UFC 246 Main Event Analysis and Prediction: Enter ‘Cowboy’

The UFC returns to T-Mobile Arena on Saturday for UFC 246 for the year’s first pay-per-view card. The main event is a welterweight fight…

By: Kostas Fantaousakis | 3 years ago
UFC 246 Main Event Analysis and Prediction: Enter ‘Cowboy’
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The UFC returns to T-Mobile Arena on Saturday for UFC 246 for the year’s first pay-per-view card. The main event is a welterweight fight between former two-division UFC champ Conor McGregor and gritty ex-lightweight title challenger Donald Cerrone.

This is a dream-fight for the fans especially the ones who do not enjoy watching wrestling-heavy match-ups. It is obvious that Conor McGregor did not want to fight a wrestler, especially at welterweight so Cerrone was an ideal pick.

Cowboy is an exciting fighter who will either win in a spectacular fashion or get knocked down and hang in there while receiving tremendous punishment until the referee stops the fight. This fight is a guaranteed stand-up war according to recent remarks by Cerrone. But then again, is it really? I personally have my doubts as you will see below.

The objective of this article is to analyze the fight and predict most possible outcomes by analyzing Donald Cerrone’s strengths and weaknesses. McGregor’s game was analyzed extensively in three parts: punching, kicking and wrestling. This post is in essence a continuation of the previous three breakdowns so you are highly encouraged to read these parts in order to form a more educated opinion.

That being said, it is time to analyze this exciting fight. Please note that in all sequences below, rounds and time marks are included in the image captions in order to help readers locate the clips on UFC Fight Pass.

Before we proceed please take a look at the following stats as they are an essential part of this analysis.

Conor McGregor

Conor Mcgregor hasn’t fought since Oct. 06, 2018 and has not won a fight since Nov. 12, 2016. He is 31 years old, 5 ft 9 in (175 cm) and his reach is 74 in (188 cm)

Technical Stats:

Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 5.27

Significant Striking Accuracy: 48%

Significant Strike Defense: 55%

Takedown Defense: 70%

Donald Cerrone

Donald Cerrone is 36 years old, 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) and his reach is 73 in (185 cm).

Technical Stats:

Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.34

Significant Striking Accuracy: 46%

Significant Strike Defense: 53%

Takedown Accuracy: 36%

A quick conclusion that we can make when comparing these stats is that Conor is more active in landing strikes and that his takedown defense rate doesn’t seem to suggest that it will be easy for Cowboy to take him down. In MMA, however, stats can be misleading as styles make fights.

Donald Cerrone: Too tough for his own good

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

As you can see in the stats and photo above Cerrone is bigger than Conor but is also older and has a reach disadvantage when it comes to punching.

Cerrone’s age is not as important as the amount of damage his body has suffered after 50 fights, many of them accepted on short notice. This does not include damage taken from kickboxing fights, hard sparring and his wild lifestyle that includes participation in various extreme sports.

Donald is a very talented fighter. I expected Cowboy to become a champion at some point but he has consistently failed to win important fights. The problem is that he is a slow starter and he needs the first couple of rounds to warm-up. On the other hand he is a “kill or be killed” kind of fighter and if he get caught he often fails to recover.

Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

When it comes to Cowboy’s heart we can be sure about one thing: there is no quit in him. Tony Ferguson beat Cerrone by leading the pace and throwing a relentless volume of strikes from all angles.

This is the result of their encounter and Cerrone wanted to continue fighting:

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

There are two versions of Cerrone as a fighter.

a. The vicious fighter with a killer instinct.

b. The fighter who is hesitant to pull the trigger while trying to figure-out opponents and thus, lets them dictate the pace. This happens especially when he over-respects his opponent’s skills.

Cerrone is also not a fighter who will necessarily stick to gameplans and will often try to prove a point even though it may cost him the fight. He is the opposite of a calculated fighter like Jon Jones who will never agree to a fight unless he is adequately prepared for his opponent.

