Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to kick off 2020 with the UFC 246 pay-per-view (PPV) event, set to go down TONIGHT (Sat., Jan. 18, 2020) in Las Vegas, Nevada, streaming exclusively online via ESPN+. And there’s no better way to start off 2020 than with the return of the biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) box office star ever, Conor McGregor. “Notorious” will face Donald Cerrone in the five-round Welterweight main event, though there could be major Lightweight championship implications hanging in the balance.
UFC is starting off the new year with a bang, as the promotion’s first event of 2020 will feature the highly-anticipated return of McGregor. Several fighters were hoping to be the one to welcome “Notorious” back into the cage, but once the dust settled, Cerrone was holding the winning lottery ticket. That said, it’s a fight that makes sense, as the two men have some history that dates back a few years ago. More recently, the two were linked to fight each other in 2019. That fight never materialized after McGregor’s comeback was pushed back even further. Still, if anyone is deserving of a big payday, it’s “Cowboy,” who has been one of the most reliable company men for UFC ... ever. Not only that, he is one of the most beloved fighters in the history of the sport, as well as one of the most entertaining. All in all, it was the right fight to make, though Justin Gaethje likely has a thing or three to say about that.
As for the fight itself, it’s going to be an interesting one since it’s taking place at 170 pounds. Cerrone has competed in the weight class 11 times so far, taking on some of the best the division has to offer. McGregor, meanwhile, has only competed twice at Welterweight, losing once to Nate Diaz before avenging the loss six months later. The advantage here goes to “Cowboy,” who’s tall and slim physique allows him to go into the fight lean, not carrying a ton of muscle.
As Georges St-Pierre recently pointed out, Cerrone is a slow starter, but once he gets into the later rounds, he can explode on his foes for a finish. That said, avoiding one of McGregor’s bombs early on will be key. The striking department is pretty even, and if the fight goes to the ground, we’ve seen “Cowboy” tap a few guys, while all of McGregor’s losses have come via submission. But according to Dillon Danis, McGregor’s jiu-jitsu game has only improved, so we could be in for a surprise come fight night. Still, I fully expect this fight to be played out on the feet for the majority of the time, and whoever lands cleanly first will likely be walking home with the win. And much to everyone’s delight, “Cowboy” already stated it will be an all-out striking affair.
Another major factor is time off. McGregor hasn’t competed in more than 15 months because of a suspension — and other missteps — while Cerrone has fought five times during that timespan. Furthermore, there’s no telling if all of the out-of-the cage incidents — which includes punching an old man in a bar, being accused of sexual assault on two different occasions, as well as smashing a fan’s phone — have distracted McGregor from the task at hand. McGregor seemed to be a in a good place at the press conference, so it looks like he’s put all of that behind him.
While there is no bad blood here between McGregor and Cerrone, showering each other with love during their pre-fight presser (see it), that won’t stop them from trying to knock each others’ blocks off. Indeed, expect both men to come out guns blazing.
Look, it’s a big card and a big fight, but we can’t deny that despite UFC’s best efforts to pump it up, the hype and promotion — at least in my opinion — haven’t been as big as many expected.
I mean, this is the return of the king, the biggest box-office star ever for UFC and the loudest guy in the room. But when you look at all of the buzz created for UFC 244 — a fight that featured Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal fighting for the made up “BMF” title — in comparison, it comes in second place by miles. Sure, the fact that President Trump attended and “The Rock” was there pumping it up played a huge part, but I expected a lot more buzz for McGregor’s return. That said, I’m not saying there is not intrigue, because there is, obviously. I was just expecting a bit more.
Is it just me?
In hindsight, it simply may not matter as it seems McGregor’s name and return alone is good enough to sell the card on its own. No disrespect to “Cowboy,” of course. That said, once fight week rolled around, the anticipation did increase thanks to all of the pre-fight festivities, which saw McGregor and Cerrone finally come face-to-face.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
One shake up happened earlier this week, as Grant Dawson was forced to withdraw from his showdown against Chas Skelly and with no replacement provided, Skelly was removed from the event altogether. No exact reason was given as to why Dawson was forced out.
Then, during the official weigh-ins yesterday, Alexa Grasso missed the 115-pound mark by nearly six pounds, forcing the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) to pull the plug on her Strawweight bout against Claudia Gadelha (full details here).
No injuries were reported for this event!
Aleksa Camur will be making his official UFC debut after earning his way onto the big stage via “Contender Series.” At 5-0, the Light Heavyweight contender packs a powerful punch, winning all five of his contests via knockout, three in the first round. He will be facing Justin Ledet, who has dropped his last two fights under the UFC banner after starting off his MMA career with a near-perfect record (8-0-1).
Ode Osbourne is another “Contender Series” product. The talented Bantamweight has won his last four fights, and is 8-2 overall. Of his eight wins, seven of the have come via stoppage, so the man knows how to get business handled once the cage door slams shut. He will have his hands more than full, taking on Brian Kelleher, who has fallen on tough times inside the cage as of late. Indeed, “Boom” has dropped his last two after starting off his UFC career at 3-1. Furthermore, the bout was bumped up to the PPV portion of the event because of Grasso’s scale fail.
How The “Prelims” Look:
Headlining the “Prelims” undercard portion of the card will be a women’s Flyweight fight between Maycee Barber and Roxanne Modafferi. Barber is undefeated (8-0, 3-0 UFC) and has garnered the backing of Dana White and Co. as a future star for the promotion. So far, she has been doing her part by staying perfect, including five straight finishes, three inside the Octagon. Though she didn’t get her fight against Paige VanZant, she did get a good test against one of the most-experienced female fighters in the game today.
