UFC

UFC 246: Conor McGregor v Donald Cerrone - The big questions answered as 'The Notorious' returns

By Sports Desk January 16, 2020

Love him or hate him there is no way you can ignore Conor McGregor and Saturday marks his long-awaited return to the octagon at UFC 246.

It has been 15 months since McGregor's last bout ended in a submission defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a contest marred by an ugly post-fight brawl between the warring camps.

The charismatic Irishman, the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two divisions at the same time, is back, though, with veteran Donald Cerrone the opponent in Las Vegas.

Much has happened since McGregor's defeat to Khabib and below we take a look at the big questions ahead of his comeback.

 

What happened at UFC 229?

Oh boy…where do you start with this one? The build-up to this was fight was, let's dilute this a little, ugly. Back in April 2018, McGregor was involved in an attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters. McGregor would eventually be forced to undertake community service and an anger management programme over the incident. So, naturally the scene was set for a red-hot build-up that had many barbs that crossed the line. After Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round the bad blood spilled over, with the Russian launching himself over the cage to fight members of his rival's team, leading to a mass melee. It was all rather unpleasant, unsavoury and unnecessary, and in truth not a great look for UFC.

What's happened since?

Well there was a retirement, a reversal on that decision, injury and an impressive body transformation. Not to mention plenty of sales of his Proper No. Twelve whiskey. And, unfortunately, there has been no escape from controversy. In March 2019, McGregor was arrested and charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief after it was alleged he took a man's phone and smashed it on the ground in Miami – the charges were later dropped over inconsistencies in the victim's testimony. In November, McGregor was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

Will he fight Khabib again?

The jury remains very much out on this one. McGregor, who slipped to a 21-4-0 MMA record after the defeat, tweeted "book my rematch for Moscow" after Khabib's successful return against Dustin Poirier last September. The big-talking Irishman set himself a lofty ambition of fighting three times in 2020 and McGregor previously stated he wanted to face the winner of the bout between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, before going on to once again take on Khabib. Masvidal certainly looks a viable option following his victory over Diaz, whether the Khabib rematch gets sanctioned is another argument.

What is his style?

Lightning quick with ferocious power and incredible athleticism – McGregor is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. A southpaw with awesome striking skills, one of McGregor's greatest traits is a unique fighting stance that suits both front-foot tactics and counter punching. He is not known for his ground game, which many pundits noted was crucial in his defeat to Khabib. 

Who is his opponent Cerrone?

Put simply, 'Cowboy' is a legend in MMA circles. No one boasts more UFC wins than Cerrone, who has earned legions of fans for his ability to thrill in the octagon. Never one to shirk a challenge, Cerrone has been in with the best of the best. But, 37 in March and coming into this fight on the back of consecutive defeats to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, it will be a tall order to overcome McGregor.

Why is the fight taking place at welterweight?

There was little shock when news broke McGregor was to fight Cerrone, though the fact the bout was to be contested in the 170lb division did raise some eyebrows – particularly given McGregor's stated desire for a rematch with lightweight king Khabib. UFC president Dana White explained McGregor's target for another dance with Khabib meant he was not keen on cutting to 155 twice. Both fighters are not particularly big welterweights, so it makes sense not to have go through the weight cut.

Is this fight make or break for McGregor?

When you bring the number of eyes, publicity and money as McGregor does no fight is ever make or break. But there is a feeling after several years of limited activity – since beating Eddie Alvarez in 2016 he has only fought Floyd Mayweather Jr in a lucrative boxing bout and Khabib – he needs to rediscover the fire that made him one of the UFC's greatest competitors. Win, lose or draw, McGregor will go again.

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  • Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes

    Robert Lewandowski famously scored five goals in just nine minutes for Bayern Munich against Wolfsburg five years ago today.

    The Poland international achieved the astonishing feat on September 22, 2015 in a match that ultimately finished 5-1 to Bayern.

    A half-time substitute, Lewandowski's heroics ensured Bayern came from behind to thrash Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.

    Here, we look at the story behind one of the finest moments of Lewandowski's career.