That being said don’t get the wrong impression here. Donald is an exceptional all-around fighter with great cardio, decent boxing and takedowns, great kicks and an amazing ground game.

Conor Mcgregor’s cage-rust and the problem with his training camps.

Cage rust is a real thing. Sparring in training is not the same as competing against dangerous opponents who try to put you in harms way. This is especially true when sparring partners may be afraid to go after a celebrity like Conor.

I get the sense that if a sparring partner “humiliates” McGregor by landing strikes in sparring then Conor takes it personal. Sparring can’t be personal. You need to spar with dangerous opponents to keep you honest. If not, you will start to believe that you are indestructible and, spoiler alert: nobody is indestructible.

Conor’s main problem at this stage in his career is that he is the one calling the shots in his training. Being the head coach of your own camp is a recipe for failure. Athletes like Khabib and Georges St-Pierre are obedient soldiers when it comes to training and their coach is their general. Conor, and to a lesser extend Cowboy, seem to be their own bosses when it comes to their preparation for a fight.

When fighters control the camp they often surround themselves with people who do not dare disagree with them. Constructive criticism is often not allowed.

A great coach has to be in charge in order to find the balance between pushing fighters to their limits and preventing injuries. One way or another, fighters need to be pressed so that they don’t get overwhelmed during competition. As en example of this, Coach Firas Zahabi would often pay fighters to try and knock out GSP during sparring.

Of course, hard sparring can be dangerous and can lead to injuries and fight cancellations, so it must be exercised with caution. That being said training must be harder than competition when it comes to endurance and durability.

I know that Conor keeps insisting that this time around his coaches are in control. On the other hand according to Michael Bisping “his coaches are saying he knows more about MMA than everybody put together so therefore they’re allowing him to run the show.”

The significance of fighting five rounds at welterweight

Conor McGregor has made a “mistake” by agreeing to fight Donald Cerrone over five rounds at UFC 246 on his comeback, according to Chael Sonnen. Most analysts also insist that if the fight goes past the third round there is a big chance that Cowboy will get the win. There may be some truth to that.

We must note here that Conor’s physique seems to be more muscular for this fight. The problem is that when you have cardio problems being more muscular will make things worse. Being stronger may help McGregor get a quick knockout but being leaner helps maintain cardio in the later rounds.

The problem with McGregor is he has believed his own hype: that he has dynamite in his left hand and can knock anybody out. That may or may not be the case as unlike most of his previous fights, he is not the bigger man in this fight.

I strongly believe that Conor’s explosive power comes from his ability to twist his hips, his speed and accuracy and not his muscular strength.It is also more technique-based then attribute-based. The problem with being more muscular is that it can compromise a fighter’s speed and his ability to throw volume.

Now that we have analyzed all factors that are not technique-specific, it is time to try and predict ways that both fighters can win the fight. We will do so by basing our analysis on Cerrone’s technical strengths and weaknesses. This post also serves as a short breakdown of Cowboy’s game.

Ways to win: Conor McGregor

There are several ways for the Irishman to win this fight. One thing that he has going for him is that he is a fast starter while Cowboy is exactly the opposite. Another thing is that McGegor can read opponents and exploit weaknesses. Due to this, we will provide here some sequences from Cerrone’s fights where he was exposed. Conor has the ability to take advantage of these technical deficiencies.

That being said, here are Conor’s paths to victory:

1. Catching Cerrone when he moves towards the power hand

Example #1

Anthony Pettis vs Donald Cerrone, Rd 1, 4:52

Cerrone has a tendency to move forward from a distance with a right cross or a jab and then move towards his opponent’s power hand. This is not a good habit.

In the example above, Cerrone tries to close the distance with a right cross and moves right to launch a left hook. Anthony Pettis touches his chin with a right cross.

