UFC 246: When and why to bet on Conor McGregor over Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor remains slightly better than a 3-1 favorite to defeat Donald Cerrone when they meet Saturday in a five-round non-title welterweight bout in the main event of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena. But if history is any indication, if you plan to bet on McGregor, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later.

Betting action has been slightly less than expected on McGregor-Cerrone as bettors have focused on NFL playoffs, said Jeff Stoneback, the director of trading operations for MGM Resorts, who runs the race and sportsbook operation for the company. Stoneback expects a significant amount of action the closer the fight gets, and history suggests bettors will hammer McGregor.

[Don’t miss Conor vs. Cowboy on Jan. 18: Order UFC 246 on ESPN+ now!]

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BetMGM opened McGregor as a -240 favorite, and he was quickly bet up to better than 3-1. At the weigh-in on Friday, McGregor was -320 and Cerrone +260.

“Conor is one of those iconic guys who draws [wagers] no matter what the price is,” Stoneback told Yahoo Sports. “The perfect example of that is the [Floyd] Mayweather fight [from 2017]. He goes in to box and he gets pounded down to a 3-1 underdog from about a 15-1 underdog. 

“This fight, I’ve been surprised. We have taken more money on McGregor at this point. We opened him up at 240 and we are up to 320 right now, but the number of tickets, actually, has been more on Cerrone than on McGregor. [Cerrone] is the dog and people like to bet the dog, but I think this fight is going to have a little more two-way action than previous McGregor fights.”

McGregor and Cerrone each weighed 170 on Friday, and the cut was easy for each of them. McGregor said at the news conference on Wednesday that he was already under 170, so he clearly didn’t stress his body. 

McGregor asked for the fight to be at 170 so he didn’t have to cut weight to the lightweight limit of 156 for a non-title fight. The plan was for him to compete at lightweight, and the most likely scenario is that if he defeats Cerrone, he’ll face the winner of the lightweight title fight at UFC 249 between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for that belt.

But McGregor hasn’t ruled out going after the welterweight belt, and champion Kamaru Usman said he’d welcome that match.

“Now, I’m in a situation, I’m in a position where I don’t have to beg for fights any more,” Usman said. “They have to come to me. If Conor wants it, Conor can get it, too. I don’t discriminate on the ass-whippings. Anybody can get it.”

McGregor hopes to be able to deliver an ass-whipping of his own for a change. Since stopping Eddie Alvarez in the second round of UFC 205 in New York on Nov. 12, 2016, McGregor has competed only twice. He was stopped in 10 rounds in his boxing match with Mayweather, and submitted in the fourth to Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018, in the main event of UFC 229, the best-selling PPV in UFC history.

Much has been made of him going more than three years without a win, but he shrugged that off Thursday when he spoke to reporters for the final time before the fight.

“I want to be the best version of myself,” McGregor said. “Everyone’s saying they want the old Conor, the 2016 Conor or the Conor that fought Eddie. I feel I’m in a better place than that. I have a better skillset than that. I’m more experienced. That’s certainly a drive of mine to be a better version of myself.”

Breaking down McGregor vs. Cerrone

Cerrone has a more diverse game than McGregor. Cerrone has 17 wins in his career by submission and has only been submitted once, while McGregor has one win by submission and has been submitted four times.

If Cerrone takes him down, that would be advantage, Cerrone. But though McGregor was submitted by Nurmagomedov, the best grappler in the sport, he defended well for a long time. He never threatened Nurmagomedov on the ground, but there were long stretches on the ground where McGregor did not embarrass himself in the least with his defense.

Cerrone has also vowed to stand with McGregor. While he’s physically the bigger man, which was evident when they squared off at Wednesday’s news conference at The Palms, McGregor has far faster hands.

McGregor is a good counter striker and said he’s able to read Cerrone easily. McGregor’s speed gives him good power, and the power in his punches and his kicks push the advantage his way.

Cerrone is the UFC’s all-time winningest fighter, and has quality wins over the likes of Al Iaquinta, Patrick Cote, Alvarez, Benson Henderson, Matt Brown and Edson Barboza, among others.

He’s capable of winning the fight, and it would be tempting to play him if the price goes up much higher. He’s been active and that counts for something.

McGregor’s hand speed and punching accuracy, though, give him the advantage here. It’s worth a bet on McGregor if he stays where he is or the odds move in favor of Cerrone. There are too many variables to lay more than around 3-1 on McGregor.

Look for McGregor to finish Cerrone in the second. Play him if he’s at -320 or less, but just lay off and enjoy the fight if he goes any higher.

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