    WHAT HAPPENED

    Then a 27-year-old, Lewandowski was introduced at half-time and fired in a four-minute hat-trick before adding two more in a breathless spell from Bayern.

    Bayern had started the game on the front foot, but Wolfsburg stunned the home fans on 26 minutes as Daniel Caligiuri fired in emphatically following Julian Draxler's pass.

    Pep Guardiola's side struggled to break through a resilient away defence and they almost found themselves two down when Josuha Guilavogui hit the post from inside his own half, with Manuel Neuer stranded.

    But the half-time arrival of Lewandowski turned the game on its head as he became the first substitute to score five times in a Bundesliga match, leaving Wolfsburg shellshocked.

    THE FIVE GOALS

    With things not looking good, Guardiola threw on Lewandowski and the change paid dividends almost immediately, with his first arriving on 51 minutes. 

    Thomas Muller was denied by goalkeeper Diego Benaglio after a fine team move involving Mario Gotze and Arturo Vidal, but Lewandowski was on hand to poke the ball home on the rebound.

    The Poland striker put Bayern in front just a minute later, lashing the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

    He then sealed a stunning four-minute hat-trick - the fastest in Bundesliga history - as he prodded in after initially hitting the post after being set up by Muller.

    Wolfsburg were completely rattled and Lewandowski helped himself to a fourth in the 57th minute as he turned in Douglas Costa's cross with a crisp strike.

    But the former Borussia Dortmund man saved his best for last in the 60th minute - a sensational acrobatic volley which flew past Benaglio and left Guardiola speechless on the sidelines.

    IT COULD HAVE BEEN SEVEN

    A combination of Benaglio and Ricardo Rodriguez on the goal-line only just stopped Lewandowski from scoring again in the closing stages.

    There was another chance too - former Bayern defender Dante blocked another Lewandowski effort inside the area as the champions cruised to victory.

    The win put Bayern three points clear at the top of the table and they went on to win the title by a margin of 10 to nearest challengers Dortmund.

    After the match, Bayern defender Philipp Lahm said Lewandowski could, and perhaps should, have added to his total after the initial five-goal heroics.

    Lahm said: "At half-time a player came in who did a little something. It was incredible. Just madness. And he had two more chances, so he should have gone home with seven goals."

    WHAT HE SAID

    Immediately following the match, Lewandowski admitted it was an "incredible" feeling to score five goals in just nine second-half minutes and did not realise at the time how quickly his goals had come.

    "I am very satisfied, that was incredible," he said. "I just wanted to shoot, I didn't really think what will happen afterwards.

    "Having been one down, we knew that we must improve and score twice at least. But five goals, that's incredible.

    "I don't know how fast it was, but it was fast. But when you're on the pitch, you're just focused on football. I looked at the scoreboard, it was the 60th minute and I only thought: 'Ooh.'

    "Guardiola didn't need to say anything, I know what I have to do on the pitch."

    Lewandowski was asked to compare the game to Dortmund's 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, in which he scored four.

    "It was a very important game - that was a very big event in my life," he said. "Now five goals, that is a great night for me."

    Reflecting on his performance the morning after, Lewandowski thanked fans on Instagram and apologised for not making himself available for requested media appearances due to Bayern's busy schedule.

    Lewandowski described it as "an amazing evening for me", alongside a picture of himself with the signed match ball.

    He insisted he was most glad to have helped the team and acknowledged messages of congratulations he had received from all over the world. 

    WHAT THEY SAID

    Speaking to reporters after the match, team-mate Jerome Boateng called Lewandowski one of the world's best strikers and was grateful he only had to compete with him in training.

    Guardiola, meanwhile, who had been visibly baffled on the touchline, was left in disbelief, saying: "I've never experienced such a situation, either as coach or as a player.

    "Five goals in nine minutes. I am very happy for Robert. You play poorly for 45 minutes and then grab five goals in nine minutes. I cannot explain it."

    Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking was less thrilled but fared no better in attempting to explain Lewandowski's showing. 

    He said: "What can I say? A world-class striker shot five times on goal and could have scored seven. That is how it happened.

