It's been more than three years from Conor McGregor's last win on the mixed martial arts (MMA) stage. After taking a 15-month sabbatical, the former two-division UFC world champion returned in triumphant fashion.
Looking to bring back the luster of his highly-publicized professional career, the man from Dublin answered his critics with a rousing knockout of Donald Cerrone. The 31-year-old dispatched his American opponent in 40 seconds with a head kick and follow-up punches in last weekend's UFC 246, which was held in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Before this win, McGregor's last victory was over Eddie Alvarez to capture the UFC lightweight strap in November 2016.
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Making his first appearance since October 2018, McGregor surprised Cerrone at the start of the scheduled five-round contest with a series of shoulder strikes from the clinch, inflicting damage to his left eye and nose.
While everyone was looking for McGregor's southpaw to get the job done, it was his left leg that secured the finish. Upon separation, he wobbled Cerrone with a left high kick and drowned him with a heavy downpour of punishing punches that compelled referee Herb Dean to call a halt to the bout and award the technical knockout win to the Irishman.
Afterward, McGregor knelt at the center of the Octagon and put his head in his palms. He then grabbed the Irish flag from his team, paraded around the cage with it, finally climbing up the fence to celebrate. It marked the second-fastest triumph of McGregor's celebrated MMA stint; his quickest was his 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo for the undisputed featherweight crown in December 2015.
“I made history here tonight. I’m the first fighter in UFC history to secure knockouts [in three divisions] at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight,” McGregor says in his post-fight interview with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan. The fighter improved his MMA record to 22-4 with the win.
On the other hand, Cerrone fell to a 36-14. The New Mexico resident has lost three straight fights, also getting finished by top-tier lightweights such as Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. He was transported to the hospital for precautionary reasons due to serious facial lacerations.
UFC president Dana White admitted that he was blown away by how McGregor performed as a welterweight against Cerrone. "He looked unbelievable. He won't hear another peep from me about fighting at 170 pounds. He looked fast, he looked sharp, and he looked strong. It was all about Conor. It has nothing to do with 'Cowboy' being shot or anything like that," the promotion’s head honcho says.
Aside from the guaranteed USD 3 million paycheck that he would earn from his comeback bout, McGregor received an additional USD 50,000 for being one of the four athletes to claim UFC 246’s “Performance of the Night” bonus.
The stakes were incredibly high for McGregor. It was a chance to re-establish himself in the sport following a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018. In the lead-up to that grudge match, he appeared more concerned with selling his Proper Twelve whiskey brand than fighting the Russian. As a result, he got mauled by the reigning UFC lightweight champion before an ugly post-fight brawl broke out.
Outside the cage, McGregor ran into several issues, including an incident in which he punched an older man in a bar back in Ireland and a reported ongoing investigation by Irish authorities into two alleged sexual assaults.
With this win, McGregor proved that he still has his head in the game. He promised to stay active this year, competing as much as three times or more. McGregor has expressed his interest in a rematch with Nurmagomedov, who is scheduled to defend the lightweight belt against Tony Ferguson in April. He could also be in line for a cage meeting with Jorge Masvidal if he stays at welterweight.
“The Notorious” looked like the fighter he used to be, with razor-sharp striking and a shark’s insatiable sense for blood. A lackluster victory would have ramped up talk of McGregor’s best days being behind him. A loss would have been disastrous for his drawing power.
"I'm excited about the future. I'm not going to dwell on this victory. It's back in the gym and back to work. Who is next doesn't matter. When I will be fighting again is more interesting," he says. "The whole world lights up when I fight, so I want to get back out there again. Soon enough, we'll see what happens."