MMA Review: #711: UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy

-Talk about starting the year off with a bang – this was Conor McGregor’s big return after over a year away following his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the UFC finally matched him with Donald Cerrone in a fight that basically EVERYONE wanted to see. And given what’s happened in 2020 since, thank god they did it this early on before coronavirus struck. Seriously, it doesn’t even feel like the same year that this happened now.

UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Show begins with an AMAZING video package set to Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive to hype up the main event. Maybe the best video the UFC’s ever produced. Mainly thanks to the music, but you know!

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Paul Felder.

Lightweight Fight: Anthony Pettis vs Diego Ferreira

Strong opener here with Ferreira making a big step up after reeling off 5 wins on the bounce, as despite Pettis coming off a loss to Nate Diaz, he was still by far the most accomplished opponent the Brazilian had ever faced. My pick? Showtime.

Round One opens and Ferreira walks Pettis down in the early going, doing a weird thing where he’s almost hopping forward with one leg in the air. Pettis looks for some counters as he circles on the outside, but Ferreira gets hold of him and looks for a takedown. Pettis defends well and breaks with a knee to the body, but he eats a jab and a glancing head kick. Big trade sees Pettis land a clean combo, but Ferreira takes it well. Exchange continues as Pettis remains on his bike, avoiding staying in one spot. Right hand from Ferreira sets up a clinch and he looks for a trip, then in a SLICK move he pushes his legs off the fence and jumps right into back control. That was beautiful. Pettis looks calm despite Ferreira being on his back, and sure enough he spins over and quickly escapes to his feet. Head kick glances for Pettis and he lands a left hand, but Ferreira walks through his punches to another takedown attempt. Pettis blocks and they trade some knees to the body before breaking off, and Ferreira immediately pressures again with a combination into another takedown attempt. This time he gets it, dumping Pettis down into side mount. Pettis manages to spin, and the round ends with a sweep attempt being blocked by Ferreira. 10-9 Ferreira as he looked great.

Round Two and Pettis again looks to strike from the outside, landing a body kick. Ferreira catches the leg though and eventually forces him down, taking his back again in the process. Both hooks in for Ferreira and this time he avoids the spin from Pettis. Another try sees Showtime escape, but seconds later Ferreira takes his back again. Pettis tries to get to his knees to escape, but Ferreira remains in control and out of nowhere he SINKS THE CHOKE and Pettis taps!

That finish was pretty crazy as the choke didn’t even look that tight, more of a neck crank, but it clearly must’ve been as Pettis is a great grappler and he tapped pretty quickly there. Really good performance from Ferreira who is clearly a very legit contender in this division now.

Bantamweight Fight: Brian Kelleher vs Ode Osbourne

Initially this one was part of the prelim card, but when we lost Alexa Grasso vs. Claudia Gadelha, the UFC bumped it up, giving the two more unheralded fighters a chance to make a name for themselves on a show that was likely guaranteed to have a lot of eyeballs on it.

Round One begins and Osbourne crawls out of his corner and then lands a CRAZY superman punch! Head kick follows but Kelleher takes it pretty well and circles out. Quick combo glances for Kelleher but Osbourne looks miles faster here. Big takedown attempt from Kelleher and he hits a slam, then laces the legs to keep the Jamaican down. Into half-guard for Kelleher but Osbourne quickly regains full guard. They exchange shots from there and Osbourne looks to roll for an armbar, but Kelleher avoids and lands some really decent shots. Into half-guard for Kelleher and he laces up a guillotine as Osbourne looks to scramble. It looks tight actually and Kelleher cranks on it and then drops to his back, and Osbourne TAPS WITH HIS FEET.

Well, the chance was there for one of these guys to make a name for himself and Kelleher definitely did that with a genuinely beautiful submission. It wasn’t an easy position to get a guillotine from, but when he wrapped it up it was TIGHT and Osbourne had nowhere to go. Tremendous stuff.