    "But with our quality this should not happen. We had a good first half and Bayern could not up the pace of the game and then came these nine minutes. It's inexplicable."

    Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold could only rue the defensive collapse from his side, adding: "We can't explain that, five goals in nine minutes. There is no reason to talk about it, it's just s***."

    Lewandowski's agent Cezary Kucharski was thrilled with the impact the feat had on his client's market value, but all but ruled out a move to one of the Manchester clubs amid a flurry of increased transfer talk after the match.

    "Games like the one against Wolfsburg immensely help a player increase his value," he said. "I have a plan for the rest of Robert's career in my head.

    "Could that plan take him to Manchester? It's always raining over there. Munich is much more beautiful and a better place to live."

    Kucharski suggested a move to Spain would be more appealing, but as we know he ultimately remained at Bayern, signing a lucrative new contract in December 2017.

    That deal was extended with fresh terms in August 2019, tying him to the club until 2023.

    THE BEST OPTA STATS

    Since the start of the 2015-16 season - when Lewandowski's five-goal performance took place - there is only one player who has scored more goals than him in Europe's top-five leagues: Lionel Messi.

    - Messi has netted 158 times, compared to a magnificent 146 for Lewandowski over that period.

    - The Poland striker's total puts him above other greats like Cristiano Ronaldo (139), Luis Suarez (131), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (124) and Harry Kane (120).

    How does Lewandowski's feat compare to other similar achievements?

    - In Serie A, since 1986 there has only been one example of a player scoring five goals in a game, which was when Miroslav Klose did so for Lazio against Bologna in May 2013. That took him 40 minutes.

    - Five players have done that during the Premier League era in England: Andy Cole, Alan Shearer, Jermain Defoe, Dimitar Berbatov and Sergio Aguero. Manchester City striker Aguero was the fastest, scoring his five in 20 minutes.

    - No LaLiga player has scored five since 1960. Laszlo Kubala has the Spanish top-flight's record for the fastest five-goal streak at 19 minutes, as part of seven he scored in a 1952 match for Barcelona against Sporting Gijon.

    - In Ligue 1, there has only been one occasion since 1984, which was Carlos Eduardo's quintet for Nice against Guingamp in October 2014. The French top-flight record for fastest five goals is held by Carlos Bianchi at 31 minutes, scored for Reims against Paris Saint-Germain in 1974.

    - Lewandowski's nine minutes is the fastest in Germany and across the top-five leagues, though Luka Jovic emulated his haul three years later for Eintracht Frankfurt against Dusseldorf in October 2018.

    - Those two feats were the only occasions of a player scoring five or more in the Bundesliga since 1991. The great Gerd Muller did it four times between 1972 and 1976.

  • Giannis' shooting woes as Milwaukee fall short again – Bucks season review in STATS data Giannis' shooting woes as Milwaukee fall short again – Bucks season review in STATS data

    Another season and another missed opportunity for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Prior to the season shutting down in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bucks were the team to beat in the NBA.

    But Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were not the same inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort – the Eastern Conference top seeds eliminated by the Miami Heat 4-1 in the semi-finals.

    While superstar Antetokounmpo claimed back-to-back MVP honours, there are more questions than answers in Milwaukee, where the Bucks are still waiting for their first championship since 1971.

    Antetokounmpo is also set to become a free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, and he is eligible for a max contract extension worth around $254million this offseason.

    As the ageing Bucks try to pick up the pieces and provide adequate support for Antetokounmpo in pursuit of NBA glory, we review Milwaukee's season using STATA data.

     

    Bucks fall short… again

    In 2018-19, the Bucks finished with the best regular-season record at 60-22 as Antetokounmpo earned his first MVP award. But Milwaukee went down to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.

    This season, the Bucks owned a league-best 56-17 record, but their form faded dramatically following the restart. Milwaukee became the first team in NBA history to have more losses (4-9) in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire campaign prior to that (52-8).

    Unconvincing against the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round, the Bucks were no match for Jimmy Butler and the red-hot Heat as their wait for a first NBA Finals appearance since 1974 goes on.

