Everything we have seen from the UFC’s promotional machine during the ongoing UFC 246 fight-week stands as evidence of the fact that we are in the process of witnessing perhaps the most intriguing time in the career of Conor McGregor.
For all the talk that surrounds the competitive dynamic that exists between Conor and his adversary Donald Cerrone, the main narrative that has been consistently pushed to the fore concerns the redemptive path being walked by the sport’s biggest star.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s one hell of a story.
However, the level of intrigue that has followed Conor through this fight’s buildup has in some ways distracted us from the potential for another tantalising plot-line to blossom.
During last night’s official UFC 246 pre-fight press conference, one of the best lines of the night came from Donald Cerrone as he drew attention to the one inarguable criticism that has followed his career for the best part of a decade now.
When asked by a member of the media about Conor’s place amongst the toughest challenges he has ever been presented with, Cowboy cited his consistent shortcomings in the so-called ‘big’ fights while promising that this time will be very different.
“He’s the two-time, belt-holding champ, so you could definitely say this is, to date, the toughest battle.
“I’m stoked, man, because this is, ‘Cowboy, can you fight the big fight? You never make it on the big fight.’
“Well, motherf*cker, here’s the biggest one. Let’s see.”
Ask anyone who knows the sport of mixed martial arts to any strong degree and they’ll tell you that Cerrone, while no doubt one of the best lightweights to ever lace up gloves, has historically been a fighter to fall apart at the final hurdle.
Losing out to Benson Henderson and Rafael dos Anjos for both the WEC and UFC lightweight belts or faltering in the face of Jorge Masvidal or Tony Ferguson on the back of promising surges in form, there has always been a brick-wall in front of Cowboy that failed time and time again to move past.
Whether the contracted weight was 155lbs or 170lbs, regardless of the strengths he possesses in either division, the story of Donald Cerrone – at least in terms of his pursuit of UFC gold – has been one dwarfed by this one, recurring issue.
This will not come as news to anyone who has experienced Cerrone as he memorably carved out his status as a perennial contender over the years.
When someone signs on the dotted line to fight Conor McGregor, they’re knowingly signing up for the biggest fight of their life in every sense of the word and in the case of Cowboy, this is no different.
What I’m seeing here, however, is a contrasting narrative – one that rivals the potential rebirth of the Irishman, one that fits perfectly into the trajectory of Cerrone’s career with an almost poetic level of suitability.
Donald truly is an infectious character. Almost universally-loved by the MMA community, his laid-back attitude to the efficiency of his fighting career and its management has helped and hindered his progress in equal parts.
Would Cerrone have won a major title if he was a shade more cautious and deliberate in his approach to taking fights? Perhaps.
That being said, Cowboy simply wouldn’t be Cowboy if it weren’t for the recklessness that has endeared him to the fans over the years.
The beautiful thing about this fight and its placement within Cerrone’s career is that he can put this everpresent label to bed once and for all with an emphatic statement if he can get his hand raised on Saturday night.
His age, mileage, and the undeniable gulf in skill level between him and the elite-of-the-elite at both 155lbs and 170lbs will likely work against him no matter what happens at UFC 246 but now, thanks to his unique and admirable approach to his career, he finds himself with an opportunity to rewrite history.
If Cerrone had retired after his last outing, the conversation surrounding his legacy and placement among the greats would no doubt be one defined by his inability to make that final push, leaving his numerous accomplishments and records in a secondary position.
Cowboy, through his aforementioned comment, is, of course, aware of the stakes. The question now is whether past demons will once again derail his attempt at greatness or if he can break through and finally reach his potential.
This fight stands as the first step for the UFC’s biggest superstar on a road to recapturing his past glories – an opportunity to remind the world exactly why he is the type of generational talent who still has plenty more to give.
Like it or not, Dana White – despite his clear love and admiration for Cerrone – is banking on a McGregor win here. It’s nothing personal, for sure, but money talks and as we all know, Conor is the biggest cash-cow at his disposal.
With the eyes of the world fixated on him as he gears up to step onto the sport’s biggest stage for what appears to be another insurmountable challenge, Cerrone will likely know that this is the fight of his life.
Anyone who buys into his very cool and casual demeanour to the extent that they question his dedication to being the very best at what he does needs to understand that Donald Cerrone is a fighter in every sense of the word.
Indeed, he is an athlete plagued with a mental and physical shortcoming that has hounded him incessantly over the years, but his desire to prove that he is the very best is what forces him into the gym every day, the thing that drives him to take more fights that absolutely anyone else in the world at this level.
It’s a contest that has been unfairly labelled and criticised by some within the MMA community but as far as I’m concerned, no matter which way it goes, it has all of the ingredients necessary to give its eventual victor an almighty push into even greater things later this year.
Where on hand it stands as an opportunity for Conor McGregor to recapture some of the momentum that drove him towards his unprecedented greatness back in 2016, it also exists as Cerrone’s golden chance – perhaps even his final chance to flip the script and overcome his greatest weakness.
On Saturday, January 18th, we will finally find out who can step up and take that next step.