Heavyweight Fight: Aleksei Oleinik vs Maurice Greene

This was Oleinik’s return to action following back-to-back KO losses to Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris, and thankfully for him he was faced with what seemed like a far less dangerous opponent in Greene – no relation to the sprinter – who’d last been seen in a KO loss to Sergei Pavlovich. Despite Greene being a big athletic dude, I figured Oleinik would be able to find a submission.

Round One and Greene lands a body kick that sends Oleinik for a tumble, but he lets him back up. Oleinik looks fine actually, that was weird. He bulls forward and looks to avoid Greene’s big kicks, and gets a rear waistlock. Greene looks to lock up a kimura, and then sits back into it, and that allows Oleinik to spin around and get on top in half-guard. Side mount soon follows. This dude is still an incredible grappler given he’s an old man in MMA terms. Neck crank attempt is avoided by Greene and he somehow throws up a triangle attempt, but Oleinik avoids that and settles into the guard. Another triangle is avoided, but this time it allows Greene to stand. Oleinik looks to pull him back down and does so, lacing up the legs to keep him grounded. Full mount for Oleinik now and Greene may be in trouble. Nasty elbows land for Oleinik and it looks like he’s setting up for his trademark Ezekiel choke. He switches to a scarf hold (!) instead, but Greene does a really good job of holding on and surviving. Round ends with the hold still synched up. 10-9 Oleinik but fair play to Greene for surviving that hold.

Round Two and Greene opens with a right hand and a big front kick. Nice combination lands for Greene and Oleinik looks EXHAUSTED. Few more decent shots land for Greene from the outside and he catches Oleinik with a head kick, but somehow the Boa Constrictor walks through it to get to the clinch. Big knee from Greene has Oleinik hurt and he follows with a head kick and a combo, but Oleinik just walks through again and gets to a takedown attempt. Takedown follows and he moves right into half-guard. Ezekiel attempt follows but Greene avoids, only to eat a big elbow. Another Ezekiel attempt doesn’t quite work, so Oleinik elbows him some more until Greene goes for a kimura. Oleinik blocks that and gets free, then takes full mount. Greene tries to buck, but gives his arm in the process and Oleinik quickly locks it up and despite a big struggle, he extends the arm and forces the tap.

Post-fight Greene looks like he’s in a substantial amount of pain, not sure if his arm popped. Fun fight if sloppy at times, particularly on the feet, but Oleinik’s grappling is beautiful to watch. Not sure why Greene didn’t try to evade the takedown a bit more but I guess that’s why he’s not a title contender like the other dudes who beat Oleinik are.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Holly Holm vs Raquel Pennington

This was a rematch of their 2015 fight, a pretty dull outing that had seen Holm, in her UFC debut, do just about enough to outpoint Pennington. Since then of course a ton had changed – Holm had won and lost the Bantamweight title while Pennington had come on leaps and bounds as a genuine contender – but I wasn’t sure why the UFC decided to rematch them given the first fight hadn’t been that good. I was taking Holm, feeling that Pennington’s improvements still weren’t enough to let her win a striking battle against such a credentialed kickboxer.

Round One begins and Holm looks strangely fired up for this one. Both women come out tentatively though, throwing feints out from a distance without really going for any major strikes. Right hand lands for Pennington. Holm keeps throwing out the side kick to the leg, but neither woman is really opening up just yet. Crowd sound super impatient too, probably desperate to see McGregor instead. Clinch from Holm and she muscles Pennington into the fence. Action slows down badly as Holm just lands the odd strike, and the crowd do not like this at ALL. Holm looks really strong here at least. Seconds to go and Pennington spins her around, but she can’t get a takedown and the round ends there. 10-10 for me I guess? Round was awful at any rate.

Round Two and Pennington comes out swinging, but she’s also charging forward which is dangerous. Couple of low kicks glance for Holm. They clinch back up and Holm shoves Pennington into the fence again, and like before the action slows down to a glacial speed. They jockey for position and it looks like Holm’s slightly physically stronger. Crowd are absolutely FURIOUS now, wow. Knees break for Holm and she lands a side kick to the body on her way out. Quick rush from Pennington sees her glance on a combo, but Holm grabs another clinch to cause boos to rain down on the Octagon. They continue to exchange shots from the clinch before Pennington breaks with a knee. Seconds to go though and she goes right back to the clinch to end the round. Fucking YAWN. 10-10.

