On the 18th of January, 2015, exactly five years ago, Conor McGregor fought Dennis Siver in a bout that stood as his most recent outing in which he did not enter the octagon as either the holder of a divisional title or as a challenger to the belt.
From there onwards, the career of the soon-to-be-champion ascended to heights that few would have thought possible. A trailblazer in every sense of the word, to say that he single-handedly shaped the modern landscape of mixed martial arts is an understatement.
We all know the story. The meteoric rise and the subsequent fall from grace.
To be honest, I’m not going to delve too deeply into the backstory at this point in time but for what it’s worth, with Conor forced to take an unquestionable step away from the consistent escalation of his earlier run, it’s almost fitting that he finds himself doing so on the fifth anniversary of his last ‘normal’ fight.
For Donald Cerrone, this matchup, of course, stands as a well-earned opportunity for him to take home an almighty paycheque. As I’ve mentioned before, however, Cowboy also has the chance – perhaps even his final chance – to shed his reputation as a fighter who always seems to fail when facing down these pivotal matchups.
For a non-title fight that doesn’t seem to have too much in the way of immediate implications for either the 155lb or 170lb divisions on paper, at least, this is truly one of the year’s most interesting pairings.
Stylistically, sure, it’s an absolute cracker, but it’s the unknowns that surround both men at this point in their careers and the trajectories that have led them to this point that will define how this fight plays out and ultimately, how it is remembered once all is said and done.
So without further ado, I’ll be taking a look at the UFC 246 headlining contest under a selection of different headings before giving my final prediction to conclude this preview.
Record in prev five: (3-2) – win. Perry, Hernandez, Iaquinta. loss. Ferguson, Gaethje.
Even with fifty pro-fights under his belt, Cerrone’s ability to rebound from what looks to be a career-threatening series of defeats is nothing short of astounding.
You do have to wonder if a less reckless approach to taking fights would have served him better over the years but even with his consistent run of ridiculously frequent activity, there are few who would deny Donald his spot amongst the greatest lightweights of all-time.
In his last five outings, we’ve seen every shade of Cerrone – both good and bad.
Finishes of Alexander Hernandez and Mike Perry both came under different circumstances, indeed, but each win displayed Cowboy in a strong mental state – a clarity of focus that allowed him to rebound from posting a 1-4 run at 170lbs in stunning fashion.
However, once again, the elite-of-the-elite, in Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, were able to deal with him with relative ease – adding fuel to the fires that keep his status as something of a choker in the big fights intact.
Record in prev five: (3-2) – win. Aldo, Diaz, Alvarez. loss. Diaz, Nurmagomedov.
It’s hard to believe that everything from the 13-second KO of José Aldo to the crushing fourth-round submission loss at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov happened in the space of Conor McGregor’s last five fights.
For a man who had prided himself on fighting regularly through his initial ascent, five fights in the space of four or so years isn’t exactly the type of return that would indicate any level of hunger from the former-champ.
That being said, with an eye on a 2020 season and a resurgence in form, I would not be surprised to see Conor stick to his word if he can emerge unscathed from tonight’s bout.
These last five fights have taught us about McGregor’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall mental fortitude more than his previous twenty ever could have – with his victory over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 and his lightweight title defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov each standing as his greatest and most disappointing performance inside the octagon.
Donald Cerrone def. Alexander Hernandez via second-round TKO.
It’s no secret that the notion of ‘passing the torch’ exists in mixed martial arts to an extent that few other sports can match.
When Donald Cerrone was paired up against the outspoken rising talent that is Alexander Hernandez, there really did seem to be the sense among the fans that this fight stood as the perfect opportunity for a new, young prospect to stake his claim to a spot in the 155lb division’s title-picture.
Hernandez was seemingly relishing his moment in the spotlight as he relentlessly bombarded his veteran opponent with a stream of trash-talk.
Once the cage doors closed and the time came to back it up, however, it was Cerrone who proved that he was able to withstand the heat to a greater degree than most.
It was a thrilling affair from start-to-finish and one that reminded us exactly why 155lbs is Cerrone’s natural weight-class after a long run at 170lbs.
Donald’s ability to gradually turn up the heat on Hernandez was both a testament to his tremendous experience inside the octagon, but also to his everpresent durability and grit.
In facing a famously fast starter like Conor, Cowboy will no doubt be hoping to remain competitive during the early storm before turning things up a couple of notches as the fight moves past the opening rounds.
Part two of this article can be read in full here.