The UFC officially arrives in the 2020s this weekend with the first major fight card of the decade featuring a headliner that should draw massive numbers. Before the main event of the evening kicks off between Conor McGregor (-300) and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (+240), a rematch in the women’s bantamweight division will serve as the co-main event between Holly Holm (-142) and Raquel Pennington (+116). While there are a few other fights on the main and preliminary cards worth mentioning, all eyes are on the main event in which McGregor will look to get his career back on track after a turbulent 12 months outside of the octagon. Let’s take a deeper look at his showdown against Cerrone to see where we can find some value.
Conor McGregor (21-4-0) vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-13-0)
These odds were taken from FanDuel Sportsbook on January 17, 2019.
Since making his debut in the UFC in 2013, there has perhaps been no fighter in the history of the sport who has amassed more popularity than Conor “Notorious” McGregor. His polarizing personality that has been on full display any time there’s a mic around him, which has launched his career, and frankly the entire UFC into another level among American sports fans. The first 10 fights of McGregor’s career in the UFC happened over a three-year span, with him going 9-1 with some of the most memorable fights in UFC history and winning Performance or Knockout of the Night in seven of those performances. Unfortunately for McGregor and the UFC’s bottom line, the last three years have been riddled with incidents outside of the octagon including an arrest for robbery, an assault incident on a man at a pub in Dublin, and most notably a brawl immediately following UFC 229 in which Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated him from start to finish. While McGregor is the clear favorite in this fight, and rightfully so, time away from the octagon is often unfriendly to fighters at this level and the question must be asked if his new superstardom will make him overlook a very worthy opponent on Saturday evening.
You’d be hardpressed to find a fighter with a more complete fight history in the UFC than Cowboy Cerrone, who with Saturday’s fight will have the most fights under his belt in the company’s history. Since making his debut in the UFC at UFC 126 in February 2011, Cerrone has bounced back and forth between the lightweight and welterweight division, accepting this fight at the 170-pound welterweight division, exactly where both fighters weighed in. For Cerrone, while the implications of losing aren’t as devastating as they would be for McGregor’s future earning prospects, time is ticking on Cowboy’s career, and at 36, this could very well be his last big payday with the company in an increasingly competitive welterweight and lightweight division. Having lost five of his last 10 fights, the Cowboy comes into this matchup having lost his last two straight including a first-round defeat by TKO to Justin Gaethje in September.
A win here for McGregor would potentially almost immediately set him up for his much-desired rematch against Nurmagomedov, whether he’s ready for it or not. While he’s already been talking about that potential option, I can’t imagine an experienced fighter like McGregor overlooking what is still a threat to put him unconscious rather quickly in Cowboy Cerrone Saturday night. In his four losses as a professional MMA fighter, McGregor has lost by submission on all four occasions, typically within the first two rounds. In his fight against Nurmagomedov, Khabib basically tormented him for the first three rounds, and McGregor looked outmatched in nearly every aspect before being submitted in the fourth round. Luckily for McGregor, Cowboy is no Khabib, having just five submission victories over the course of his career, being much more inclined to stand up and swing with anyone. While I have no doubt this fight will end in KO/TKO, I think with so much on the line both fighters take the first round to feel each other out before going for blood in the second.