Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone

Conor McGregor is headed back to the Octagon in the new year. At least, that’s what the former two-division UFC champion claims.

The date McGregor is targeting is January 18. The setting is the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The opponent? Well, that remains to be seen.

While it’s still not clear who McGregor will fight if he indeed returns to the Octagon in January, ESPN’s Ariel Helwani recently reported that popular lightweight gunslinger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is the most likely candidate.

McGregor vs. Cerrone is a dream fight in the eyes of just about every fight fan; a clash between two of MMA’s most ferocious finishers and most compelling personalities. Who would win? The cliché answer would be “the fans.” The actual answer is more difficult to determine.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Striking

McGregor and Cerrone are both high-level strikers, as evidenced by the combined 28 knockouts win between them. That being said, they’re quite different in their approaches to the striking side of the MMA arsenal.

McGregor strikes from a side-on stance with his hands low and primarily relies on his hands for the offense. In the earlier phases of his career, he would frequently throw kicks — particularly spinning kicks as a means of opening up his opponent’s defenses — but that part of his game has nearly disappeared over the course of his last few fights. He’s beaten most of his recent victims — fighters like Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez — with his fists.

Cerrone, meanwhile, favors a more traditional Muay Thai-based approach to striking. He relies heavily on the jab and is at his most dangerous when he can find an opening for his lightning-quick head kick. Just ask his past victims Alexander Hernandez, Matt Brown, Jim Miller, John Makdessi, Adriano Martins and Melvin Guillard, all of whom met their ends as a result of his kicks upstairs.

That being said, Cerrone has been out-struck before, oftentimes with disastrous results, most recently in fights with Justin Gaethje, Jorge Masvidal and Darren Till. McGregor, on the other hand, has really never been in danger on the feet, barring a few dicey moments in his battles with Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov. He’s certainly never been knocked out.

McGregor has also ended more fights with his hands than Cerrone. The Irishman has 18 KO or TKO wins on his record, while the American has just 10.

Cerrone’s striking is not to be understated, but on paper, a kickboxing match between these two is McGregor’s to lose.

Edge: McGregor

Grappling

While Cerrone deserves some real props for his striking, that is only a small part of his game. It would be no stretch to call the American one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA. That gives him options.

When a fight is not going his way on the feet, for example, he can turn to his beautiful double-leg takedowns, which always come as a bit of a surprise from a fighter who strikes from such an upright stance. Once on the mat, Cerrone floats beautifully from position to position, and has spent plenty of time raining down strikes from mount and chasing submissions.

McGregor, meanwhile, is not nearly as effective on the ground. That’s partly because he’s so good at striking that wilfully grappling would be foolish, and partly because he’s just not that good at grappling. In fact, he almost never initiates grappling exchanges. Barring a desperate takedown in his first fight with Diaz — which led to his being submitted — it’s hard to recall any occasions when he’s attempted to ground a fight.

That being said, McGregor does have a respectable 70% takedown defense rate, according to UFCStats.com. He’s also shown solid scrambling ability when it’s required. People forget about that nice X-guard sweep he hit on Diaz the first time they fought.

To speak any further about McGregor’s grappling skill, however, would be to grasp at straws. Cerrone has him wholly beat in this category.

Edge: Cerrone

Submissions

Given that Cerrone has such a clear edge over McGregor in terms of grappling, it should come as no surprise that he’s also far more proficient at finishing fights via submission.

The American has finished a whopping 17 of his 36 professional victories via submission, including memorable triumphs over Mike Perry, Alex Oliveira, and Edson Barboza. While his head kick is perhaps his most famous weapon, he’s finished far more fights with his jiu-jitsu — oftentimes after dropping his foe with a kick.

McGregor has had exponentially less success in the submission department, though it bears repeating that that’s partly because he knocks most of his opponents out. In 21 career victories, he’s won just once by submission: a rear-naked defeat of Dave Hill, all the way back in his salad days as a Cage Warriors fighter.

McGregor has also been submitted a number of times. In fact, all four of his pro losses have come via submission — a worrying stat heading into a potential fight with Cerrone.

Based on those details alone, McGregor submitting Cerrone seems extremely unlikely. When you consider the fact that Cerrone has only been submitted once in his 50-fight career, it seems downright impossible.

Edge: Cerrone

X-Factors

McGregor’s X-Factor: Motivation

McGregor’s motivation has been a question since he made a bazillion dollars for boxing Floyd Mayweather in 2017. After he earned another huge payday for fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018 and sold hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of his Proper No. Twelve whiskeys, it’s an even harder factor to ignore.

Money and success are clearly no longer a driver for him. He’s already got them. So what is motivating him to fight? He and his coaches will tell you it’s a love for competition, but is that love strong enough to push him through a grueling, eight-week training camp? Will it keep him motivated enough to dedicate every waking moment to the task of beating Cerrone?

Those are extremely fair questions, and if the answer is anything but yes, he’s probably going to be in for a rough night against Cerrone. He might even find himself coming to under the Jumbotron after chowing down on his foe’s shin.

Cerrone’s X-Factor: Durability

Cerrone has a great reputation among fight fans. In the spirit of UFC 244, let’s say he’s regarded as one of the UFC’s baddest motherf***ers. He’ll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime, and he can finish his fights in pretty much any position.

One factor that’s contrary to that reputation, however, is Cerrone’s durability — or his lack thereof. Over the last few years, he’s been rocked multiple times, and ultimately knocked out on several of those occasions. Looking further back, he’s always shown a weakness to body shots and a volume-based, pressure attack. Remember his 66-second TKO loss to Rafael dos Anjos in 2015? That was a mugging.

It’s unlikely a measured striker like McGregor will swarm Cerrone the way dos Anjos did, but the Irishman absolutely has the power to hurt Cerrone every time he touches him, be it to the head, or more likely, the body.

Is Cerrone fearless? Absolutely. Does that mean he can withstand a ton of punishment? History says no. Against a fighter like McGregor, who seemingly has C-4 packed into his gloves, that’s not a good thing.

Prediction

Cerrone has more ways to win.

He is flatly levels above McGregor in terms of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and could conceivably drag the Irish star into a grappling hell if the takedowns start materializing. Cerrone also has a clever enough striking game to win by knockout, even against somebody like McGregor. When you factor in the questions about McGregor’s motivation, it’s easy to understand why so many fans are confidently picking Cerrone in this prospective matchup.

Despite the fact Cerrone has far more tools, however, it’s somehow still easier to picture a McGregor win.

Cerrone might have some success early, landing with leg kicks and jabs. He might try and even succeed on a takedown.

McGregor, however, is solid enough defensively that he should be able to stay out of trouble in any early grappling exchanges and return to his feet. And the more time he has on the feet, the more time he has to land a fight-ending punch.

All signs point to McGregor dropping Cerrone at some point. Ever the picture of patience, the Irishman might let Cerrone return to his feet. He might even do so more than once. Eventually, however, when he’s hurt his foe with a punch he deems damaging enough, he’ll follow him to the ground and finish him off with hammer-fists.

Cerrone has been knocked out by Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal, and several others. If they can do it, McGregor probably can too.

Prediction: Conor McGregor defeats Donald Cerrone by TKO in the second round.

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