Conor McGregor v Donald Cerrone - Welterweight
The Octagon is kicking off the New Year with a much-anticipated comeback. Conor “Notorious” McGregor will be headlining UFC 246 on January 18 at T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada. He returns follows his ban and fine due to the disgraceful events of his most recent fight and defeat at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He faces legend Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a fighter 5 years older and far more experienced, counting 15 more victories but also having suffered nine more losses in his career. McGregor stands two inches shorter but holds the 1-inch greater reach, which may prove an advantage considering his striking style. To face Cerrone, McGregor must also go up a weight class once again to Welterweight.
McGregor was a rising star who caught the attention of audiences worldwide, exciting in the cage and controversial out of it. McGregor is known for his strikes, achieving back to back knockouts like a set of dominoes and notoriously gaining titles in both the Featherweight and Lightweight division. Many have called his pre-match trash talk arrogant but in the past, he has certainly backed it up, which is partly why he gained such a great fan following. Of 21 wins, 18 have been knockouts, one was via submission and only two via decision. His strikes are incredibly fast and dynamic, from fluid boxing technique to spinning heel kicks. He uses his reach explosively, timing his strikes with great accuracy while avoiding any counters from his opponents with his fluid head movement. This was demonstrated well in his Featherweight title bout against Jose Aldo, which ended in its opening moments with one knockout punch from McGregor. He built this style off of a classical Boxing background and is additionally unconventional with his Southpaw stance.
He had been on a 17-fight winning streak broken only by one loss to Nate Diaz (who he defeated in the rematch), and taken a long break from the cage. McGregor thus lost his Lightweight title through inactivity when he stepped up for what he thought would be a triumphant comeback against Nurmagomedov. McGregor’s trash talk this time was deeply personal, racist and islamophobic. In the fight itself, he was worn down and defeated by an enraged Nurmagomedov, caught in a vicious and well-executed neck crank. It didn’t stop there however, what ensued afterwards between McGregor’s team and Nurmagomedov’s could only be described as a mass brawl. For his part, McGregor was fined $50,000 and suspended for 6 months. A year and a half later he returns to redeem himself.
McGregor is younger with an arguably stronger recent record with time out to refine his game, whereas Cerrone has suffered recent damaging losses and appears to be on the decline
Standing in his way is the legendary Cowboy Cerrone, an opponent with arguably a far more balanced skillset. Cerrone’s strikes are not to be underestimated, he still holds a strong record of 10 knockout victories, with nine via decision but an overwhelming 17 via submission. Cerrone doesn’t rely on one discipline, but his specialism is clearly grappling and submissions, a proven gap in McGregor’s game. His background is in fact in Muay Thai and Kickboxing, having expanded his skillset in grappling, he is now a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
Cerrone’s style is persistent and dominating. He pursues his opponents relentlessly with his strikes and once his submissions are set up, he never relieves pressure, leaving no room for retaliation. As far as knockouts he is famed for his head kick, a risky move that requires great technicality, flexibility and timing, as seen in his relatively recent knockout of Alexander Hernandez via head kick and punches. His favoured submission techniques are the Triangle and Rear-Naked Chokes which he has perfected. But Cerrone’s once consistent record has been marred by more recent losses including 2 knockouts this year. Entering the latter part of his career, this fight could be critical for his legacy.
Two warriors face off with very different skillsets and styles of fighting. It could be argued that McGregor’s time out of the cage, move up a weight class and narrower skillset may put him at a disadvantage. However, McGregor is younger with an arguably stronger recent record with time out to refine his game, whereas Cerrone has suffered recent damaging losses and appears to be on the decline. On this basis it is likely that McGregor will make his come back and gain the victory.
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Raquel Pennington v Holly Holm - Bantamweight
The co-main event brings two big, veteran names of womens’ MMA into collision. Raquel Len “Rocky” Pennington faces Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm, in the rematch she’s been waiting for. In 2015, Holm defeated Pennington via split decision. The fight was a consistent back and forth with both women taking a cautious approach but it was clear that Holm had greater skill and accuracy as a striker with the reach that allowed her to dominate the fight. Holm does stand over an inch taller with a 1.5 inch reach advantage. Pennington will be aware of this and keen to redeem herself against her former rival. The two women have similar records despite Pennington being 7 years younger. Both fighters have suffered some recent set backs. Holm’s hasn’t fought since her crippling knockout defeat at the hands of the infamous Amanda Nunes in July of last year. Pennington also hasn’t fought since then though she came away with a decision victory against Irene Aldana. This was her come back fight after the 2 losses that had sent her crashing down from her former winning streak. Interestingly enough, one of those losses was also Nunes.
