The Notorious one is in for a much tougher evening than many expect on Saturday night

It’s a tale as old as time, a fighter launches himself from obscurity on to the worldwide scene, with that comes success, adulation, and money. The crest of the wave they are riding seems like it will never end, but it does, usually with a thudding impact that is hard to recover from.

2x time UFC Champion Connor McGregor will be attempting to roll back the years come Saturday night, with years being the keyword. As one of the most famous men on the planet, his extravagant lifestyle seems to have taken a huge toll on him, are we really surprised?

The cosmic speed success which he has endured in such a short space of time is something we may never see again. MMA is the most brutal of sports, there must be a burning desire that floods your brain receptors in order to make it to the octagon time and time again.

Fighters are delicate species, recapturing past form is rarely achieved. Can it be done? Possibly, depending on the extent of one’s lifestyle. Manchester boxing legend Ricky Hatton is proof of this. A sustained hiatus away from the ring or octagon can end a fighter’s career as quick as a left hook or head kick. Ring rust is real (except if your Floyd Mayweather).

Much has been said about McGregor’s return to the cage at UFC 246, the interviews have been done, the obligatory ‘this is the best my fighter has ever looked’ has been stated. Whilst time will prove if this is true, we have to look at the evidence infront of us.

A UFC fighter isn’t afforded the same luxury as a boxer when making a comeback. A boxer can be eased back into the swing of things. A few tune-up fights can dust off the cobwebs, you just can’t do this in MMA. The tune-up awaiting the Irish star is a man with the most finishes, the most knockdowns and the most fights in UFC history (when he fights at UFC 246). A man simply known as ‘Cowboy.’

It’s baffling to me there are still question marks regarding the legitimacy of McGregor’s skillset. His stardom away from the octagon seems to have washed a bout of amnesia among a selection of MMA fans and certain fighters. Taking the celebrity aspect away, the calibre of opposition that’s not only been defeated but destroyed! tells you all you need to know.

But that was the past, that was a Conor McGregor before his children were born (and the sleepless nights that accompanies that) when Proper No. Twelve was just a pipe dream and when he was fighting regularly. He once famously said ‘precision beats power and timing beats speed.’ One fight in over three years is kryptonite for a man whose game revolves around timing. No matter how many sparring sessions you have, it is still no substitute for a live fight.

Another bone of contention in Saturday’s fight is the bizarre manner in which Welterweight has been chosen as the weight class to host the bout. The narrative of ‘Cerrone doesn’t fight well at lightweight’ and ‘I can beat him in any weight division’ doesn’t wash with me. His previous ventures in this weight class have not been favourable at all. The smooth in and out footwork dissolves, more energy is consumed fighting the bigger man. Whilst the Irishman can never be accused of a lack of discipline, victory at the highest level of the sport can hinge on the most minute of details. Although there is no doubt he is in a good place, free of the distractions that have plagued his career in the previous three years. Will this be the best Conor McGregor we have ever seen? History would suggest not.

It’s easy to forget in all the McGregor hysteria the threat Donald Cerrone brings. This isn’t some washed-up journeyman who brings little to the table. This is a veteran of the game, dangerous in every second of every round. One lapse of concentration could be met with a head kick that turns the lights off. Granted, this isn’t a ‘cowboy’ in his prime, but it also isn’t a prime Conor McGregor. It can’t be.

No matter what industry you are in a decline in your performance is guaranteed, everything before that is just progress. The difference in the fight game is the window of time for a fighter to be in the prime of their career is significantly smaller than other industries. External factors have a big say in this.

Certain sports stars had an impact in their era that will always stand the test of time. Conor McGregor is one of these athletes. In years gone by it would have been suicide to bet against ‘The Notorious one.’ Would it surprise me if he dispatched Cerrone in the first round? No.

One thing that can’t be denied is the captivating nature of a Conor McGregor fight. It’s something we may not truly appreciate till he’s gone. Will we see the birth of the ‘McGregor era part 2’ or will it be the beginning of the end of an illustrious career.

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OpinionUFC

Freelance boxing/sports writer from Manchester, United Kingdom and creator of 'INSIDE THE MIND OF A FIGHTER’ podcast, available on Apple podcast and Spotify.

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