Photo Credit: Chris Unger – Getty Images
Over the course of his last seven years with the promotion, we’ve become accustomed to a varying number of versions of Conor McGregor. The ultra-focused, collected and confident McGregor which toyed with José Aldo before an eventual thirteen-second victory. A similarly sparkling best which battered Eddie Alvarez from pillar to post for a round and a half on his way to Octagon history. Sandwiched in between those victories, we’ve got his first affair with Nate Diaz. A short-notice contest where McGregor, making his welterweight bow loaded up over and over again before lethargically dropping a second-round rear-naked choke defeat. In his last Octagon affair, a flat-footed, rust ridden McGregor who made his first Octagon walk in just less than two years. On that night in October 2018, Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated majorly before a fourth-round submission win.
Based on recent footage, McGregor ‘appears’ to have regained that laser vision on success, and ultimately, legacy. Make no mistake, Saturday’s main event against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is more than likely a ‘win or bust’ matchup for the Dubliner. Sure, he’s only lost twice inside the Octagon – but for someone of his stardom and character, a third defeat would be, simply put, detrimental. On these shores, McGregor’s lost a tonne of support – in a country where major sports stars are a rarity. Losses to Diaz, Khabib and his venture into boxing against Floyd Mayweather Jr. are partly to blame, but his antics outside the Octagon are more telling – despite what the Dubliner may think himself. A victory on Saturday night may go some distance toward rebuilding that support.
Question’s of McGregor’s ability is ridiculous. Questions of commitment and focus are warranted. I’ve held the belief for an extended period of time that the worse thing to happen for fans of McGregor – was his involvement in that lucrative August 2017 meeting with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Earning north of $100 million in many expert’s estimations, McGregor was more than set for the future. For aficionados of the Dubliner’s presence inside the Octagon – they were denied two years of McGregor at his very best. He can’t be blamed. Money like that is truly life-changing – but the hard graft required to remain at the top of your game becomes all that more difficult when you can now surround yourself with life’s luxuries. Coach John Kavanagh has reiterated time and time again that McGregor is now fighting for legacy – a victory over Cerrone goes a long way to solidify that ever-evolving legacy.
The SBG star is predominantly known for his striking exploits. A masterful counter striker, with impeccable timing, distance-maintenance, and accuracy – rivaled maybe by welterweight kicking ace, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. He’s been billed as a kickboxer throughout his career, and yes, he does possess damaging kicks, but the utilization of teeps and front kicks to the body in matches against Chad Mendes and Eddie Alvarez in recent outings have stifled progression considerably. Where McGregor really finds his groove, is in his counter boxing. Joe Rogan refers to McGregor left straight as a “piston” whenever possible. Tristar head-honcho Firas Zahabi has labeled it, “the touch of death“. It’s ‘The Notorious’ one’s greatest weapon. It’s sat down Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver, Chad Mendes, José Aldo, Nate Diaz, and Eddie Alvarez a combined eleven separate times. Avoidance of this shot is pivotal for ‘Cowboy’ early if he wants to exit the Octagon with his hand raised. Easier said than done of course.
Another belief I’ve held is that if an opponent can force McGregor to the fence – or fight off his back foot, his offense becomes severely nullified. Whether it’s a comfort that McGregor has been allowed due to his forward-pressure we’ve been shown so often, it seems the two opponents that have had the most success against the Crumlin native has forced him backward. In his first contest with the aforementioned Nathan Diaz, McGregor was pressured in the second round, which proved debilitating for him. Even in his rematch victory, McGregor was delt trouble in the form of a pressuring Diaz from the second round onwards. Against Nurmagomedov, McGregor was taken down three times – smothering no doubt. Clinching and forward momentum from the Dagestani proved hugely successful as he remained undefeated. Forward pressure is key for Cerrone on Saturday night.
In all of Conor McGregor’s four professional defeats – he’s been submitted. Joseph Duffy, Nate Diaz, and Khabib Nurmagomedov have all found the neck of the Dubliner – while Artemij Sitenkov managed a kneebar. Against someone as proficiently traveled off his back as Cerrone, that stat becomes alarming for McGregor. I noted in my Fighter Profile feature on ‘Cowboy’ yesterday how he’s managed a staggering sixteen victories via submission. McGregor rarely enters an opponent’s guard after a knockdown, where Cerrone is most dangerous with his triangle – but in his win over ‘Cowboy’ Oliveria, Cerrone setup the finishing triangle from full mount.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, we’ve been shown a number of versions of the 31-year-old over previous years; the version which enters the early exchanges in the Octagon on Saturday night will give us a huge inkling to how the contest with Cerrone will play out.