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Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone: The Early Preview

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor

Donald Cerrone and Conor McGregor are both on losing streaks but fans are still excited about their headlining UFC 246 on Jan. 18 in Las Vegas. We’ll revisit the matchup on fight week, but we also wanted to have an early preview of the contest as we head into the first major MMA main event of 2020.

Breaking down this fight is a difficult task in large part because of what we don’t and cannot know right now. When they face off, neither McGregor (21-4) nor Cerrone (36-13-1) will be in their primes.

So, tape study has its limitations. Both are dealing with no small amount of brain trauma from their recent losses, and we can’t yet know how well they’ll perform despite it.

Cerrone’s damage goes back further, and has happened more recently. The elite veteran has fought much longer than McGregor has and is still the much more active competitor now, despite being significantly older.

The fight will be Cerrone’s fifth in about 12 months. He’s already been TKO’d twice in the last six months.

How fresh can “Cowboy” truly be for a power puncher like McGregor, given his haphazard schedule and career management? The other side of that coin is that at least Cerrone’s timing should initially be superior to McGregor’s.

Cerrone’s activity brings with it plenty of sustained damage, but he sure isn’t rusty. McGregor, on the other hand, has had lots of time to partially recover from the back-to-back beatings he took from Khabib Nurmagomedov and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Khabib Nurmagomedov takes down Conor McGregor during UFC 229 on Oct. 6, 2018 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Hans Gutknecht/Digital First Media/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Any positive effects of recovery since he hasn’t fought since October of 2018 will have to interact with the possible deleterious effects that time off could have on his own sharpness. Sparring is never the same as a fight, and McGregor will need to prove to himself as the fight wears on with Cerrone that he’s still got reaction time and conditioning to win at a high level.

It isn’t as though McGregor was on a roll before this latest lay-off, either. The brash fighter has lost three out of the last five times he’s stepped into a professional ring, and one of his wins was a controversial decision over Nate Diaz.

McGregor is on a losing skid, no two ways about it. Furthermore, he’s getting hurt badly in his losses and even some of his wins of late.

He was finished by Nurmagomedov last year as well as Mayweather Jr. and Diaz in their first bout. He’s not even finding safety of late on the feet where he always fought best.

Diaz bloodied him on the feet in both their contests, Mayweather Jr. of course out-classed him in their sham of a boxing fight and the wrestler Nurmagomedov out-pointed and dropped McGregor with his stand-up striking over four rounds before finishing him on the ground.

Another X-factor is the weight the fight is happening at — welterweight. McGregor is a former featherweight and lightweight champion whose only experience fighting at welterweight was in taking on a fellow lightweight in Nate Diaz.

Diaz choked McGregor out in their first outing and the Irishman was gifted a decision in their back-and-forth war of a rematch that went the distance. Cerrone is also a lightweight but as opposed to both Diaz and McGregor, has had a great deal of success since moving up more or less permanently to the 170 pound division.

Donald Cerrone (R) fights Justin Gaethje during UFC Fight Night on Sept. 14, 2019 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Kyle Terada-USA Today Sports)

So, while Cerrone may not be a whole lot bigger or stronger than McGregor — who has had the overwhelming amount of his success come at featherweight, a full 25 pounds lighter than welterweight — he is absolutely the much more proven fighter at 170. In fact, Cerrone has come close to title contention at both lightweight and welterweight.

Still, we can’t yet know how much Cerrone has left in terms of reaction time and neurological health after a long career taking just about every fight offered to him on often dangerously short notice. Cerrone was hurt badly and finished twice in the past six months and that can’t leave his brain optimally prepared to absorb shots from the hard-hitting and younger McGregor.

These factors and considerations are the backdrop of this potentially exciting fight. In our fight week breakdown we’ll explore the matchup in terms of skillsets and tendencies as if they are fighting one another at their respective bests, which sadly they will not be.

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