It’s the McGregor effect taking shape once again – even in 2020. Along with record-breaking gates, the Dubliner, through no fault of his own, seems to bring a certain group who overlook his opponent’s ability. Against someone like Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, it may be the rock they perish on. The Denver born Muay Thai specialist has dropped two stoppage defeats in a row – against two of the scariest challengers at lightweight today.
Let’s get things straight. Cerrone is still to this day, one of the most dangerous strikers that the entire UFC roster has to offer. A myth that’s been dispelled recently by the veteran, is his ability, or apparent lack thereof, to perform on the biggest stages. Take a look at his last three victories. Against Mike Perry, at welterweight, Cerrone was paired with a durable, heavy-handed boxer – and managed an opening round armbar. In his return to lightweight, Cerrone met the young prospect, Alexander Hernandez, and inside eight minutes, finished the grappler with a now patented high kick. Lastly, when paired with the gritty, Al Iaquinta, managed a flawless unanimous decision victory. Before the defeat, Iaquinta has just beaten Kevin Lee yet again – someone who many within the community has tipped to eventually wear UFC gold. Saturday presents the biggest stage Cerrone has ever step foot on – put his back against the wall and into a corner and he may be at his most menacing.
It’s a monstrous test for Cerrone – who will enter the Octagon as a conceivable underdog, but the fact that proceedings will play-out at the welterweight limit rather than the lightweight mark makes this occasion all the more interesting. Cerrone has spent the majority of his storied career competing in the shark tank of the 155-pound ranks but made a brief excursion to 170-pounds after a 2015 defeat to Rafael dos Anjos. Winning four straight with finishes, Cerrone bested some of the larger contenders in the division. Overthrowing the likes of Alex Oliveira, Rick Story, Matt Brown and Patrick Cote – ‘Cowboy’ reassured audiences that he was here to stay. Even against former division best, ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler, Cerrone looked fantastic, before finding himself on the wrong end of a unanimous decision judging.
It’s a pairing of two strikers first and foremost – but it’s certainly Cerrone who holds the advantage in any possible grappling scenarios. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has one of the most tricky guards in modern mixed-martial-arts, right up there with lightweight counter-part Tony Ferguson, and former heavyweight champion, Frank Mir. We’ve all seen the highlight-reel head kick knockouts, but the BMF ranch owner is also the proprietor of a staggering seventeen separate submission stoppages. McGregor has goaded Cerrone against shooting for a takedown over the course of the contest, claiming the first to do so will be labeled a “cowb**ch” – but this is fighting at the end of the day. If the opportunity presents itself, expect Cerrone to wrap up one of those taught armbars or triangle attempts.
In terms of how both of these men matchup on paper, Conor McGregor is undeniably Donald Cerrone’s kryptonite. McGregor’s a southpaw, counter-striker with massive power and accuracy – but it’s his rocket start which causes some concern for Team ‘Cowboy’. The Dubliner has notoriously pushed the pace throughout his Octagon stint, even in his defeats. The fast-paced approach forces return from opponents, ultimately setting up his counter-offense. On the other side of the equation, Cerrone is known for his methodical but somewhat measured start. He’s even admitted himself that sometimes he takes the opening frame to really get going – case study; his bout with the aforementioned Al Iaquinta.
We can draw a lot from Cerrone’s defeat to Darren Till back in 2017. Despite explaining how he never really researched the background of Till before the main event in Gdansk – the style of the now middleweight Liverpudlian and McGregor share some notable similarities. Two extremely long strikers, with forward pressure, and a stinging straight counter. The straight is a shot that sat Cerrone down toward the end of the opening round – and it’s a weapon McGregor has had major success with against Chad Mendes, Eddie Alvarez, Nate Diaz, Diego Brandao, and Dennis Siver.
There’s also a strange narrative currently broadcasted that Cerrone may have a suspect ability to take a shot. The former Jackson-Wink MMA trainee has only been stopped six times via strikes, and twice by body shots for that fact. The other four occasions, Cerrone has been stopped by far more technical boxers. Till has massive power. Jorge Masvidal has arguably the best all-round boxing in mixed-martial-arts today. Justin Gaethje has always been a punishing puncher – but has reined in his recklessness recently. Tony Ferguson has some of the most unorthodox standup we’ve ever seen inside the Octagon, as well as truly devastating elbow strikes. Although against someone as technically proficient as McGregor – Cerrone must exercise caution which was cast aside during those aforementioned meetings.