Conor McGregor took 40 seconds to obliterate Donald Cerrone and launch his comeback in outrageous style.
The ‘Notorious’ looked every inch the slick, powerful and technically brilliant operator that took over the sport, maybe even better.
‘Any one of these mouthy fools can get it!’ he roared above the din having put the welterweight division on red alert.
Conor McGregor produced a devastating display to beat Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC 246
The Irishman was overcome with emotion as he produced a memorable victory in Las Vegas
The victory ensured McGregor returned to the top echelons of the sport almost immediately
It has been a long, painful road back to this point after the crushing disappointment of the defeat by Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018. ‘They thought I was toast, but I’m still the bread’, the Irishman said this week and he backed it up.
McGregor stood under the spotlights with his eyes closed, head turned skywards and arms outstretched as he was announced to the packed out T-Mobile Arena. His walk-out took much longer than the fight, for which he’ll take home $3million, before all the pay-per-view bonuses are added.
The Irish thoroughbred charged towards ‘Cowboy’, stunning him and busting the American’s nose with a clever flurry of shoulder barges to the head in the first exchange.
They separated and Cerrone unleashed a head kick. McGregor replied in kind and found the target, wobbling his opponent before uncorking five left hands in succession.
McGregor went into the match-up as the slight favourite over popular American Cerrone
Almost immediately, McGregor launched a flying kick at Cerrone and overwhelmed him
Cerrone had no answer, his grandma who was watching on in her Cowboy boots will have been relieved when referee Herb Dean mercifully intervened.
He gave the bloodied fighter plenty of time to stick it out but called it off with the blows raining down less than a minute into the first round.
‘I’ve made history. I’m the first fighter in UFC history to secure knockouts in three different divisions,’ McGregor declared.
‘I’m very happy and proud. UFC can strip fighters and give people fake titles, so there you go, you can’t take that away, that’s history.’
‘I like this weight division, I feel very good. I don’t believe I’m there yet, I’ve got a lot to do, I’m going to party then get back to it. Every single one of them can get it, I’m back!’
There were far more questions than answers surrounding McGregor in the lead up to this. The last 15 months away from the cage have been littered with hugely damaging incidents.
He smashed a fan’s phone, punched a pensioner over a perceived slight about ‘Proper 12’ whiskey and saw his popularity in Ireland begin to decay.
A flurry of brutal punches ensured that Cerrone had no answer and could not land a strike
Apologists have put his unravelling down to the pitfalls that global fame and an outrageous bank balance can present to those who rise from humble beginnings.
But there was a noticeable change in McGregor this week. He showed remorse for the many, many mistakes and appeared far more composed than before. The incredible self-belief still radiated but he had a newfound sense of perspective.
Perhaps the fact he was fighting one of the sport’s nice guys took the edge off or maybe fatherhood of two young children has helped him mellow.
We were sold the line that months of strict routine and a well-oiled training regime had produced the ‘best version of McGregor’ ever seen. It’s hard to argue with that assessment now.
Even though he hadn’t won a fight for more than 1000 days, a McGregor event is still the hottest ticket in town. Tom Brady was in the house, enjoying a rare night out in January, Tyson Fury watched on and Matthew McConaughey rocked up to a thunderous reception. He’ll have appreciated that Hollywood finish.
This was McGregor’s first time in the octagon since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov
The contest was over inside a minute and McGregor dropped to his knees as he realised
This was billed as a ‘party fight’ and there was a carnival atmosphere all night. These events have a different feel when McGregor is involved but there were still nagging doubts about whether he’d be able to deliver.
Those evaporated in the blink of an eye. ‘I’ve never seen anything like these shoulders to my face,’ the beaten man admitted. ‘I was thinking “I guess I’m going to get my ass kicked early”. But I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to keep fighting.’
Cerrone is not a physically monstrous specimen at welterweight and if McGregor has aspirations of becoming the first triple-weight champion in UFC history then more severe tests lie in store.
That said, on this evidence he has fight-ending power at 170-pounds so there are an array of mouth-watering encounters on the horizon. A rematch with Khabib would also surely be by far the biggest fight in UFC history.
For now though, the sea of green pouring through the Las Vegas strip can toast McGregor’s picture perfect start to the decade and immaculate comeback.