Prime Picks: UFC 246 ‘McGregor vs. Cowboy’

By Jay Pettry Jan 17, 2020

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns from a four-week absence with a pay-per-view pitting legends Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone against one another atop UFC 246. Four enticing matchups on the main card draw our attention, but none are more intriguing than the welterweight headliner. Let us start 2020 with a big score in this edition of Prime Picks.

Donald Cerrone (+280)

McGregor can absolutely win this fight, and he can do so violently. However, the way the current betting lines sit, a recommendation for “Cowboy” at these odds—and climbing—is almost too great to ignore. The spotlight has never shone brighter on the Colorado native, as he fights in the main event of a pay-per-view for the first time in his noteworthy career. Although Cerrone has come up short in marquis matchups before, we believe this is one he can win.

Since McGregor posted his last win in November 2016, Cerrone has competed 11 times, recording victories over names like Matt Brown, Al Iaquinta and Alexander Hernandez. It should be noted: “Cowboy” in that stretch has sported a 5-6 record across two weight classes, with four knockout losses. In his 10-fight career at 170 pounds, Cerrone has won six, and the only two men to finish him were BMF champ Jorge Masvidal and current middleweight Darren Till. Meanwhile, since 2016, McGregor has fought once—he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov—not including his unsuccessful but lucrative trip to boxing. The activity would favor Cerrone in almost any circumstance, as he has amassed 33 appearances inside the Octagon since making his promotional debut in 2011, but the difference is stark when comparing their ledgers of late.

To win this fight, Cerrone will likely have to survive at least one and a half intense rounds of the Irishman pressing the pace, all while trying not to get backed against the fence, where he has shown to be uncomfortable in the past. Justin Gaethje flustered Cerrone with leg kicks, doing damage with them early on and unloading with power punches to get the stoppage. McGregor could follow the path of the leg kick, as he did when facing Nate Diaz in their rematch, but a few checks from Cerrone could change his mind. Cerrone would be well-suited to utilize his jab to halt the Irishman’s momentum, and remember, he has shown surprising pop in dropping several past opponents with jabs when they were advancing.

Cerrone has shown in recent bouts that he is quite hittable, absorbing a stiff amount of punishment that has seen him suffer two consecutive stoppage losses. His best course of action may not be to stand directly in front of McGregor, who will be pawing out straight rights and following them with overhand lefts. Despite the fact that “Cowboy” stands four inches taller than his adversary, he is at a slight one-inch reach disadvantage against a man who fights long. Although Cerrone prefers to stay at kicking range and work his opponent to the head, body and legs, he would be far better off turning the fight into a gritty clinch battle. We have seen McGregor fade in contests that go longer than 10 minutes, and sapping the Irishman’s cardio by making him fight for underhooks and stuff takedowns could pay dividends in later rounds.

With a finish rate of about 90 percent, McGregor has stopped 13 of his opponents in the first round. None of the four bouts for McGregor above 145 pounds have ended via first-round stoppage, however, and he has seen mixed results once those fights advance beyond the five-minute mark. His game plan is no secret, as McGregor will almost undoubtedly aim his accurate and dangerous left hand at Cerrone’s chin. While McGregor has shown knockout power at 145 and 155 pounds—he also hurt and dropped Diaz several times in their welterweight encounters—it remains an unanswered question as to whether or not he has fight-ending capabilities at this weight class.

Provided Cerrone can get out of the first round and avoid the most damaging strikes from McGregor, the American can take charge later in the fight and look to secure a stoppage. As an additional recommendation for a parlay option, Cerrone Wins by Submission is a significant +690. If you prefer to be a bit more cautious in case Cerrone ends the fight with strikes instead, Cerrone Wins Inside Distance is a solid +415 at the moment. While “Cowboy” has a clearer path to victory if the fight lasts longer, we expect that if he does manage to win, it will most likely be from a late finish and not on the scorecards. If you disagree completely and expect a devastating return to form for the “Notorious” one, the line for McGregor Wins by TKO/KO is currently -245.

