UFC

UFC 246: Conor McGregor v Donald Cerrone - The big questions answered as 'The Notorious' returns

By Sports Desk January 16, 2020

Love him or hate him there is no way you can ignore Conor McGregor and Saturday marks his long-awaited return to the octagon at UFC 246.

It has been 15 months since McGregor's last bout ended in a submission defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a contest marred by an ugly post-fight brawl between the warring camps.

The charismatic Irishman, the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two divisions at the same time, is back, though, with veteran Donald Cerrone the opponent in Las Vegas.

Much has happened since McGregor's defeat to Khabib and below we take a look at the big questions ahead of his comeback.

 

What happened at UFC 229?

Oh boy…where do you start with this one? The build-up to this was fight was, let's dilute this a little, ugly. Back in April 2018, McGregor was involved in an attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters. McGregor would eventually be forced to undertake community service and an anger management programme over the incident. So, naturally the scene was set for a red-hot build-up that had many barbs that crossed the line. After Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round the bad blood spilled over, with the Russian launching himself over the cage to fight members of his rival's team, leading to a mass melee. It was all rather unpleasant, unsavoury and unnecessary, and in truth not a great look for UFC.

What's happened since?

Well there was a retirement, a reversal on that decision, injury and an impressive body transformation. Not to mention plenty of sales of his Proper No. Twelve whiskey. And, unfortunately, there has been no escape from controversy. In March 2019, McGregor was arrested and charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief after it was alleged he took a man's phone and smashed it on the ground in Miami – the charges were later dropped over inconsistencies in the victim's testimony. In November, McGregor was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

Will he fight Khabib again?

The jury remains very much out on this one. McGregor, who slipped to a 21-4-0 MMA record after the defeat, tweeted "book my rematch for Moscow" after Khabib's successful return against Dustin Poirier last September. The big-talking Irishman set himself a lofty ambition of fighting three times in 2020 and McGregor previously stated he wanted to face the winner of the bout between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, before going on to once again take on Khabib. Masvidal certainly looks a viable option following his victory over Diaz, whether the Khabib rematch gets sanctioned is another argument.

What is his style?

Lightning quick with ferocious power and incredible athleticism – McGregor is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. A southpaw with awesome striking skills, one of McGregor's greatest traits is a unique fighting stance that suits both front-foot tactics and counter punching. He is not known for his ground game, which many pundits noted was crucial in his defeat to Khabib. 

Who is his opponent Cerrone?

Put simply, 'Cowboy' is a legend in MMA circles. No one boasts more UFC wins than Cerrone, who has earned legions of fans for his ability to thrill in the octagon. Never one to shirk a challenge, Cerrone has been in with the best of the best. But, 37 in March and coming into this fight on the back of consecutive defeats to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, it will be a tall order to overcome McGregor.

Why is the fight taking place at welterweight?

There was little shock when news broke McGregor was to fight Cerrone, though the fact the bout was to be contested in the 170lb division did raise some eyebrows – particularly given McGregor's stated desire for a rematch with lightweight king Khabib. UFC president Dana White explained McGregor's target for another dance with Khabib meant he was not keen on cutting to 155 twice. Both fighters are not particularly big welterweights, so it makes sense not to have go through the weight cut.

Is this fight make or break for McGregor?

When you bring the number of eyes, publicity and money as McGregor does no fight is ever make or break. But there is a feeling after several years of limited activity – since beating Eddie Alvarez in 2016 he has only fought Floyd Mayweather Jr in a lucrative boxing bout and Khabib – he needs to rediscover the fire that made him one of the UFC's greatest competitors. Win, lose or draw, McGregor will go again.

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    In what should have been the opening week of Wimbledon, Stats Perform News revisits an interview with analyst Craig O'Shannessy.

