The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
On Jan. 18, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will kick off its 2020 season with UFC 246, featuring a welterweight matchup between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone in the main event. It will be McGregor’s first time back in the Octagon since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov a little over a year ago at UFC 229, and his first scheduled non-title headliner since he squared off against Nate Diaz at UFC 202. The bout was originally rumored for July of last year but reportedly fell through due to McGregor’s refusal to fight in the co-main event at UFC 239. UFC President Dana White has publicly stated that should “Notorious” defeat Cerrone he would jump the line to get another crack at Nurmagomedov’s 155-pound title, despite the match being held at 170-pounds and there being other deserving contenders waiting in the wings.
While UFC athletes have mixed opinions on who will win the bout, the media and oddsmakers are leaning heavily towards the man they call “Mystic Mac.” A plethora of journalists have stated that, while not a tune-up fight per se, Cerrone is a safe opponent for McGregor to face in his return to the promotion because the match favors him stylistically. Although many acknowledge that Cerrone has more than a puncher’s chance against the former two-division champion, most analysts believe that a McGregor knockout is in the cards for UFC 246. Bookmakers around the globe tend to favor that notion, with odds that the Irishman finishes the fight by TKO/KO ranging from -175 to -210 and the 31-year-old simply winning the bout hovering around -300.
As fans and media begin to speculate about McGregor’s self-proclaimed “2020 season” and the ramifications of him getting a lightweight title shot over fighters like Justin Gaethje, or what it means for the Irishman if he somehow comes up short, there is one such notion that has been underreported as of late: What does it mean for “Cowboy” if he wins?
Cerrone is somewhat of an oddity in the sport. The 36-year-old mixed martial artist holds records for most wins in UFC history, most finishes and most post-fight bonus awards, yet he has never held a championship. Known as the man who will fight “any time, any place, anywhere”, Cowboy has fought in two separate weight classes over the course of his career, generally losing only to title contenders or champions. While beloved by hardcore fans and having secured several individual sponsorships, Cerrone has not quite broken into crossover star territory, possibly due to his shortcomings in the pursuit of gold.
Should Cerrone manage to beat McGregor at UFC 246, especially if he manages to do so in emphatic fashion, there will be a few factors that will come into play in determining what it means for the longtime veteran’s career. As stated previously, there is already speculation on what it would mean for McGregor if he were to lose the bout, with some pundits saying it would prove that he is no longer one of the top fighters in the promotion. If that turns out to be the prevailing notion among fans and media, then a win over McGregor may not do much if anything to boost Cerrone’s popularity outside of the sport. Consider what happened with Amanda Nunes. Despite the fact that she effortlessly and brutally dispatched Ronda Rousey, “Rowdy” had already suffered her first career loss to Holly Holm, who became far more popular with her win than did Nunes. Cerrone could very well wind up in the same boat.
Another consideration to take into account is the buildup going into the fight. Aside from a couple of McGregor-centric advertisements shown on ESPN this past month, promotion for UFC 246 has been unusually quiet for an event that will see one of MMA’s biggest stars make his return to the cage. Although a press conference has been announced for Jan. 15 and there is still plenty of time as of this writing for things to kick into high gear, the lack of visibility and (though it pains me to say it) drama surrounding this fight may limit Cerrone’s exposure to the greater casual audience. This further increases the risk that should Cowboy emerge victorious non-hardcore fans will equate it more to McGregor’s falling off than anything else.
If the buildup to the match intensifies and viewers believe Cerrone’s skillset was the determining factor in a win, however, then Cowboy could see a surge in mainstream popularity. The 50-fight veteran’s personality already resonates with blue-collar Americans, so a win over one of the biggest names in the sport could elevate Cerrone to a whole new level of stardom amongst that particular audience. In addition, Cerrone’s unconventional lifestyle has the potential to pique the interest of all sorts of casual viewers, as many find the adventurous nature of his life uniquely fascinating. Given the right exposure, a win over McGregor could put Cowboy on a whole other level of fame.
Regardless of what happens to Cerrone’s popularity outside of the MMA bubble, there is little doubt that a win over Notorious would only increase his popularity among the sport’s faithful. McGregor would be far and away the best win of Cerrone’s career, and, given the division amongst hardcore fans and those who generally only watch when Conor McGregor is fighting, there are many who relish the idea of Cowboy derailing the former featherweight and lightweight champion’s comeback. A win at UFC 246 would also put Cerrone in a prime position for a subsequent No. 1 contender bout at either lightweight or welterweight, as long as there was no controversy surrounding his victory.
All in all, there’s no telling exactly how fans would react to a Cerrone upset win over McGregor, let alone the real chances of it happening. The bout being held at 170-pounds certainly helps Cerrone, but, even with that taken into account, the analysts and bookies aren’t wrong when they say that McGregor is a bad style matchup for the longtime MMA veteran. Though many claim that the 36-year-old will be getting his “money fight” by facing McGregor, there is a good chance that Cerrone will not receive any PPV points for the bout since he is not a defending champion, something he has hinted at in previous interviews. With all that being said, Cowboy is no doubt a future UFC Hall-of-Famer no matter how UFC 246 goes, and, come Jan. 18, win or lose he’s going to give it all he has to secure the biggest win of his career—despite reports to the contrary.