The lightweight title is on the line in the main event of tonight’s UFC Fight Night event from Orlando, Florida, as Rafael dos Anjos defends against Donald Cerrone. By the looks of things, however, the 155lb strap isn’t the only highly sought after prize up for grabs.
Though there is still the chance that Conor McGregor may opt to remain at featherweight and defend his newly unified title against Frankie Edgar, or perhaps even former champion Jose Aldo, all indications are that the Irishman’s preferred route will take him straight into the title picture of the lightweight division.
That means that whomever has their hand raised at the close of tonight’s show will likely face McGregor next, and in modern MMA, that may be the greatest prize of all.
Gold belts are nice and shiny, but the reality is that every fighter, in any combat sport is looking for the opponent against whom they can make the biggest payday.
In boxing there was the so-called ‘Mayweather sweepstakes’, but in the UFC everybody is looking for that infamous “red panty night”.
So we know that both dos Anjos and Cerrone want McGregor, but who does McGregor want? And who should the Dublin native’s legion of fans be hoping to see emerge from this intriguing contest?
Let’s start with the question of which opponent makes for a bigger fight.
Thanks to his antics at the UFC’s Go Big presser a couple of months back, Conor has already laid the groundwork for fights with both these men. His interaction with RDA produced the aforementioned “red panty night” line, while his verbal skirmishes with the “Cowboy” were frequent and very heated.
In the period which followed, both fighters built upon Conor’s foundations by regularly trash-talking the then interim-featherweight champion. However, it was Cerrone who did the best job at creating noise. First he launched a line of t-shirts that seemed to be designed for the sole purpose of getting under McGregor’s skin.
— Cowboy Cerrone (@Cowboycerrone) September 17, 2015
Then he went on The Joe Rogan Experience and slammed Conor – calling him “McNugget”, an “Irish muppet”, and, displaying astounding originality, a “leprechaun”.
Cerrone’s commitment to the continued promotion of his feud with Conor, combined with the fact that he was the only person at the Go Big event to show any signs of being able to keep up with the sharp wit of the brash Dubliner, means that the Colorado native would likely make for a more lucrative fight for all parties involved, as well as a more exciting build-up for the fans.
But how do the two men match up with McGregor stylistically?
In September of this year, I wrote a piece entitled “The 5 Most Dangerous Opponents For Conor McGregor”. Slotted in at number two, just behind the terrifying but injury prone Khabib Nurmagomedov, was dos Anjos.
At the time I cited the Brazilian’s size, strength, sturdiness, durability and overall grappling ability as the main reasons for considering him a real danger to McGregor. I concluded that “dos Anjos would impose his game and will upon Conor to secure a decision win, or perhaps a late submission”.
Not a huge amount has changed since then.
I might rate McGregor’s chances of walking dos Anjos onto a counter a little higher now than I did three months ago, but I would still favour RDA to grind out a result.
Cerrone, however, was not on that list.
Donald’s varied striking game and underrated grappling arsenal, which has seen him secure 15 career victories by way of submission, make him a danger to anyone, including Conor McGregor.
Still, Cerrone is much more likely to engage McGregor in a striking battle, and at this point in time it is hard to pick anybody over McGregor in that kind of fight.
It is also worth noting that Cerrone was hurt several times to the body by Anthony Pettis back in 2013, and eventually put away by a kick to the mid-section. Conor’s love for targeting this area with teeps, roundhouse kicks, and spinning back-kicks would thus be bad news for the 32-year-old veteran.
To make matters worse, Cerrone, despite being two-inches taller than McGregor, would be at a one-inch reach disadvantage. This might also pose a problem for the Jackson-Wink fighter, as he generally likes to fight at range and is used to having an advantage in this department.
All in all, Cerrone seems like a much better style match-up for Conor.
Combining this with the fact that we have already established Cerrone as the fighter that makes the most business sense, and the one more likely to provide entertainment in the build-up, Conor McGregor fans should be hoping that the Budweiser swilling wild man pulls off the win tonight in Orlando.
Being the shrewd businessman and student of the game that he is, I have no doubt that when McGregor sits down to watch this fight tonight, he will be doing the same.