Round Three and Holm glances on some punches as Pennington pushes forward. Good right hand connects for Pennington though. Side kick to the body glances for Holm and then they clinch again briefly, but Pennington quickly breaks. Decent right hands land for both women. Pennington just can’t seem to corral her to land anything major. She does clinch, however, garnering a chorus of boos again. They break off and both women glance on more shots, neither really landing cleanly, before Pennington lands a solid left hand. A right hand follows and Pennington gets Holm down for a second, but she pops up and we’re back to the clinch. Ref finally calls a break with less than a minute to go and Holm tags Pennington with a combo. They clinch right away though but Pennington breaks quickly. Seconds remaining now and Pennington lands a left hook, but ends up clinched again before breaking to end the round. 10-10 so call it a draw in my eyes.

Judges end up going 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Holly Holm, I guess for doing more clinch work? Who knows. I don’t think either woman could really say they won this fight as there was so little action outside of the clinch. This was so slow that it made their first fight look like Melendez vs. Sanchez. I don’t like to dog on any fighters of course but this was one of the worst co-mains in recent memory.

Welterweight Fight: Conor McGregor vs Donald Cerrone

Well, what can you say about this one? McGregor’s return after over a year away was always going to be a huge deal, but to see him face Cowboy – arguably the most exciting fighter in MMA history – was something else, even if the fact that they were fighting at Welterweight felt a bit weird. The best part was that there was legit bad blood between the two, as Conor had of course talked a lot of shit about Cowboy back in 2015 when he was still building to his fight with Jose Aldo, claiming he was too slow to ever beat him and so on. I was taking McGregor to win, but it was a tricky one to call given we didn’t really know how much he had left after all of his legal issues and what-not.

Crowd are absolutely AMPED as you’d imagine. Big pop for both guys but they’re clearly more in favour of Conor.

First round begins and McGregor comes right out with a glancing left hand before Cowboy grabs a clinch. Conor hits him with a couple of BIG shoulder strikes from there, and it looks like Cerrone’s nose is already busted up, wow. They break and Conor presses forward, and then hits him with a BIG HEAD KICK! Cowboy immediately looks hurt and starts to cover up, and McGregor pounces and hits him with some HUGE SHOTS that have him folding and that’s it! Jesus Christ.

Whole fight went like 45 seconds. Replay shows Cowboy was probably hurt by the shoulder strikes of all things and then just got waylaid by the head kick and couldn’t recover. Pretty disappointing showing for him but what can you do? Shit happens in MMA and I mean, pound-for-pound, Conor hits just as hard as anyone else in MMA.

So yeah, this should’ve relaunched McGregor as a properly active UFC fighter, setting up another big fight – maybe Jorge Masvidal or the winner of the (eventually scrapped) Khabib vs. Ferguson fight – later in 2020, but of course the whole Covid-19 issue has put paid to that and now he’s claiming to have retired as the UFC won’t give him what he wants, so who the fuck knows to be quite frank. My guess? We’ll see him back as soon as the UFC can have fans in the arena again, probably against Masvidal (who’s also sitting out right now).

At any rate, assuming Covid-19 wrecks the entire year, nothing in 2020 will top this in terms of the big fight feel, so in that sense it was awesome even if it was totally anticlimactic too due to how quickly Conor took Cowboy out.

-Show ends with the announcers trying to hype up Conor’s next fight and discussing upcoming stuff like Khabib/Ferguson and Woodley/Edwards, none of which actually ended up happening! Fucking coronavirus.

Final Thoughts….

Outside of the Holm/Pennington abortion this was a hell of a show even if the undercard was lacking in real top fights. We got finishes in all three of those matches though which is all you can ask for, and while McGregor/Cowboy was a bit anticlimactic, it was still awesome to see them step in against one another and to see McGregor return in that way, so yeah, two thumbs up from me!

Best Fight: Ferreira vs. Pettis
Worst Fight: Holm vs. Pennington

Overall Rating: ****

Until next time,

Scott Newman: