What Could UFC 246 Mean for Conor McGregor’s Career?

At UFC 246, the biggest star in the history of MMA will make his return. Former featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor will make his way to the octagon for the first time in 15 months as he takes on fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. At this point in his career, McGregor has been involved in the most high-profile bouts of all time – the title winning effort against Aldo, the duo of fights against Diaz, the Mayweather boxing venture, the ill will with Nurmagomedov. Believe it or not, however, the Cerrone fight may be the single most crucial bout in McGregor’s career.

Simply put, McGregor has not experienced victory in combat since his 2016 victory over Eddie Alvarez. All of his star-building victories were cultivated between 2013 and 2016. The thunderous knockouts and odd-defying victories transformed the young Irishman into a hero to some and a villain to others. Regardless of your thoughts on him at the time, you could not deny that he was an elite martial artist. Since then, however, he has been winless in two efforts, coasting on his charismatic ability to promote fights instead of toppling his foes. In fact, his two most recent fights, the TKO loss to Mayweather and submission loss against Nurmagomedov, both pulled in record-breaking pay-per-view numbers, meaning the most recent memory of McGregor among millions of fans is him losing.

In addition to two dominant defeats, he has been embroiled in a plethora of legal disputes. From throwing a dolly at the UFC 223 fighter bus, to snatching and destroying a fan’s phone, to striking an elderly man at the bar, the news has not been kind to “the notorious.” Thus, McGregor’s primary mode of attention-seeking was once his awe-inspiring skills. Since 2016, however, he has remained in the public eye for embarrassing defeats and legal debacles.

Come January 17, McGregor has the opportunity to eclipse all the bad with a new good – an exciting victory. For McGregor, the fight with Cowboy is not just another bout on his contract. It is a fork in the road that determines the fate of McGregor’s career.

A McGregor victory would open more doors than ever before for the former double champion. It would prove to the doubters that he is indeed still a world-class fighting talent and would set the stage for numerous “money-fights.” Given that the Cerrone fight is at welterweight, McGregor is able to remain a dominant presence in both the lightweight and welterweight division. A win could see McGregor stay at welterweight and challenge Kamaru Usman for the title. It also sets up perhaps the most exciting option: McGregor vs “BMF” title-holder Jorge Masvidal. If he returns to lightweight after a victory, President Dana White said he is likely to challenge the winner of Nurmagomedov/Ferguson for the lightweight title. Overall, McGregor has the opportunity to reassert himself as both a star and a top fighter, as opposed to just the former.

The prospect of a loss, however, spells a more ominous future for McGregor. It would mark the third loss (in either boxing or MMA) in a row and would presumably eliminate all of the aforementioned options. The loss would make it two in a row in MMA for the first time in his career and he will have been defeated by a fighter many critics believe to be well past his prime. If he does lose, the UFC is faced with quite a difficult decision. Of course, McGregor is a main-event fighter able to bring millions of eyes to the sport. However, how does the UFC sell him as a star of the sport and main-eventer if he has not won in nearly four years? Perhaps the most viable option in the event of a McGregor loss is the trilogy fight with Nate Diaz, who is also coming off a loss. The first two fights were record-breaking events for the UFC, with the second bout commonly being hailed as one of the greatest fights of all time. Make no mistake, if McGregor so chooses, he can stick around in MMA for years to come and continue to fight and sell pay-per-views against various opponents. However, for a fighter that has teased retirement numerous times over the past few years, this bout seems like a pivotal moment in determining his fighting future.

Yes, Cerrone has lost his last two fights by stoppage, but he has lost two in a row before and has subsequently embarked on great winning streaks. Prior to his two losses to Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson, Cerrone put on a career-defining performance against Al Iaquinta in which he battered the hard-hitting Long Islander over five rounds. In a recent ESPN interview with Dana White, the UFC’s president noted that “the level of disrespect being show to Cowboy throughout this whole thing, apparently people forgot [how good he is.]” Despite being a betting underdog, Cerrone has a staunch following of believers that understand the threat he poses to McGregor.

In MMA, the ways in which a fight can play out are seemingly endless. However, no matter the eventual outcome, one thing is for certain: come January 17th, when the lights of the T-Mobile Arena go dim and Sinead O’Connor’s haunting voice blares over the speakers, millions will be watching the notorious one’s return with bated breath

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