Jesus. Cards on the table, I expected Conor to win – my prediction was a second round TKO. But who could write off Donald Cerrone, “the winningest fighter in UFC history”? I felt he might have had a chance to land a submission; he’s a crafty veteran who fights especially well in later rounds, where McGregor historically fades. Many top level fighters outright predicted a win for Donald in this way.
The other mystery factor in this fight was McGregor’s mindset. Conor is a fighter who has gone from promising to “rip his head off” (Mendes) or “invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work” (Aldo), to praising Cerrone as a family man and falling over himself to show respect. His pre-fight build up consisted in the main of a commentary on his new found zen mentality. He referred constantly to how he was focusing on his internal thoughts and not on the external world, to his need to atone for his transgressions outside the octagon in the last couple of years, and to his relationship with famous American life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.
This new McGregor won plaudits from many quarters. He certainly needed to change up something after punching an old man in a pub in the face. But could he actually win at the same time as singing Kumbayah? Could an apparent warm embrace of the world co-exist with the touch of death in that left hand? Or would he now be a damp squib?
The question has been devastatingly answered. For 40 seconds, Conor beat the fuck out of Donald Cerrone. He level changed cleverly and landed his first major damage with three shoulder shots from the clinch, an unusual weapon that busted Cerrone’s nose. A head kick straight over the guard that smashed into Cerrone’s chin and rocked him, boxing to get him to the canvas, some ruthless ground and pound, and that’s all she wrote. The post fight interview saw the old Conor come flying back – bragging, shouting about his whiskey brand, and declaring his superiority to the “mouthy fools” who had challenged him, in particular Masvidal and Usman sat at ringside.
Some will write the victory off as one gained against a meagre opponent; this is insulting to Donald Cerrone, who only had an impressive tear ended by Tony Ferguson, an unmitigated savage, in a competitive fight that only ended because Donald blew his broken nose in between rounds (this causes immediate eye problems that forced the ref to stop the bout). McGregor’s victory is absolutely legitimate. The open question is whether he can keep it up against the best of the best – Gaethje, Masvidal, and ultimately Khabib.