After a three-week hiatus, the UFC bursts into the new decade with a pay-per-view featuring a main event nearly a year in the making. After Donald Cerrone defeated Alexander Hernandez by TKO on Jan. 19th, 2019, Conor McGregor took to social media to congratulate “Cowboy” and let him know that the performance against Hernandez made Cerrone worthy of being the man to welcome “The Notorious” one back to the Octagon.
Much has transpired since then. Cerrone went on to beat Al Iaquinta in a five-round main event before dropping back-to-back fights to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. McGregor hasn’t fought since his call out of Cerrone, but he has remained in the spotlight with his antics outside of the cage. Whether it was sucker-punching an older gentleman in a bar or multiple serious allegations of sexual assault, McGregor has managed to stay at the forefront of MMA news.
On Saturday night, the two men will finally square off at UFC 246. The question of whether or not McGregor can regain the form that allowed him to claim two UFC championship belts will begin to be answered.
The co-headliner is a rematch in the women’s bantamweight division, where former title challenger Raquel Pennington collides with former champion Holly Holm. The two ladies first met in 2015 in Holm’s first UFC appearance, where the decorated boxer picked up a split-decision victory. Holm would then go on to shock the world by knocking out Ronda Rousey and winning the UFC belt. The road has been rocky for the Jackson-Wink product since then, and she needs to pick up a win to remain somewhat relevant within her division. For Pennington, a win in this rematch would give her back-to-back victories. The 31-year-old has enough time to try to make another run at the title and a rematch with the greatest female fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes.
Further down the main card is a heavyweight match-up between submission specialist Aleksei Oleinik and Maurice Greene, who is looking to bounce back after a TKO loss to Sergei Pavlovich.
Perennial strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha looks to show off a more well-rounded skill set in her second fight since moving her training camp to New Jersey under the tutelage of Mark Henry. Gadelha takes on Alexa Grasso, who is coming off a “Fight of the Night” performance in a losing effort against former champion Carla Esparza in Mexico City. With a win over Gadelha, the rising star could prove she’s a full-fledged contender.
A fight between former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and surging Brazilian fighter Diego Ferreira rounds out the main card. Pettis has alternated wins and losses in his last nine fights, whereas Ferreira is riding a five-fight winning streak. This is a crossroads fight for Pettis, who desperately needs a win. He could serve as a springboard for Ferreira as the Brazilian tries to vault into contendership at lightweight.
UFC 246 takes place inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 18. The early prelims air on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. The action culminates with the pay-per-view on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Jeff Wall and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Conor McGregor is listed as a moderate favorite over Donald Cerrone in the evening’s main event. Will he live up to those expectations and win this fight? How does it play out?
Wall: Not a chance. McGregor looked so uncharacteristically wild in his last fight, which was over a year ago now. He has been inactive, which can create some level of uncertainty, but it would be a stretch to think he does well.
A couple of years ago when these two had their little beef at a press conference, I would have picked McGregor. He was — and probably still is — lethal, especially early. He never needed to settle into a fight. Cerrone, on the other hand, always needed three minutes or more.
Fast forward to the present day, though, and it seems so unlikely that the Irishman succeeds. Cerrone is a much better boxer. “Cowboy” gets to his top gear a lot quicker, and he is not easily dismantled by pressure.
This ends in a trademark “Cowboy” combo.
Petela: We will never again see the dynamic version of McGregor who starched José Aldo with one punch or the precision striking master who put on a clinic at UFC 205 against Eddie Alvarez.
The former two-division champ is a better overall striker than Cerrone, but he won’t end the contest with one punch at 170 pounds the way he could at 145. He will likely win the first round or two, but once he gets into the later rounds with Cerrone, his cardio will fail him as it has in the past. Then, “Cowboy” will be able to capitalize on his much more rounded skill set.
By the fourth round, Cerrone will get the fight to the mat, where he is miles ahead of McGregor. Every loss in McGregor’s career has been by way of submission, and Cerrone will add to this pattern. “Cowboy” finishes this fight with a fourth- or fifth-round rear-naked choke after forcing McGregor to give up his back rather than being stuck underneath Cerrone’s mount.
When Holly Holm first joined the UFC, she was pitted against Raquel Pennington and came away with a lackluster decision. What will be different about the rematch?
Petela: Not much of anything, really. Holm will look to use her footwork to keep the fight at kickboxing distance, where she has the clear technical advantage. Meanwhile, Pennington will try to work her way into a clinch and institute a grappling-heavy game plan. Holm will have slightly more success, again, and pick up another less-than-memorable victory.
Holm will always be remembered as the woman who beat Ronda Rousey. A second win over Pennington won’t change that, and she will hold a 3-5 record since pulling off the massive upset to become the UFC bantamweight champion at UFC 193. Her quick ascension to the top and lack of sustained success once she got there on the surface makes it look like she was a flash in the pan, but in reality it shows the exponential growth in talent within women’s MMA.
Wall: Let’s cut to the chase. Amanda Nunes took something from Pennington in their fight. That was a “beat the will out of you” TKO. Now, Pennington has little to fight for. Her dream seems further away than before.
Holm is still no joke. She is always in shape, which has aided her longevity. She had the edge in athleticism in the first fight. The game plan will be to make sure she stays out of the clinch, where Pennington is at her best.