Holly Holm (-135)

Since Holm met Raquel Pennington in 2015, their worlds have changed drastically. Their matchup served as Holm’s UFC debut, and the Jackson-Wink MMA-trained kickboxer went on to win the women’s bantamweight belt in shocking fashion. After losing it, Holm competed in and dropped three additional title fights. Meanwhile, Pennington bounced back from the loss with four straight victories to earn her own title shot. The two both suffered knockout losses at the hands of divisional queen Amanda Nunes, while each dropped a decision to former featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie.

Neither fighter has shown a leap in her skill set or ability in the last five years, with Holm’s wrestling-heavy win over Megan Anderson an unusual one among her other performances. Relying on a great deal of movement to set up her kicks, most of Holm’s defeats have come when she was simply not active enough. Pennington eventually began to time and counter Holm when they first fought, but it was not enough to earn her the victory. We see this fight playing out rather similarly to the first, largely on the feet as Pennington grows frustrated by Holm’s style. Unless Holm has hit an athletic cliff at the age of 38, we believe she can do just enough to get the job done and take home the win.

Alexey Oleynik (+110)

When two fighters who vastly prefer one type of combat—in this case, Oleynik and Maurice Greene with their submission games—meet, generally one will establish dominance, or they will neutralize one another and engage in a different type of fight. For example, much of the welterweight bout between Ben Askren and Demian Maia was contested on the feet, until the Brazilian gained the advantage and cinched the fight-ending choke. In this instance, “The Boa Constrictor” holds over five times as many submission victories as his opponent has in total wins and should own a significant grappling advantage in this heavyweight affair.

Although Oleynik has lost his last two bouts, those defeats came at the hands of powerful strikers Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris. “The Crochet Boss” does not possess the striking acumen of those two gentlemen and instead utilizes a game plan based on his size and length to slowly wrap up or overwhelm his opponents. The Russian is always aggressive, sometimes to his detriment, but by crowding the 6-foot-7 Greene, he can quickly gain the upper hand. Likely an underdog due to his rapidly advancing age, the 42-year-old Oleynik still appears to have enough in the tank to wing bombs, close the distance and get the fight to the ground. Perhaps surprisingly, Oleynik Wins by Submission is +180, which seems to be the Occam’s razor method of victory for “The Boa Constrictor.” Otherwise, a somewhat safer option of Oleynik Wins Inside Distance sits at +135, as the Russian posts a 93 percent finish rate and has reached the scorecards just twice in his last 20 outings.

Diego Ferreira (-230)

For the lone pick of the night that could be considered “safe” due to the higher odds for the favorite, we take to the lightweight division, where former champ Anthony Pettis meets the surging Ferreira. Alternating wins and losses over his last 10 fights, Pettis has struggled to get in the groove of old and offered up inconsistent performances that have him moving back and forth from featherweight to welterweight. Struggling to find a silver bullet to solve his problems, Pettis’ best work has frequently come when he throws caution to the wind and attacks.

Since suffering the first stoppage loss in his career courtesy of a Dustin Poirier knockout in 2015, Ferreira has looked impressive—a failed drug test notwithstanding—by racking up five straight wins. During the two-year suspension, Ferreira took the time to hone his craft and shore up his ground deficiencies. By nullifying and outworking Mairbek Taisumov and Rustam Khabilov in his last two appearances, Ferreira proved he can handle himself if taken to the ground or forced to go toe-to-toe with a powerful striker. His well-rounded approach has served him well, but if he has a current weakness, it is that he is more than willing to play his opponent’s game. An accurate striker like Pettis may take advantage of this and land some powerful strikes on Ferreira. We expect that as long as the Brazilian stays patient and does not fall victim to a highlight-reel blitz, he can outlast the flashy kickboxer and gain the upper hand in the second round and beyond. Advertisement
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