Example #2

Donald Cerrone vs Rafael dos Anjos, Rd 1, 4:28

The example above is significant in Cowboy’s fight against McGregor. Cerrone launches a jab and then moves right with his right hand down and no head movement against southpaw Rafael dos Anjos. Cowboy gets tagged with a left hand. This is a mistake he cannot afford to do against the Irishman.

2. Straight punches from a southpaw position

Darren Till vs Donald Cerrone, Rd 1, 0:58

Sometimes, Cerrone leaves his opponent’s extended arm come really close. In the sequence above, Darren Till catches Cerrone with a typical McGregor-style combo: a right jab to a left cross. Till has a style of fighting that is similar to McGregor’s. He utilizes a karate style of fighting from a southpaw stance.

3. Countering Cerrone’s lead right hand

Justin Gaethje vs Donald Cerrone, rd 1, 0:51

In this sequence Cerrone makes his usual mistake which can cost him the fight if he repeats it against Conor McGregor. He attacks Justin Gaethje with a lead right hand. Justin pivots left and catches him with a left hook. Cerrone gets rocked and comes back with a left hand only to be countered again with a right hand over the top.

Going after McGregor with a lead right hand is a huge mistake. Ask Eddie Alvarez.

4. Forcing Cowboy to fight going backwards

Conor must use footwork to avoid going backwards against Cowboy who loves going forward. When Cerrone starts keeping his distance that means he is either hurt or injured. It can also mean that he is confused because his attacks don’t seem to work and he keeps getting tagged. When this happens Donald’s toughness takes control and his defense goes out the window. Conor can seize the opportunity and finish the fight.

5. Countering Cerrone’s kicks with punches

Donald Cerrone vs Jorge Masvidal, Rd 2, 4:09

In this example Jorge Masvidal launches a jab as Cerrone attacks with a left kick to the head. The kick lands on Masvidal’s forearm. Jorge catches the kick on the way down, pulls the foot to the side, misses with a left hook and lands an overhand right that drops Cowboy.

Cerrone has great kicks but his form is far from perfect. His head remains close to his opponent’s reach and McGregor can catch him in a similar manner. This has to be done with caution as Cowboy’s kicks are always dangerous.

6. Left kicks to the body

Example #1

Anthony Pettis vs Donald Cerrone, Rd 1, 2:25

Anthony Pettis just hurt Cerrone with a left kick to the liver. The problem with Donald Cerrone is that he is tall but his hands are not that long. This means that there is a gap in his defense between his ribs and his elbow (photo 2). Pettis was able to take advantage of this and kick right through.

Example #2

Anthony Pettis vs Donald Cerrone. Rd 1, 2:57

Just before the finishing kick, Anthony Pettis threw a fake right cross. As Cerrone tried to duck under the punch, Pettis pushed Cowboy’s shoulder to check the distance and landed a left kick to the body.

Example #3

Donald Cerrone vs Rafael dos Anjos, Rd 1, 4:20

In this sequence against Rafael dos Anjos, Cerrone is probably hurt to the body from previous exchanges. Dos Anjos catches Cowboy with a left kick to the body, pushes Donald’s head away and lands a right jab, left cross, right hand combination from a southpaw stance.

7. Working the body

Cerrone seems to have a problem recovering from strikes to the body. Conor has a very effective left snap kick and left round kick in his arsenal that can hurt Cowboy in the body or at least slow him down and make him drop his guard.

Ways to win: Donald Cerrone

In order to beat McGregor, Cerrone needs to use his diverse set of tools and make it a dirty fight. Fighting at a distance waiting for opportunities to counter-strike is not a good idea against Conor. Here are some tools and tactics that can help Cowboy get his hand raised:

1. Right kicks to the head

Kicks to the head are Cerrone’s signature move and he is very successful in catching opponents with them. These kicks work because Cerrone launches body kicks and low kicks consistently and this makes opponents drop their hands when he finally decides to go high.

