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Why We Like Conor McGregor Vs. Donald Cerrone

With this possible UFC Lightweight matchup in the works, we break down why it's not as far-fetched as you may think.

On Saturday, November 10, fan-favorite fighter Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone submitted up-and-coming knockout artist Mike Perry at UFC Fight Night 139 in Denver, CO, earning him two distinct records—most wins and finishes in the Octagon.

Yet despite a 34-10 record and a litany of impressive performances—against guys like Edson Barboza and Patrick Cote—a shot at the strap has always eluded the welterweight fighter, mainly because his I’ll-fight-anyone-anytime mantra hasn’t just led to some big wins, but some big losses as well. Coming off a four-fight winning streak in 2016, Cerrone lost three fights in a row against top 10 guys. 

But Cerrone's dominant finish of Perry—via an armbar that nearly snapped “platinum’s” arm in half (see below)—solidified him as an all-time great. 

As UFC commentator Joe Rogan said in an episode of his podcast: “He was an efficient assassin, I think it’s the best performance of his career.” And the UFC apparently agreed as Cerrone mentioned that they already have a “special” guy lined up for him at his original weight class of 155 pounds.

That alleged man, according to an Instagram post by Cerrone, is Conor Mcgregor (21-4), and boy is that an interesting matchup. Dana White has gone on record to debunk these rumors, but that doesn't mean a fight is ever off the table.

For one, the fight would be easy to sell. Conor is currently the biggest pay-per-view draw in all of combat sports, and Cerrone is a beloved fighter and the all-time leader in wins and finishes in the Octogan. As for how they match up skill-wise, while it’s easy to get lost in the effervescent hype that oozes from McGregor’s being, this fight is more even than fans would think. According to Bloodyelbow.com, McGregor is only a -185 favorite, which is pretty close. Let’s look at some stats from UFC.com to set the stage for this breakdown.


 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Just waiting on him! 🤔. “ I know a guy” 🤠

A post shared by Donald Cerrone (@cowboycerrone) on

 

STANDUP FACTS

  • Both men sport the near-same striking accuracy, with 48% for "Cowboy" and 49% for McGregor.
  • McGregor has 18 knockouts vs. Cerrone’s nine.
  • Conor lands 5.2 significant strikes per minute vs. Cerrone’s 4.05.
  • And both land the majority of those standing (81% for Cerrone, 79% for McGregor).

GRAPPLING FACTS

  • McGregor has a mere 0.75 takedown average while Cerrone averages 1.3, per fight. But…
  • Mystic Mac defends 72% of takedowns. Then again, so does Cerrone, but McGregor won't shoot. Because...
  • "Cowboy" has finished 16 fights via submission, which is arguably McGregor’s weakest link.

With all that said, let's dig a little deeper into an aspect of each fighter's game: Conor's takedown defense and Cerrone's ability to close distance. 

THE TAKEDOWN DEFENSE OF CONOR MCGREGOR

Let's start by looking at this takedown attempt by former UFC lightweight champ, and formidable wrestler, Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. You'll notice that Eddie telegraphs the shot, but nonetheless, McGregor shuts it down with relative ease. He sinks in a nice underhook, circles, and immediately strikes off of the break with a nice knee and an elbow that found its home.

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Then there was his fight with Chad Mendes—a top-five featherweight and collegiate All-American wrestler—at UFC 189. Before getting stopped by McGregor in round two, Mendes took him down four times. Below, we see him pin McGregor against the cage with a power double and manage to lift his hips, but McGregor, again, sinks in a deep underhook and circles out. The point is: McGregor's ability to judge distance and react accordingly is high-level, and if Mendes and Alvarez have trouble landing a double-leg on McGregor, "Cowboy" probably will, too.

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Here, we see Nate Diaz takedown Conor at UFC 196 via a single-leg off of a body kick. McGregor has been taken down before, and it's not a stretch to assume a seasoned vet like "Cowboy" can do the same. What's interesting about this is how McGregor reacts. On his feet, Conor has one of the best fight IQs in the game. (Fight IQ defined as a fighter’s innate ability to effectively judge range, timing, speed, and react to an attack.) Against Diaz, who has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, McGregor demonstrates a high ground fight IQ by immediately trapping Diaz’s legs and immobilizing his ankle, leading to a sweep to guard. 

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And what helps Conor effectively predict, react to, and/or stop these takedowns, (despite grappling being a "weakness" of his) is his ability to frame an opponent up. (Note: this technique was brought to my attention and is beautifully broken down in this YouTube video by BJJSCOUT, a terrific fight analyst.)

The gist is: Conor uses his right hand as a sensor of sorts. Watch his fights closely and you'll notice that he is consistently touching his opponent with his lead hand. This allows him to predict whether his opponent is going to change levels for a takedown or throw a strike, allowing him to react accordingly. Watch how Conor predicts Mendes’s overhand right, and easily stiffs him. This'll come in handy as "Cowboy" inevitably attempts to take a shot or get inside.

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THE STANDUP GAME OF DONALD CERRONE

That's a basic breakdown of McGregor's takedown defense, so now let's shift gears and look at how Cerrone can use certain striking techniques to stand toe-to-toe with the handy Irishman. One key for Cerrone is going to be closing the distance so he can set up a takedown or implement his knee and elbow strikes. 

McGregor is known for his counter striking, though. The most prominent example being his starching of Jose Aldo at UFC 193, where Aldo charged in and ate a straight left to the jaw. Below, you’ll see Cerrone charging in with a hook-straight-hook combo. Unlike Aldo, however, Cerrone sees the incoming left hook to the body and responds by circling away while covering his ribs—pretty slick if you ask me—and then squares back up. If he can avoid the counter, Cerrone's rush-and-strike tactic could be his way into the clinch.

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He does so here against Patrick Cote at UFC Fight Night 89. Right after Cerrone lands a left hook, Cote responds with a quick overhand right, which is a common reaction. (A left hook signals that the fighter is going to keep his momentum moving in that direction, so a right hand is a logical strike to throw). What's impressive, though, is Cerrone's ability to see such a fast strike, side-step it, and then follow up by clinching and throwing his counter strikes. If "Cowboy" can react to Conor's counters like this, then it's clear that he'll be able to do a fair amount of damage, quickly and ruthlessly.

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Once he's in the clinch, Conor will most likely try and break, and, as demonstrated against Alvarez, strike quickly off of the break. Peep below, and it's clear that Cerrone can handle himself on the break. In fact, for all we know, he could be banking on it. This is the same strategy that UFC Heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier used to knock out Stipe Miocic at UFC 226. (Check out that here.)

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We couldn’t share a "Cowboy" striking breakdown without including this last GIF, where, at UFC 202, he landed what I think is one of the best combos in UFC history against Rick Story. He tosses out a jab to set up a right hand to the body, followed by a left hook and then capped off with a right head kick. Seriously, check out this beauty below.

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CONCLUSION

Both fighters bring a lot to the table. Though they're both high-level strikes, Conor's framing technique and innate judgment of distance gives him the advantage on the feet. "Cowboy" certainly has a shot standing, but, like all wins over Conor, it comes down to whether or not he can secure the takedown. Because if he does, his ground-and-pound pressure will most likely lead to a submission. Lastly, I'd like to note that I'm a big fan of the sport, but in no way consider myself an "expert." This is supposed to be a simple guide to understanding two fighters who, I believe, are more evenly matched than most might perceive. If you're looking for thorough, expert-level MMA breakdowns, then I'd turn to BJJSCOUT and Jack Slack, via Vice Sports, both guys who have, in the best way, inspired this style of article. 

Promo image: Instagram/cowboycerrone

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