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The fight had been rumored for a while, and Thursday it was made official. Conor McGregor will return from what will be about a 15-month layoff to headline UFC 246 in Las Vegas against Donald Cerrone. But was this the right fight for the UFC to make right now? MMA Junkie’s Matt Erickson, Farah Hannoun and Nolan King break it down in the latest edition of Triple Take.
Matt Erickson: This is smart matchmaking for everyone involved
It’s a fight pitting arguably the most bankable star in UFC history – McGregor – against the promotion’s all-time leader in fight-night bonus awards, which makes the matchup seem like a slam-dunk no-brainer where the hype-o-meter is concerned.
But like nearly everything in this sport, we can’t just have nice things without the naysayers getting their $ 0.02 in. You know the types. They’re the ones who can’t just cruise past a tweet or Facebook post or Instagram photo without chiming in, just so everyone knows they’re here. Gotta put that thumbprint on everything.
We can’t just be happy with a perfectly good fist fight between two fighters who essentially are legends and future UFC Hall of Famers. We have to put it under a microscope and pick it apart and find some kind of fault with it, right? That’s just how we do it in the Twitter Era!
It almost didn’t matter who McGregor was matched up against. The talk was going to be just that he was coming back, period. He’s been out since his UFC 229 submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov and the subsequent post-fight brawl between their camps. And not coincidentally, that was the matchup (and the UFC 223 bus incident that preceded it) that seemed to kick off McGregor’s spate of outside-the-cage troubles. Add them all together – the bus arrest, the Miami Beach arrest, the Dublin pub incident – and it presents a troubling pattern.
Throw in a couple of reports of sexual assault allegations that have been vehemently denied – and that McGregor hasn’t been charged with – and a case could be made that until the Irish superstar gets his proverbial ish together in the real world, the UFC should just not book him at all.
But c’mon … we all know that’s not gonna happen. When McGregor fights, he makes money for everyone. And with his slate clean from the things he has been charged with, there’s really no reason to keep him on the sidelines if he wants to finally get back to work.
So why is this a good matchup? I’ve got two reasons for you. The first is, while Cerrone might not be a Conor McGregor fan, he almost certainly respects not only his fighting ability, but the way he’s able to get people to pay attention to him. Cerrone goes about it in a much different way – he just puts his head down, does his work, and when he’s off the clock, he goes full-on “Cowboy” doing what he wants to do.
But I’ll predict Cerrone is not going to be the type of opponent for McGregor who will engage in a whole bunch of social media trash talk. More likely, he’s the type who might not be a fan of the guy, but after they fight he’ll smile at him and raise a glass to him for going to battle. And that’s just the type of opponent the UFC needs to give McGregor right now – one who is not a major risk of baiting McGregor into Twitter wars of words, or who might turn things ugly come fight week. McGregor has had enough trouble of late – so put him in there with someone who has the potential to just show up to fight and not turn the whole thing into a sideshow leading up to it.
And secondly, this is the perfect matchup to make not for McGregor, but for Cerrone. The UFC shouldn’t book this fight as any kind of favor to McGregor. They’ve done him enough solids already, and he should just be happy to get a fight. But Cerrone? He’s been just about a perfect company man through the years. He takes fights on short notice, he takes hard fights, he fights up-and-comers – and all he does time after time is deliver. You don’t wind up with 18 fight-night bonuses if you’re not bringing it every time out.
We’ve all heard McGregor talk about the kinds of pay days he brings to the fighters he steps in against. They can be life-altering. And while Cerrone doesn’t seem to have any issues with the checks he gets from fighting, if anyone deserves a pay-per-view main event and the type of check that can come with a fight against McGregor, it’s “Cowboy.”
Everyone wins with this booking. The UFC gets McGregor back in the cage and a likely blockbuster pay-per-view event out of the gate in 2020. McGregor gets back to work against an opponent who is likely to be willing to just fight him in the cage, and not on social media. And Cerrone gets his “Red Panty Night.” It’s a trifecta, and it’s perfect.
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