This one ends quickly. Pennington is still as tough as they come, which should keep her in it, but the athleticism gap is massive.
Aleksa Camur and Ode Osbourne — do we need to know these names?
Wall: Cumar has life-changing power. He’s built. That’s about all we know at this point. It’s really tough to predict much else. His opponent, Justin Ledet, is not a guy who should put much fear into Cumar’s corner. We know he doesn’t excel in any area or have insane power. Ledet is a veteran who can test inexperienced prospects, but expect Cumar to roll past him. Cumar might get pushed up the division too quickly, though.
Osbourne could turn out to be a finisher in the mold of Donald Cerrone. He looks more calm in the beginning of fights. He has power, accuracy, and finishing ability in nearly any phase. He is definitely one to watch.
Petela: Camur is certainly a proven finisher. He’s 5-0 so far in his professional career, and all of those victories have come by some form of knockout. It’s true he should be able to get by Ledet, and he should do so in exciting fashion. Camur, 24, is a young man and has a high ceiling that UFC fans should be excited to see play out over the next several years.
Osbourne is both a submission and knockout threat. He has finished 88 percent of his professional fights. He has a tough debut against Brian Kelleher, but this should be a fun fight. Osbourne could stick around for a while and deliver some excitement against the second tier of fighters in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 246?
Petela: Without a doubt, it’s Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. A win over Conor McGregor vaults him back into contender status, and his goal of winning a UFC championship before riding off into the sunset stays alive. As an added bonus, his popularity will be at an all-time high. The promotional video that has been showing during high-profile ESPN events in the lead-up to this fight is completely devoid of any mention or likeness of Cerrone and instead is just an advertisement of McGregor. That won’t be true for SportsCenter’s post-fight coverage. An exorbitant amount of casual fans will be exposed to “Cowboy,” and he will instantly become a favorite for a lot of people, which is exactly what he deserves after the career he has had up to this point.
Wall: Cerrone will take this win into the twilight of his career. It has been disgusting the lack of promos Cerrone has been featured in leading up to the biggest fight of his life, but if there is one person who can take some of the McGregor shine, it’s Cerrone. I have rarely ever heard anyone say a bad thing about the guy. Even casual fans love him. He has a persona people get behind. Cerrone should cash in big with a win here.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 246?
Wall: The UFC, for not promoting Cerrone. The last time the company promoted a big star’s return without the mention of the opponent, it was Ronda Rousey’s attempted comeback after the loss to Holly Holm. Who did she fight in her return? Amanda Nunes. What happened? Nunes ran through the UFC’s biggest star. Nobody knew who she was, why she was important, or why they should care going into that fight. Big mistake. Luckily, Cerrone will put butts in seats. However, he would add a few more if people knew who he was going into this fight.
Petela: Conor McGregor. What’s next for him after a loss to Cerrone? This is the first fight for the Irishman in a long time where there’s no rational excuse for a loss. The bravado is only fun to listen to if he can adequately back it up. If he drops a fight to Cerrone, who is coming off two losses seriously, it damages his credibility as a dangerous finisher and one of the greatest fighters of his generation. He is no longer going to be seen as the guy who came to take over. Instead, he will merely be a guy taking part in celebrity fights with no title implications.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Chas Skelly and Grant Dawson should combine for a fun scrap. Both guys are outstanding grapplers. Skelly is a former NAIA All-American wrestler, and Dawson has 10 submission victories to his name. Dawson has also been vocal about wanting this fight. He sees Skelly as a lesser version of himself and the next step along the way in his plan to become a world champion. Skelly will be out to prove that he’s not a poor man’s Grant Dawson. Someone will likely be forced to tap or get choked unconscious before the final bell sounds.
Wall: Anthony Pettis and Diego Ferreira. Pettis is always seen as a slick striker. His best defense is and always has been his offense. Ferreira typically throws caution to the wind. I absolutely love the fight. It has barn-burner written all over it.
Pair this card with…
Wall: Fireball. Get that first sweet cinnamon taste. Then you realize, wow this is not awesome at all.
Petela: I’m tempted to throw out something obscure, because I know my buddy who I’m watching the fights with will do his best to try to hunt it down. However, with this fight seemingly being a showdown between Budweiser and Proper 12 whiskey, I’ll stick with an American classic: a cold case of Bud heavy.
|Fight||Wall’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone||Cerrone||Cerrone|
|Women’s BW: Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington||Holm||Holm|
|HW: Aleksei Oleinik vs. Maurice Greene||Oleinik||Greene|
|Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Alexa Grasso||Grasso||Gadelha|
|LW: Anthony Pettis vs. Diego Ferreira||Pettis||Ferreira|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s FlyW: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Maycee Barber||Barber||Barber|
|FW: Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff||Yusuff||Yusuff|
|LW: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Drew Dober||Haqparast||Haqparast|
|FW: Chas Skelly vs. Grant Dawson||Skelly||Skelly|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)|
|LHW: Aleksa Camur vs. Justin Ledet||Camur||Camur|
|FlyW: Tim Elliott vs. Askar Askarov||Askarov||Elliott|
|BW: Ode Osbourne vs. Brian Kelleher||Osbourne||Kelleher|
|Women’s FlyW: Sabina Mazo vs. J.J. Aldrich||Mazo||Mazo|