Conor McGregor adopted a plan and executed it to perfection.
The former two-division Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder cut down Donald Cerrone with a head kick and follow-up punches less than a minute into the first round of their UFC 246 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In his first appearance since being submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018, McGregor drew the curtain 40 seconds into Round 1.
McGregor looked like a finely tuned machine despite the 15-month layoff. He damaged Cerrone with a series of surprisingly stout shoulder strikes from the clinch, then staggered him with a head kick once the two men separated. A volley of punches drove “Cowboy” to the mat, where his situation only deteriorated. McGregor was relentless and continued to drop punches until referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
In the aftermath of UFC 246 “McGregor vs. Cowboy,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje: McGregor authored the fourth sub-minute finish of his career and did so at the expense of the winningest fighter in UFC history. As the sport’s unquestioned box office king, the SBG Ireland star can likely call his own shots at this stage of his career. McGregor’s flaws are well-documented, but he showed against Cerrone that he was continuing to develop as a mixed martial artist, the old dog unveiling new tricks that caught “Cowboy” off-guard. Where the charismatic Irishman goes from here remains to be seen. A big-money showdown with Jorge Masvidal? A rematch with Nurmagomedov? A trilogy bout with Nate Diaz? Gaethje may be the most logical option. The former World Series of Fighting champion has angled for a title shot on the heels of three straight wins but could need one more high-profile victory over someone like McGregor to strengthen his case.
Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie: Holm chose the path of least resistance in her rematch with Raquel Pennington, and while she still seems far removed from her championship peak, her efforts were effective nonetheless. “The Preacher’s Daughter” suffocated Pennington in the clinch across three monotonous rounds, as she earned a unanimous decision in the co-headliner and rebounded from a blowout loss to women’s bantamweight titleholder Amanda Nunes in January. De Randamie—who failed in her bid to unseat Nunes on Dec. 19—took a unanimous verdict from Holm in a controversial five-round battle for the women’s featherweight crown in 2017.
Alexey Oleynik vs. Derrick Lewis-Ilir Latifi winner: The ageless Oleynik added another submission to his ledger, as the 42-year-old American Top Team representative took care of Maurice Greene with an armbar in the second round of their heavyweight confrontation. Greene conceded defeat 4:38 into Round 2, becoming the Russian’s first armbar victim in nearly eight years. Oleynik, who bounced back from consecutive defeats to Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris, has now delivered 46 of his 58 career victories by submission. Lewis and Latifi have been booked opposite one another at UFC 247 on Feb. 8.
Diego Ferreira vs. Kevin Lee-Charles Oliveira winner: An ascendant Ferreira climbed another rung on the lightweight ladder, as the Fortis MMA standout submitted former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion Anthony Pettis with a second-round rear-naked choke. Pettis bowed out 1:46 into Round 2, tapping for just the second time in his 32-fight career. Ferreira, 34, has rattled off six straight wins since his knockout loss to Dustin Poirier in April 2015 and appears headed for more substantial opportunities at 155 pounds. Lee will square off with Oliveira in the UFC Fight Night 170 main event on March 14.
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Hakeem Dawodu: Yusuff moved to 4-0 in the UFC with a unanimous decision over Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili on the undercard. Spawned by Dana White’s Contender Series, the 26-year-old Lloyd Irvin protégé looks like a real find for the UFC’s featherweight division. Yusuff attacked Fili with power punches from both hands in the first round, controlled him on the ground in the second and kept it in cruise control for much of the third, drawing 29-28 marks from all three judges. Dawodu last competed at UFC 244, where he eked out a split decision over Julio Arce on Nov. 2.