Conor McGregor reveals why he is full of admiration for Donald Cerrone ahead of UFC 246 return

Jack de Menezes

Conor McGregor has taken the unusual decision to praise opponent Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone ahead of their UFC 246 clash this weekend.

The Irishman returns to the UFC for the first time in 15 months this Saturday night against the 50-fight veteran in what will be his first appearance since suffering defeat against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.

But the build-up to the hotly-anticipated clash has been one noticeably lacking in verbal sparring, which has come to define McGregor’s career up until this point. Known for his skills on the microphone, McGregor has been largely subdued in the weeks leading up to the fight, with those close to him suggesting that his focus has been on his training only in the hope of returning to the levels he once set in the sport.

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It also helps that Cerrone is one of the most likeable characters in the UFC, with the American’s preference to do his talking in the Octagon meeting his “anyone, anytime, anywhere” mantra.

So in discussing his bout at the start of fight week, McGregor had nothing but praise for his opponent.

“I’m happy to come back and have my comeback fight in the beginning of my season against Donald, and I look forward to it,” McGregor told Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on ESPN. “It’s going to be a good night, and I’m going to shine here on 18 January.

“I’m going to create magic inside the Octagon, like I have done many times before. But this time it’s going to be something special.

“Me and Donald have a history. Not a long history, but we’ve had a history. It’s an exciting bout. It’s a fan-friendly bout. It’s a fight that excites me.”

Cerrone made his initial move to try and secure McGregor’s return bout in the lead up to UFC 239, when he posted a picture of a bottle of Budweiser – who sponsor the American – next to a bottle of McGregor’s Proper No 12 Whiskey that he has invested a significant chunk of time to in his period away from MMA.

The 36-year-old ‘Cowboy’ has also spoken many times of the inspiration he draws from his grandmother after moving in with his grandparents following his parents’ divorce when he was young, and McGregor – having been sent a warning not to trash talk Cerrone’s family last week – was only full of respect for his actions.

“I appreciate Donald, I have to say,” added McGregor. “He’s fought a lot of times since the last time I saw him, at the Aldo press conference many, many years ago (in September 2016).

“He’s gone on and fought so many times. He’s also a family man, with his grandmother and these things. I appreciate that.

“And I also appreciate his method he went about it, with the Proper whiskey. So much work goes into these things – to see that bit of respect, I appreciate that. I look forward to having a good bout.”

Cerrone remains one of the most-liked fighters in the UFC (Getty)
Cerrone remains one of the most-liked fighters in the UFC (Getty)

McGregor will make his UFC return at welterweight and has piled on the pounds thanks to the 170lbs limit, but he stressed that he still sees his future across a range of classes after becoming the sport’s first two-weight world champion. Should he want to go through with his plan to chase Khabib for a lightweight title rematch.

“I could make 155 for this fight, no problem,” he said. “But I just want to go in fresh and ‘as it is’. Let the fight play as it is, and then open up all of my options.”

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