LAS VEGAS – Conor McGregor’s opening punch left Donald Cerrone with a bloody nose. Just 20 seconds away, Cerrone was brought down with a perfectly placed kick to the head and mercilessly ended up on the ground.
As he paced the ring with an Irish flag on his shoulders, McGregor demonstrated with a bang to the world of martial arts that he was back.
The former two-division champion thus ended a three-year period of relative inactivity and trouble off the mat with a welterweight performance at UFC 246 on Saturday night that echoes his biggest fights during his unsurpassed rise.
“I feel really good, and I got out of there unscathed,” McGregor said. “I’m in shape. We have work to do to get back to where I was.
After hurting Cerrone (36-14) with his first punch, McGregor (22-4) dropped him with a sublime kick to the jaw. McGregor swooped in and forced referee Herb Dean to save Cerrone, delighting a crowd of 19,040 at the T-Mobile Arena.
McGregor’s hand hadn’t been lifted in a victory since November 2016, when he stopped lightweight Eddie Alvarez from becoming the first fighter in UFC history to hold two championship belts simultaneously.
With his fame and fortune multiplying, McGregor only fought his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in 2017 and lost a one-sided UFC fight to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in late 2018.
“He wasn’t engaged,” McGregor said as he spoke to reporters with a bottle of his Proper Twelve whiskey on the table in front of him. “I felt that I did not respect the people who believed in me and supported me. That’s what led me to refocus and get back to where I was.
After spending a year out of competition and in trouble with the law, McGregor returned to training and vowed to return to the elite. This dramatic victory over Cerrone indicated that he is on the right track, and McGregor has vowed to fight multiple times in 2020.
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and veteran fighter Jorge Masvidal watched UFC 246 from the cage. Either one could be McGregor’s next opponent, but UFC president Dana White is pushing for a rematch with Nurmagomedov, who first fights Tony Ferguson in April.
“Any of these silly fools can do it,” McGregor yelled into the microphone. “Each and every one of them can get it. Does not matter. I came back and I’m ready.
Cerrone is the winningest fighter in UFC history with 23 wins, a mark that reflects both his durability and his commitment to an unusually busy schedule. Cerrone, who also holds the UFC record with 16 stoppage wins, had fought 11 times since McGregor’s win over Alvarez, and was in the cage for the fifteenth time since he lost his only shot at the UFC title in December 2015…
But Cerrone’s last two fights came to a halt when he took too much damage, and he was unable to block McGregor’s decisive kick or recover from punishment on the ground.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cerrone said. “He broke my nose, I started to bleed, I took a step back and he kicked me in the head. Oh, man. Did this happen so fast? “