Holm needs to secure this victory if she’s to continue at any pace in her MMA career which seems on the decline. She’s a specialised striker with an impressive competitive background in Kickboxing as well as professional Boxing (holding multiple Welterweight Boxing titles). This is reflected in her MMA record, with a majority 8 knockouts victories, 4 via decision and none via submission. She was already a proven competitor when she stepped into the cage and that specialised striking skill made her infamous when she used it to defeat the historically unbeatable former judoka Ronda Rousey (UFC 193). This fight was a great demonstration of her technique, timing and power. Rousey powered forward, straying away from her grappling specialism, but her attempted strikes were no match for the seasoned Holm. She managed to defend Rousey’s take down and signature armbar attempt, finishing her off with a knockout roundhouse kick. It was arguably one of the most ground-breaking fights in the women’s division the UFC had seen back then. With her clean kickboxing and legendary head kick, Holm is an absolute force to be reckoned with. She has a calculated, calm and tactical approach, making good use of technicality and reach to overwhelm her opponents.
Whilst it is clear that Holm possesses far greater technical skill in terms of her striking, she is 7 years Pennington’s senior and it has been 5 years since their match.
Holm faces Pennington’s opposite approach. Pennington currently holds 1 knockout win, 3 via submission and a majority of 6 via decision. She has proven herself to have a diverse skillset but not as a firm finisher in any one discipline. The majority of her losses however have been via decision, so she is a challenging opponent and also in fact difficult to finish. This being said, Holm might be a knockout queen, but she couldn’t knockout Pennington. Her generalist style as compared to Holm’s specialist one makes sense considering her background. She did not come rooted from a set discipline, having always been involved in sports but beginning general Mixed Martial Arts training at 19 and later competing in MMA. She adapts her strategy to her opponents. In her defeat of Miesha Tate via decision, she dominated the fight, showcasing her ability to land strikes and grapple as well as her incredible strength. At one point in attempting a guillotine she even lifted Tate clean off the ground.
The specialist faces the generalist again. Whilst it is clear that Holm possesses far greater technical skill in terms of her striking, she is 7 years Pennington’s senior and it has been 5 years since their match. We believe that as Pennington has developed as a fighter in this time and holds the physical advantage of youth, she may well redeem herself and take the win.
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Maurice Greene v Aleksei Oleinik - Heavyweight
Other exciting fights on the card include a battle of the Heavyweights. The comparably inexperienced Maurice Greene, having begun his professional MMA career in 2012, faces Aleksei Oleinik, the legend. Oleinik is almost a decade older than Greene with an impressive 49 more victories to his name and a mere 13 losses to date. He is however at a physical disadvantage. Greene is the younger fighter, stands over five inches taller and has a slightly greater reach.
Oleinik is renowned for his specialist skill in submissions. He holds eight knockout victories , four by decision but a mind-blowing 45 via submission. He is a surgeon with the choke, seeming to favour the Rear-Naked Choke as well as the Ezekiel and Guillotine. He has a strong grappling background, including Sambo and is a 4th degree black belt in BJJ. He has had a number of formidable winning streaks in his career, but in the past four years has suffered four of his losses, having been knocked out in his last two fights.
Greene hasn’t had as much time to carve out a niche, but thus far appears to be a fairly balanced fighter with a lean towards submissions like his opponent. He holds two knockout wins, two via decision but a majority four victories via submission, favouring the Triangle Choke. He also lost his most recent fight via knockout but had been on a three fight winning streak prior to that.
Two skilled Heavyweights face off. Whilst Oleinik is incredibly experienced and has had a ludicrous career, Greene shows great promise and holds the clear physical advantage. Greene is likely to take the win in this case.
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Anthony Pettis v Carlos Diego Ferreira - Lightweight
Anthony Pettis returns to the cage after his disappointing decision loss to Nate Diaz in August of last year that was meant to mark his come back. He now faces the fresh challenge of Carlos Diego Ferreira. Pettis is arguably the more experienced fighter but Ferreira has suffered far fewer losses. They are of similar age, with Pettis just over an inch taller but with Ferreira holding the 1.5 inch reach advantage. Overall any physical differences appear balanced.
Pettis is a legend of the game and though known for his knockouts, has a well balanced skillset. He holds a majority 11 knockout victories, seven via submission and only four via decision. His game is exciting and explosive. He uses risky strikes like the axe kick and lands incredible knockouts. But in recent years his firm winning streaks were replaced with scattered wins and losses. Regardles, he still seems determined to rise again.
Ferreira on the other hand has a strong record with only two losses and is currently rising on a five-fight winning streak. He’s admittedly not as strong a finisher with a majority seven wins by decision but he also holds three knockout victories and a strong six via submission. Submissions do therefore appear to be his specialism of which he’s demonstrated a range.
Once again the more experienced fighter faces a promising opponent. This may well be a close fight, but considering Ferreira’s strong recent record it seems he is gaining momentum. Ferreira may well take the victory this time over Pettis.