Example #1

A trick that enables Cowboy to land on the head is that before the kick he extends his hand as if he is throwing a punch. You can see below an example of this.

Donald Cerrone vs Jim Miller, Rd 2, 1:36,

In this sequence, Cerrone extends his hand thus making southpaw Jim Miller block a potential right hand. Cowboy just attacks the head with a right roundhouse kick and hurts Miller.

Example #2

Donald Cerrone vs Melvin Guillard, Rd 1, 3:50

In this sequence Donald attacks Melvin Guillard with an inside low kick while slipping an overhand right. Cerrone pulls back and throws a fake jab, Melvin either tries to slip the punch or block a kick to the body and Cowboy connects with a left kick to the head.

Example #3: Checking the distance

Donald Cerrone vs Alexander Hernandez, Rd 2, 1:31

In the photos above, Cerrone touches Alexander Hernandez’s extending right hand to check the distance and catches him with a right kick to the head. Hernandez who is in a southpaw stance, is probably trying to defend a body kick and gets caught.

Example #4

Donald Cerrone vs Matt Brown, rd 3, 4:20

Matt Brown tries to attack with a jab to the body and Cerrone catches him with a vicious left kick to the head.

2. Catching McGregor when he turns his back

In the photos above against Max Holloway, Conor executes a right sidekick to the belly with his front foot. After the kick, Conor turns his back as he often does with his side and spinning back kicks. In photo 3, Conor is open for a right high kick or a takedown. In photo 4, he can be hit with a right cross, left hook or a left high kick. In photo 5, McGregor’s left leg is defenseless against a possible leg kick or a single leg takedown. I am not saying here that these counters are easy to land against a guy with Conor’s reflexes but turning your back on your opponent is not a good idea.

Here is a similar example:

In the photos above Conor connects with a right kick to the thigh and Max Holloway follows up with a right high kick that barely misses.

If you need more proof, here is Rose Namajunas countering Michelle Waterson’s right sidekick with a right hand and a right kick to the head:

Rose Namajunas vs Michelle Waterson, Rd 2, 3:54

Cerrone has the ability to catch McGregor with a kick if he can take advantage of this tendency.

3. Using the clinch, knees and elbows

Donald Cerrone’s knee and elbow attacks

Cerrone is good at mixing things up and use a diverse arsenal of Muay Thai attacks like the Thai plum, knees and elbows from unexpected angles. These tools can have great results against a fighter like Conor who focuses on just punching and kicking.

4. Attacking the body

Floyd Mayweather beat Conor by consistently attacking his body. These punches will take the wind out of fighters, compromise their mobility, speed and explosiveness.

Look at Conor’s reaction when he got hit in the solar plexus:

Floyd landed mostly right hands, but he also used jabs to the body, as in the following sequence:

Take a look at the clip below to see how Floyd was able to take advantage of Conor’s karate stance, change levels and land on his ribs. He immediately pulled back out of range after the punch.

Below you can see another interesting combo. Floyd pushes Conor’s right hand down with his left and lands a straight right to the body. Conor’s southpaw stance makes it difficult to block right hands to the body and the liver is exposed. McGregor keeps connecting his forearms to block the punches, actually trapping Floyd’s hand between them a couple of times. In this sequence Floyd continues with a jab and a right cross.

Here is the clip:

5. Making Conor fight going backwards

Making Conor fight going backwards is easier said than done, especially in the first two rounds. Coming forward in a careless manner is a dangerous task as McGregor loves using counters. Cowboy generally loves moving forward but Conor has exceptional footwork.

Khabib and Mayweather made McGregor fight backpedaling and Conor started fading. The Irishman is way more efficient when he goes after opponents and leads the pace.

