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McGregor returns, but which one?

By Lou Finocchiaro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

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Which Conor McGregor will we see on Saturday night?
© Imagn

Saturday’s UFC 246 will be the organization’s first event of 2020. This year, I’ll break down 40-plus main events in locations from Las Vegas to Auckland, New Zealand. 

The UFC is unique in that its season runs yearlong, and it offers those who perform proper due diligence a profit opportunity because MMA is still in its youth and the wagering culture revolving around this emerging sport is unsophisticated, to say it bluntly.

Last year Insight the Octagon realized a final result of 21-18 for a positive +8.11 units. This year we’ll strive to improve on that result by offering keen perspective coupled with my 40-plus years of passion for fighting and all things mixed martial arts.

Conor McGregor -330 vs. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone + 280 — welterweight main event (170 pounds)

McGregor will walk into the Octagon on Saturday for the first time since October 2018, when he was submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov. Since then McGregor has been in the media for almost everything but active fighting. 

He recently admitted to drinking during the camp before his last fight, which was only the tip of the iceberg, as most in this industry are aware. He’s pledging to turn over a new leaf in 2020, much to the delight of the UFC. Whether his intentions are authentic I don’t dispute. Whether he can adjust from being a hungry nobody striving for success to the recipient of immediate riches, fame and notoriety I may.

Handicapping this fight becomes difficult because of McGregor’s recent past, his inactivity and the validity of his pledge that he wants to return to championship status. 

If McGregor has put distraction and vice away long enough to train appropriately and apply the proper focus for this fight, I believe he has the talent, the ability and the iron will to effectively walk the larger Cerrone down, bully the older, more experienced and well-rounded fighter into and against the cage and finish him off. 

McGregor averages 1.81 knockdowns per 15 minutes and has realized one knockdown in eight of his 11 UFC fights. McGregor averages 5.27 significant strikes per minute, which is astonishing. Those stats paint the picture of a forward-pressing, aggressive, powerful striker who when focused and driven appears unstoppable.  

That said, McGregor, a natural lightweight, has fought only twice at welterweight, splitting bouts with another natural 155-pounder in Nate Diaz. So beside the peripheral issues with the Irishman will be his ability off a substantial layoff to compete with a larger fighter more accustomed to the welterweight division who has competed four times since McGregor’s last fight.

McGregor in his hiatus was a man with brimming confidence, a relentless work ethic and a drive to succeed. As a UFC fighter he displayed movement and striking ability seldom seen. For this reason, if McGregor is focused and determined to return to his glory, he must be respected. 

However, it will take action to prove this, not simply words. If I had a penny for every fighter who tried to reinvent himself after a binge, I’d be Warren Buffett, so understand my pessimism.

On the other side of the cage will be a fighter in the “Cowboy,” who is a completely professional world-class mixed martial artist. His 13-year career has produced 50 fights. Cowboy’s 3.84 fights per year as a professional show this man is not only active but is willing to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. 

Cerrone is versed in precision striking with both hands and lethal leg kicks on top of being a legitimate black belt in BJJ, so he can fight standing, in the clinch or on the floor. Many believe the path for Cerrone is to drag McGregor to the mat to submit him, as McGregor’s only four losses have come by being submitted. 

With 10 fights at welterweight, a 2-inch height advantage and a slight reach advantage, Cowboy’s vast experience edge coupled with his activity level and the fact that he’s keenly aware of this monumental opportunity allows us to trust that he’ll bring his best effort to T-Mobile on Saturday night.

The questions really outnumber the answers here. 

Will McGregor be the fluid striking savant fighter we all recall? 

Will McGregor be able to compete if needed for a full 25 minutes, and how long will it take to shake off the rust?

Will McGregor gas out as we witnessed in the Diaz fight, the Nurmagomedov debacle and even his fight with Floyd Mayweather?  

Will Cerrone use intellect and fight IQ to smother McGregor, limit his distance and try to grapple him? Or ...

Will Cerrone allow himself be lured into a machismo striking contest and try to fight the Irishman at distance, which is McGregor’s strength? 

All these questions need to be addressed, and on Saturday we’ll have answers. 

McGregor opened -190, and he’s now been bet to -330. 

For the few who were able to put petty amounts on McGregor at -190, I salute you. Opening lines in faraway places move drastically on a $100 bet, which is part of the nuance one must be aware of when dealing with MMA wagering. 

Pricing on this matchup makes for a difficult gamble on the favorite because of the numerous unknowns, yet I’m not comfortable with a dog-or-pass situation either based on the fact that McGregor was allowed to hand-pick Cerrone as his opponent. 

McGregor and the UFC both stand to benefit greatly with a McGregor victory, so how confident can one feel for the Cowboy if this fight does go down to a tight decision?

Also, Cerrone has always struggled in the biggest fights of his career, especially against those who force themselves straight forward to bully, maul and engage him in a brawl. 

If one favors McGregor’s chances, the Under 1.5 rounds + 110 may be a consideration, as I believe he will try to land that devastating left hook to Cerrone’s liver early in this fight (Cerrone has had surgery to his stomach and has shown susceptibility to body attacks). 

If one favors Cowboy, the Over 1.5 -120 may be a consideration, for the school of thought would be that a well-trained Cerrone will attempt to take McGregor deep into this fight to tire the Irishman, then drag him to the floor for a submission attempt. 

Either way, I’ll watch this one and prepare for a more taxing fight for the loudmouthed Irish bloke.

Maurice Greene -140 vs. Aleksei Oleinik +120 — heavyweight (265 pounds)

This is a heavyweight fight on the main card, and it’s the ‘don’t judge the book by its cover’ bout of the night. 

Greene, 33, is a 6-foot-7 kickboxing-based fighter with a professional record of 8-3, but he’s raw as three-week-old sushi. His fight game revolves around trying to knock out his opponent, and he’s a singularly versed stand-up fighter who tires quickly. 

Oleinik is a 42-year-old Russian grappler who is shorter by 5 inches but is a mixed martial artist with 71 professional fights. If he has one flaw, it’s that he’s a bit chinny. The question is: Will Oleinik be able to get inside Greene’s reach and raw power to clinch onto the monster and drag him down for a roll in the mud? Oleinik’s experience, guile and grappling are advantages provided he is able to clinch, grope and maul Greene. Oleinik must not fight Greene at distance, or he will play right into the slugger’s strength.

Oleinik opened -180, which was a bit high in my estimation. But he has been bet to a dog position, which I believe is based on his last two fights. Those were KO losses to Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem, in which there is absolutely no shame as both are vastly superior to the best fighter Greene has faced. 

I’ll side with Oleinik, who is a savvy, cagey, skilled technician with a superior body of work and is desperate for a victory against an up-and-coming talent in Greene who is not quite ready for this kind of opponent.

Oleinik + 120*

— * This line has been rising in favor of Oleinik, so be patient and grab every penny of underdog value possible.

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