UFC 246 delivered a plodding, mediocre card of fights to kick off the new year. Fading former champion Holly Holm muddled through a tedious co-main event. The Preacher’s Daughter held fading former contender Raquel Pennington against the cage for about 11 laborious minutes of their 15 minute bout. Holm never appeared threatening at any point, and earned a meaningless decision victory. Fading former champion Anthony Pettis was bundled up and choked out by long-term prospect Carlos Diego Ferreira, and that was the entrée out of the way. It was time for the main course.
After an extended introduction of highlight reels and catchy one-liners gleaned from recent interviews, a nervous-looking Cowboy Cerrone paused to kiss his baby son before entering the cage. This was Cowboy’s biggest stage by a huge margin, and he appeared timid and possibly overcome by the occasion. He is a shy and humble man at heart, a journeyman who toils away in his homemade gym.
In sharp contrast, Connor McGregor showed no signs of reluctance as he entered the arena. He looked all slicked-back business as strode toward the octagon. The move back to 170 lbs appears to agree with McGregor, and he looked in great physical shape. Bruce Buffer tested his vocal cords, the combatants met in the middle, it was time to fight. McGregor threw a huge left that sailed way over Cowboy’s head, the combatants collided, McGregor’s hip catching Cowboy’s eye socket. The Irishman jumped into a few lifting left shoulder strikes, a rarely used offensive weapon that caught Cowboy squarely on the nose. Cowboy stumbled and fired back with a sloppy head kick that missed its target. McGregor replied with a head kick that landed cleanly, a flying knee that also connected, and a series of clean left hands. Cowboy crumpled and showed no resistance, and the ref jumped in to save him any further punishment. The fight was a 40 second blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blur of one-sided punishment.
Was the Fight Rigged?
The immediate online analysis included ugly words such as ‘rigged’ and ‘fix’, but the fight was merely a simple, well-executed business strategy by UFC management. A move that will tip hundreds of millions into their already bulging coffers. Cerrone is no diving bum, but he posed the perfect opponent for McGregor’s much awaited return. A slow-starter with a suspect chin matched against the sport’s best starter with devastating knock-out power, the script wrote itself. Most of McGregor’s recent legal troubles appear behind him, save a pesky sexual harassment case or two, he is back in love with the game, training hard, staying off the whiskey, and primed for some massive 2020 fights.
Hovering ringside at UFC 246 was BMF Jorge Masvidal, who would prove a worthy next opponent in a fight that would sell like pure Colombian cocaine. Also keen for a slice of the McGregor marketing magic is reigning 170 pound champion Kamara Usman, and shimmering on the horizon like a golden mirage, a rematch with unbeaten 155 pound champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Throw in other worthy contenders such as Justin Gaethje, and the perennial Nate Diaz, the road is long and paved with polished diamonds.
The Masvidal fight looks most appealing in the short term, and this fight will be a true spectacle. It will pit two seasoned and fearless strikers in a contest that will do huge business. It could be an early contender for fight of the year. The winner? There’s a strong chance that McGregor’s best work might be yet to come. As a focused, more mature, settled, family man fighting for the love of the game he might prove that the outlandish predictions of unsurpassed greatness made as a penniless Irish plumber’s apprentice were eerily accurate. Or perhaps his swollen bank account will make him comfortable and weaken his appetite for unarmed combat. Fighting is a game for hungry, impatient young men. McGregor would not be the first champion to lose his edge. Time will tell.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Correspondent