In boxing this can be described by cutting off the ring and walking your opponent down. This requires application of constant pressure to the opponent. Walking opponents down is an art of intimidation that makes them doubt their power and stamina. Boxers achieve this by throwing punches in bunches and just covering up without worrying too much about about counters. This takes away the opponents’ ability to rest and their confidence. Here is a video explaining how to cut off the ring:

6. Threatening with takedowns or making Conor wrestle

The fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov also showed that Conor is hittable when he has to worry about takedowns. This is why Khabib Nurmagomedov is able to catch Conor McGregor in the sequence below (the speed of the punch also helped). You can see in the middle photos that Conor momentarily looks down, not knowing what is coming his way.

McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov, Rd 2, 4:38

MMA fighters, can catch the best strikers if they manage to establish the threat of the takedown. Once this happens, their opponents’ defense can get compromised as their attention is focused on two different tasks at the same time: sprawling and defending strikes. Due to this, Khabib was able to land several times on McGregor after the first takedown.

That being said, we have to repeat here that attacking McGregor with power shots from a distance, especially lead right hands is not a good idea.

7. Taking McGregor down by ducking under his left hand

Donald Cerrone vs Darren Till, rd 1, 3:50

The takedown in the sequence above is significant for Donald Cerrone’s chances against McGregor’s. Cerrone ducks under southpaw Darren Till’s left hand and takes him down. As I analyzed in a previous post the best way to take Conor down is to duck under his left hand.

Chad Mendes, was successful in taking Conor down by ducking under Conor’s left cross—thus compromising the Irishman’s ability to get a left underhook in time. Here is such a sequence:

Chad Mendes vs Conor McGregor, Rd 2, 4:14

8. Taking McGregor down by catching his left kick to the body

Donald Cerrone vs Robbie Lawler, rd 1, 2:16

In this clip, Robbie Lawler throws a fake left hand and a left kick. Cerrone ducks under the hand, catches the kick and gets a knee tap takedown.

McGregor is great at attacking with left kicks to the body but he is sometimes predictable as he goes for this same move several times in a row. The example above shows that Cowboy has the ability to catch a kick and take him down.

8. Submitting Conor McGregor

Cowboy is more than capable to submit Conor if the fight goes to the ground. Here are some of his top submissions:

Example #1

Donald Cerrone vs Edson Barboza, rd 1, 1:56

Cerrone drops Edson Barboza with a jab, goes for a slick backtake and gets the tap via rear naked choke. You have to watch the clip to appreciate this vicious backtake and submission. We must remember here that Conor has been submitted via rear naked choke twice in his career.

Example #2

Donald Cerrone vs. Chris Horodecki, WEC 53. Rd 2. 4:32

Cerrone submitted Chris Horodecki back in WEC 53. Donald applied a beautiful transition from the rubber guard to an omoplata to a triangle.

Example #3

Donald Cerrone vs Alex Oliveira, Rd 1, 2:43

Cerrone submitted Alex Oliveira with another great transition from top half guard to mount to a mounted triangle.

Example #4

Donald Cerrone vs Mike Perry, rd 1, 0:25

Mike Perry is standing in Cerrone’s guard and makes the mistake of extending his left arm trying to push Cerrone down. Cowboy underhooks Perry’s right foot and catches him with a swift armbar. Perry tries to jump over in order to escape and Cerrone goes belly down and gets the tap.

Final prediction

As you can see in all cases above, there are many possible outcomes in this fight. I have been going back and forth on this one as it is an intriguing match-up.

I am rooting for Donald Cerrone to win because he deserves to win at least one important fight in his career. So my heart is with Cowboy but on the other hand my logic leans towards the younger fighter who fights smarter. So my prediction is 55% McGregor and 45% Cerrone.

If the fight goes past the third round without a finish, it will probably be Conor by decision. If there is a finish later in the fight then there is a big chance that Cowboy will win by submission or head kick.

That being said here is one last advice:

Never count an old cowboy out!

For a list of the author’s previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

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About the author
Kostas Fantaousakis
Kostas Fantaousakis

Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system© which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback© mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

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