On Saturday, January 18th, Donald Cowboy Cerrone and The Notorious Conor McGregor will finally face off in the UFC Octagon. There can be no doubt that they have both reached legendary status in their respective MMA careers. Cowboy Cerrone––a longtime fan favorite––has the most wins and the most finishes in UFC history and is known to literally fight anyone, anytime, anywhere. His willingness to fight anyone and fight often has gained him favor with casual and hardcore fans alike, and the blue-collar ethos that he wears proudly has further ingratiated him to legions of American MMA fans. Irish MMA superstar, The Notorious Conor McGregor has made the biggest splash of any MMA fighter in history, with his brash, prefight psychological tactics, his “touch of death” left hand (according to Firas Zahabi), and his precision, snyper-like counter striking prowess. With Cowboy Cerrone coming off of two losses to Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson, and McGregor coming off a 15 month layoff since his fourth round submission loss to Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, things have played out to set the stage for a very intriguing matchup. Let us consider some key aspects of this fight. There are definitely specific ways for each fighter to win, and I will touch on those and also what I believe to be the most important factor of this fight: psychology.
When looking at each fighter’s UFC history there are a few areas in which they share some common ground. The first is that they have each set records and built names for themselves, though each going down dramatically disparate paths. Cowboy did it in the trenches over many fights––with hard fought victories and some disappointing losses––while McGregor did it fast and brash, with huge fireworks, knocking people out in early rounds and achieving widespread mainstream notoriety and superstar status in the process. The second thing these two have in common is that they have both lost fights due to psychological lapses. Cowboy has dropped fights when in high pressure situations and when pressed and attacked in a predatory way . . . even against some opponents that he was matched well against from a technical standpoint (think Anthony Pettis, RDA and Nate Diaz). In these scenarios Cowboy seemingly allowed the other fighter to get a mental edge on him, causing him to sometimes under-perform. Keep this in mind, because it plays a huge role in his fight against Conor McGregor, for obvious reasons. Conor McGregor has dropped two fights by rear naked choke, each one occurring after McGregor tired from battling with opponents who were not intimidated by him (Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov, respectively). Now, one might say that McGregor gassed out because his cardio was not good, however it is quite clear that the lapse in cardio fitness was most likely caused by being unable to intimidate, and then dominate those opponents. This is not my theory by any stretch, but one that is quite apparent and widely regarded as accurate when considering the psychology of fighting. In fact, Tristar Gym owner and longtime coach coach of Georges Saint Pierre, Firas Zahabi, spoken about this phenomenon on his Tristar Gym Youtube channell.
The key to this psychological matchup, I believe, will be which fighter is able to impose their gameplan (or fight plan, if you will) on the other first. Whichever fighter gets the jump on the other at imposing their respective plans will likely gain a significant mental edge. For Conor, most of the benefit of this would be seen early in the fight, and for Cowboy it will likely be more evident if he can hold off McGregor till the third, fourth and fifth rounds. More specifically, for Conor it means going on the attack like a relentless predator and not giving Cowboy a chance to breath or get his rhythm going. If McGregor is able to attack Cowboy quickly and mercilessly, he stands a good chance of getting the TKO. Whereas For Cowboy, he needs to hold off the initial onslaught of McGregor long enough to wear on him, perhaps get him to the ground where he can tire him, and ideally take away some of that early fight power and explosiveness. If Cowboy can utilize his fight IQ and follow that type of plan I believe he will get the win. If Cowboy does try to stand with McGregor early, I believe things do not go his way. Unless of course, he can drag McGregor into deeper waters. Ultimately, I think the fighter that can keep their mental acuity sharp in the early rounds, get into their rhythm, and effectively use their weapons, will be the one who takes advantage of the psychological edge and wins the fight.
Coming soon: A breakdown of Conor McGregor’s lack of brash trash talking leading up to the Cowboy fight.