     

    "By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

    Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

    Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

    "After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Stats Perform News prior to the Australian Open in January. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

    "It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

    O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

    Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

    Struff – with mastermind O'Shannessy in his box – threatened to derail Djokovic's quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title before the defending champion fought hard to survive in the opening round in Melbourne, where he eventually hoisted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft.

    "Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

    At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

    "Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

    On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

    "So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

    "Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

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    4th minute – Received the ball on the halfway line but an attempted pass to release Nadiem Amiri was cut out in midfield. Havertz completed 67.7 per cent of his passes on the night.

    7th minute – Sized up Alaba on the right but was easily dispossessed. He would lose possession on 20 occasions – more than any other Leverkusen player.

    15th minute – After an earlier tetchy altercation with Alaba, Havertz prevented fellow Germany international Joshua Kimmich from taking a quick free-kick. A shove and a talking to from referee Tobias Welz followed.

    20th minute – A cute lay-off to Julian Baumgartlinger ended with Wendell in a promising position on the left but the full-back's cross was blocked.

    21st minute – The latest instalment in Havertz's personal battle with Kimmich did not go well as the Bayern man muscled him away from the ball to launch an attack, where Thomas Muller almost made it 2-0.

    24th minute – Charles Aranguiz's lofted pass looking for Leverkusen's star man ran through to Manuel Neuer. Within a minute, Gnabry thrashed beyond Lukas Hradecky to double Bayern's lead.

    27th minute – Havertz's frustration was clear as he again tangled with Kimmich in futile fashion, giving away a free-kick with a slide tackle of the agricultural variety.

    33rd minute – Got in front of Alaba for a lovely takedown on halfway but his turning left-footed throughball was intercepted.

    42nd minute – The offside flag meant it would not have counted in any case, but Amiri delaying his cross, Havertz falling over and then regaining his footing before the ball failed to reach him summed up a half to forget. Amiri made way for Kevin Volland at the interval.

    60th minute – Havertz fashioned a little room on the right-hand side of the area, only to be snuffed out by Alphonso Davies and Alaba. Volland's earlier air shot in the area and Hradecky's howling error for Lewandowski's first meant it mattered little.

    63rd minute – Operating increasingly from the right with Volland leading the line, Havertz got the run on the quicksilver Davies and delivered a teasing low cross that Alaba was forced to clear behind with Leon Bailey poised. From the resulting corner, Bender powered home.

    66th minute – Came deep to drive a move from midfield. A searching cross from the right by Moussa Diaby narrowly evaded Volland and Havertz.

    68th minute – Bailey's raking pass found Havertz on the right and he almost picked out his team-mate with a return cross.

    71st minute – Bayern were now struggling to contain Havertz, who collected the ball menacingly 30 yards from goal. Unfortunately for Leverkusen, Volland was not equal to the pass he slid through.

    75th minute – Again showing his influence in from central midfield, Havertz set Bailey on another menacing dribble, with the winger's shot deflected behind. The cutting edge Lewandowski showed in completing the scoring was sorely lacking from Leverkusen's period of mid-half ascendancy.

    94th minute – In perhaps his last act in a Leverkusen shirt, Havertz thundered a consolation penalty into the top-left corner after VAR spotted a handball by Davies.

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    648 – Since then, Buffon has gone on to rack up 648 appearances in Italy's top flight, including Saturday's clash with Torino that has seen him break Maldini's record.

    42 – Buffon is the third-oldest player to feature in Serie A during the three-points era, behind only Marco Ballotta (44 years, 38 days) and Francesco Antonelli (42 years, 235 days).

    23 – This is Buffon's 23rd season in professional football. Having signed a new contract, he will play a 24th campaign in 2020-21.

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    480 – No one has played more Serie A games for Juventus, with Buffon's 480 two more than Alessandro del Piero's haul.

    9 – Buffon has won nine Serie A titles, more than any other player. He could yet add a 10th later this month.

    285 – The veteran had kept 285 clean sheets in 647 Serie A matches prior to the Turin derby, which is a record.

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