Will Conor McGregor ever be the same fighter?
That’s the question on everyone’s mind as McGregor heads into his upcoming fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday at UFC 246.
McGregor, 31, from Dublin, was once the king of combat sports. I’m sure if you ask the fighter today, he’d still claim to be that.
But it’s fair to wonder if trying to outbox Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside a boxing ring in August 2017, and following it up by jumping right back to the top of the MMA food chain to face Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in October 2018, was just a little too much to handle.
After all, Mayweather and Khabib were a combined 76-0 before they headed into their megafights against McGregor. Mayweather, the boxer, had already established himself as the best fighter of his generation. Nurmagomedov might very well be on his way to doing the same thing in MMA right now.
So it’s a fair question.
Did those two fights ruin McGregor?
Mayweather Outpunched the Striker
Floyd Mayweather is one of the best counterpunchers in boxing history. While McGregor is an excellent counterpuncher by MMA standards, he was in way deeper waters against Mayweather in August 2017.
The Irishman accounted well for himself. He deserved the nod during the first three rounds of the fight and the fight was a lot more entertaining than the event’s critics claimed it would be.
But here’s the thing about those first three rounds: that’s something many fighters have experienced against Mayweather.
The truth of the matter is that Mayweather uses the early rounds to get his timing down. Once he’s done that, the fight begins to be over.
Mayweather walked McGregor down over the rest of the fight. By the 10th round, when the action was stopped and Mayweather was declared the winner, McGregor had become too worn and beaten to even defend himself.
When the night was over, Mayweather had yet another huge win in his pocket to turn 50-0, and he had done it using a somewhat aggressive style to which he had never employed before as champion.
He walked straight toward his opponent, then right through him.
Did that experience take something away from McGregor?
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Nurmagomedov Grinded McGregor Down
Fifteen months later, McGregor returned to the UFC to face undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Where top-level fighters out of action for that long typically take comeback fights against lesser opponents (which is exactly what McGregor is doing this weekend in facing Donald Cerrone), McGregor attempted to usurp the most dominant force in MMA after his hiatus.
Again, McGregor did pretty well in the fight. Sure, Nurmagomedov ultimately ground McGregor down just like he does everyone, but it took him a little longer than expected. Moreover, McGregor even managed to win the third round in some people’s eyes, including the three judges.
But again, McGregor was the beaten man. After tapping out in the fourth, he was now winless over his last two fights.
Is getting worked over like that really all that good for a fighter?
Especially since McGregor had just come off something eerily similar the year prior against Mayweather?
Competing Schools of Thought
There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to how its best for professional fighters to operate in their careers. The older idea, which can be traced back farther in boxing because of its availability in the U.S., is basically that it’s good for fighters to pit themselves against the very best opposition as much as humanly possible.
Why? Because it helps them become better fighters.
But a newer idea, one that also has some merit, is that fighters only have so many fights in them, and even less that can be fought at the highest level. So why not make the most amount of money possible by taking the minimally acceptable path with the least possible resistance?
For McGregor, that would have meant possibly taking one of the two megafights, which were two of the best-selling pay-per-view events of all-time, but surely not both, at least not back-to-back.
UFC 246 Will Reveal What’s Left for McGregor
Cerrone is a tough, workmanlike and popular contender. But he’s never reached the same heights as McGregor, and the 36-year-old is closer to his retirement than he is to his peak. But Cerrone probably remains a good enough gauge for what McGregor’s future might hold.
If McGregor is still elite, as he was back in 2016 against Eddie Alvarez (McGregor’s last win), the Irishman should be able to handle Cerrone with ease. After all, Cerrone lost his last two fights via stoppage to Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson, so McGregor should at least hope to keep pace with that.
But if Cerrone makes things tough for McGregor.? If McGregor finds himself bleeding, breathing hard late and struggling to win the fight of his life?
Then we’ll know the truth, and it would be less about Cerrone and more about McGregor already being ruined by his last two fights.