to fighting, he will say yes to anyone, anywhere and anytime. However this comes at a cost, look at his last four fights in 2019:
In the space of nine months Cowboy took a total of 260 significant strikes in UFC matches (ignoring sparring sessions etc). It will be interesting to see how he comes into the fight, both psychically and mentally.
Both fighters are coming off losses in the UFC, another reason this fight makes sense for the two fighters.
If we base our predictions of history, we can confidently say, the path to victory for Conor McGregor is if he gets Cerrone out of there early, maybe round one, or round 2. Things start to get hazy after round 3 onwards. The only person to test this was Nate Diaz, even though McGregor won that fight, he was slowly declining in energy round after round.
McGregor started off the rounds quick, his third round was the initial decline of his gas tank, he caught a second wind in the fourth round, but his strikes per minute was certainly decreasing as the rounds went on. Can we expect something similar against Cerrone? Maybe. Or maybe Cerrone will shoot early on to tire McGregor out, which will have a huge impact in the later rounds.
Or maybe, John Kavanagh is telling it like it is, we have seen a new and improved McGregor. This may mean he is much more conservative with his shots, instead of using 100% of the power early on, he uses 60–75% of the power each round to wear out Cerrone, and then when the time is right, BOOM, he lays out the 100% power left to get the KO. There is also a chance we may see McGregors new skills in his ground game, which as the popular tale goes, is his one true weakness.
This year long hiatus from McGregor, has left all the analysts and fans in limbo, we have to use our imagination to figure out how he has been training, and what we will expect to see on Saturday.
Is this the return of the Irishman we know and love, or the American Cowboy going to take the shine?