With 39 professional fights on her resume, Modafferi will not be shook by Barber and there won’t be anything “The Future” throws at her that she hasn’t seen before. Sure, Barber has knockout power and is aggressive, but Modafferi has been there against some of the best in the world. “The Happy Warrior” has been unable to find any consistency thus far in her UFC career, but if she can derail the Barber hype train, her stock will get a huge boost.
Andre Fili will look to collect his third straight win when he takes on Sodiq Yusuff, winner of five straight (three under the UFC banner). It’s a good test for both men, as Yusuff will see how he does against a seasoned veteran of the fight game. For Fili, stopping Yusuff’s momentum before it gets even more speed would be a huge feather in his cap.
Tim Elliott will look to earn a much-needed win at Flyweight when he faces Askar Askarov. It’s a tough draw for Elliott, as Askarov is undefeated thus far (10-0, 0-0-1 UFC), with his only small blemish being a draw in his UFC debut. You can bet Askarov will come out with purpose in search of his first UFC win, though it’s in his best interest to not rush things too much as Elliott is as experienced as they come.
Drew Dober and Nasrat Haqparast will collide in an interesting Lightweight showdown. Both men are coming off impressive wins, as Dober knocked out Marco Polo Reyes last June, while Haqparast ended Joaquim Silva’s night via strikes last August to collect his third straight win. Given their recent track records, I don’t foresee this fight going the distance.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
It’s no secret that McGregor needs a win more than anyone else on the card. Even Dana White has gone on record saying it’s a must-win for “Notorious.” Sure, McGregor has only lost twice during his UFC career to Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the Irishman has so much riding on the fight. For starters, if he wants to get a crack at avenging his loss to Khabib, he needs the win, or else White and Co. will have no way to justify giving him another crack at the 155-pound crown with a loss ... regardless of how hard they try.
Furthermore, McGregor’s other goals for 2020 may go up in smoke should he come up short. The former “champ-champ” has his eyes on Jorge Masvidal’s “BMF” title, but if he loses in “Sin City,” booking that fight simply won’t make sense. Sure, “Gamebred” can still lobby for it and maybe the promotion bends and books it, but it could be a hard sell.
And despite the large shadow McGregor casts over everyone else, his stock will take a hit, as will his aura if he gets dusted. Coming off two straight losses — three if you count Floyd Mayweather — will damage McGregor’s mystique. Yes, he will still be a mega-millionaire, and yes he will still get headlines, but will fighters still be chomping at the bit to get a “big money” fight against a man coming off two straight defeats? Winning for McGregor is the only option, as it will allow him to breathe a sigh of relief and put him on track to accomplish everything he’s set out for himself in the new year.
Interest Level: 9 of 10
If you’re not looking forward to McGregor’s return, find a pulse ... somewhere. His presence on the card in itself is worth the price of admission (as well as these extra $5), especially since he hasn’t competed in so long. As far as the rest of the card, though, it’s not exactly screaming stacked; on the contrary, it’s fairly-rounded with some interesting match ups.
In the co-main event, former women’s Bantamweight champion, Holly Holm, will take on Raquel Pennington in a rematch from 2015. Holm defeated Pennington at UFC 184 in what marked “The Preacher's Daughter’s” debut. It was a split-decision that raised more than a few eyebrows, as most felt “Rocky” had done enough to get the win. Since then, Holm went on to capture the 135-pound title and was involved five title fights, including dethroning Ronda Rousey. Pennington, meanwhile, has gone an impressive 5-2, losing in her first and only UFC title fight to date to Amanda Nunes at UFC 224. With a win over Holm, Pennington will not only score back-to-back wins for the first time in two years, but get her much-desired revenge. Holm, meanwhile, has her eyes on yet another title shot.
Also, Anthony Pettis will make the drop back down to Lightweight to face Diego Ferreira. “Showtime” is coming off a tough loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 241, prompting him to drop back down to 155 pounds after going 1-1 at 170 pounds. Ferreira, meanwhile, has been on a steady climb, winning five in a row which finally got him the huge fight he has been looking for. Pettis is sort of in a must-win here — he can’t continue to hop back-and-forth between three divisions all of his career if he wants to get into the title mix.
Rounding out the main card is a big man showdown that will see Heavyweight contenders Maurice Greene and Aleksei Oleinik throw down (details). Greene is coming off a loss to Sergei Pavlovich, and the last time we saw Oleinik, he was slept in the very first round by Walt Harris, his second straight defeat. It’s no secret Greene’s best bet to win this fight is if he keeps it standing because if Oleinik takes him down, he could be in store for a nap.
Will we see McGregor return to his winning ways? And which “Cowboy” will show up come fight night? We will find out soon enough!
Full Fight Card:
UFC 246 ESPN+ PPV Main Event:
170 lbs.: Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone
UFC 246 Main Card 0n ESPN+ PPV (10 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington
265 lbs.: Maurice Greene vs. Aleksei Oleinik
135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs. Ode Osbourne
Claudia Gadelha vs. Alexa Grasso CANCELLED (FULL STORY HERE)
155 lbs.: Diego Ferreira vs. Anthony Pettis
UFC 246 ‘Prelims’ Card 0n ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: Maycee Barber vs. Roxanne Modafferi
145 lbs.: Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff
125 lbs.: Askar Askarov vs. Tim Elliott
155 lbs.: Drew Dober vs. Nasrat Haqparast
145 lbs.: Grant Dawson vs. Chas Skelly CANCELLED
205 lbs.: Aleksa Camur vs. Justin Ledet
125 lbs.: J.J. Aldrich vs. Sabina Mazo
*Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to change.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 246 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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