UFC 246 Strategy Guide: With Conor McGregor Favored, How Can Donald Cerrone Pull the Upset?

Conor McGregor has a tall task before him in taking on Donald Cerrone.

The lead up to UFC 246 has been pretty tame considering the two men involved in the main event. While you can always count on Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone to be jovial and pretty respectful of his opponent heading into a contest, the usually brash and trash talking Conor McGregor has been very congratulatory to his foe this time around. It could be a purposeful rebranding on McGregor’s account, but nevertheless, both men look excited and ready to fight at UFC 246.

While Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone are both high caliber strikers, this fight has the potential to showcase a little bit of everything. Where Donald Cerrone employs a more traditional Muay Thai style, Conor McGregor favors a boxing-karate-taekwondo hybrid of striking that has made him a nightmare match-up for many an opponent.

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How does each man get the job done? Let’s take a closer look at the main event.

Strategy for Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor at the height of his powers was a tough customer to deal with because of a few key factors. His pressure style forced many of his opponents on the back foot and McGregor was fleet of foot enough to bounce out of range and reenter with blistering counter strikes. His range of attacks were also so vast opponents couldn’t tell what was coming next.

Most of all, Conor McGregor was a master of distance and was able to use that distance management to determine when to counter and when to be aggressive. He got away from that in his fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov, supposedly due to a foot injury. This does make sense as he was uncharacteristically flat footed in that bout. McGregor will want to avoid looking to steam roll Cerrone like he did against Nate Diaz years back as it’s a surefire way to get himself exhausted, something his opponent could be banking on.

For this bout Conor McGregor will want to return to what he does best. He’ll want to take his time shifting between the pressure fighter and the master of distance that he once was. He’ll want to blend a dash of the approach he used against Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier in the past with large helping of in and out movement like he utilized against Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez.

The straight left will always be his money punch, but Conor McGregor needs to be smart about how he unleashes it. In the Alvarez bout McGregor utilized a number of feints, as well as the left front kick to steadily attack the body before unleashing his left hand counter strikes when his opponent rushed in. McGregor should use those front kicks, feint with the left, shift off the center line and strike the body and head when Cerrone tries to come forward.

Pressuring Cerrone against the cage and forcing him to rush forward will give McGregor ample opportunities to counter.

The low line side kicks that he used against Max Holloway could be also be effective in distance control and keeping Cerrone at bay when he wants to rush in. Most of all, McGregor should look to control his rushes forward as he could easily eat a counter knee for his troubles. Maintaining the range and staying out of the clinch is the name of the game.

Touching Cerrone will be enough until he rushes forward to return fire, which is where Conor McGregor can shine, exploiting counter punching opportunities as they present themselves. For the win, McGregor will have to be patient and precise rather than the pressuring bully looking to enforce his will.

Strategy for Donald Cerrone

Donald Cerrone has had trouble with southpaws in the past, namely Anthony Pettis, Robbie Lawler, Darren Till, and Rafael dos Anjos twice. His approach to the game has changed a bit since those bouts but has remained relatively the same. He can be a relatively reactive fighter in the beginning of bouts, finding himself sucked into his opponent’s game. He’ll need to avoid that at all costs in this fight as McGregor has the kind of punching power to close the show in an instant.

Donald Cerrone is no stranger to battle and his preparation for war has been sufficient enough for him to pick up the most victories (23) in UFC history. Going behind the scenes in his training camp in the film the Hurt Business opened eyes to how hard Cerrone preps for his fights with the likes of champions like Jon Jones.

If Donald Cerrone wants to pull off the upset in this match then he’ll have to follow a diligent game plan. For one, his jab needs to be working overtime, mostly to keep McGregor from darting in with power shots on every occasion. When he does decide to use it as an offensive tool, Cerrone should follow it up with either an outside left low kick to McGregor’s lead leg or a cross to the head or body.

Speaking of low kicks, Cerrone should aim to use both the outside and inside low kicks especially when he senses McGregor moving into punching range. Destabilizing McGregor’s wide southpaw stance will give Cerrone opportunity to land follow up combinations when the Irishman is off balance.

If he can find his way into the clinch, Cerrone should have an advantage in the tie-ups and could even use the opportunity to transition to a takedown.

Another great tool for Donald Cerrone will be his right side attacks. In his bout his Alexander Hernandez, Donald Cerrone used some beautiful intercepting right knees to the body when his opponent attacked from the southpaw position.

Cerrone could do the same here, turning it into a front kick as a necessary and even a right head kick if he catches McGregor dropping his hands to defend the body.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how this one will play out. Who do you think wins at UFC 246?

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Managing Editor at Generation Iron, Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. Check out his Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Sound Cloud for in-depth MMA analysis.

Header image courtesy of Instagram

Jonathan Salmon
Managing editor of Generation Iron, Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. He has been writing about bodybuilding, combat sports, and strength sports for over 8 years. Check out his YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Sound Cloud for in-depth MMA analysis.