    The Bucks are the second team ever to have the outright best record in the NBA two seasons in a row and not reach the Finals in either season, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

     

    Giannis struggles from the line

    For all his remarkable skill, Antetokounmpo's shooting remains an Achilles heel. The "Greek Freak" and his free-throw shooting was a lot worse this season – it was the third largest season-to-season decline in NBA history among players with at least 600 attempts in both campaigns.

    In 2018-19, Antetokounmpo was 72.9 per cent from the line but he was just 63.3 per cent this season, a differential of 9.6 per cent. San Antonio Spurs great Tim Duncan tops the list with a difference of 14.3 per cent from 1999-2000 to 2000-01, ahead of Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal (13.2 per cent from 2002-03 to 2003-04).

    To put things into context, Antetokounmpo missed 231 free throws during the regular season, and the Bucks' 17 losses during the regular season were by a combined 157 points.

    When Giannis is shooting well from the free-throw line, the Bucks are usually winning. Over the past two seasons (regular season and playoffs), Milwaukee have a record of 61-8 (88.4 per cent) when he makes at least 70 per cent of his free throws in a game – including a 9-0 record in the playoffs. So him making more shots from the line could be a key to their future success.

     

    Antetokounmpo's health and fitness

    The 25-year-old, who averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season to become the first player to receive MVP honours in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016, missed Milwaukee's Game 5 loss to the Heat due to an ankle injury.

    Antetokounmpo re-injured his right ankle in Game 4 but sat out the must-win clash as the Bucks departed the playoffs, despite Khris Middleton's best efforts.

    Over his career, Antetokounmpo has played at least 35 minutes in less than half of his playoff games (21 of 43). Lakers superstar LeBron James (224 of 249), on the other hand, has done that in 90 per cent of his playoff games.

    Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 30.4 minutes per game during the regular season. In NBA history, there has only been one team to win the NBA title without having a player average at least 32 minutes per game in the regular season: the 2013-14 Spurs.

    So basically, if the Bucks are going to win a title, they are likely going to need their star player to play more minutes.

    Three-point defending

    As good as the Bucks are, they are obviously not without their flaws.

    Three-point defense was a big issue in the regular season and playoffs in 2019-20. Milwaukee allowed 14 three-pointers per game in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs, both of which were the most in NBA history (minimum 10 games for the playoffs).

    Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks have plenty to figure out heading into 2020-21.

  • City's dazzling De Bruyne reality eases memories of the Messi dream City's dazzling De Bruyne reality eases memories of the Messi dream

    Speaking to Radio Catalunya in 2017, Pep Guardiola took a self-deprecating tone when considering his feted coaching reputation.

    You see, life is easy with Lionel Messi in your dressing room.

    "The greatest advantage of having Leo is that the other 10 players know they have Leo on their team and that sooner or later he will do it," he said.

    "I was his coach and we were planning and I thought, 'We will get the ball to Messi and that's that, we will score.'"

    At the start of this month, it briefly looked like Guardiola would be able to unfurl this approach at Molineux in Manchester City's Premier League season opener against Wolves.

    Of course, Messi concluded an exit from Camp Nou was not viable and a fantasy football tonic to a dispiriting 2019-20 in east Manchester was taken off the table.

    Nevertheless, during Monday's impressive 3-1 win over opponents that have tended to give his team fits, Guardiola settled on an update of his old template.

    Get the ball to Kevin De Bruyne and that's that.

    Okay, so this is a simplification of the sparkling display City put on to get their Premier League title bid up and running.

    John Stones was in from the cold alongside new signing Nathan Ake in a silky-smooth centre-back pairing - or was it a pairing? Rodri dropped in from midfield to play in between them at times during the first half, with Stones taking opportunities to join attacks down the right flank.

    Captain Fernandinho enjoyed himself back in the midfield role a defensive shortfall denied him last season, and everything in front of the veteran Brazilian was all whirring, flashing, frictionless movement.

    Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden were as tenacious out of possession as they were in it.

    But it was PFA Players' Player of the Year De Bruyne who stamped himself all across what quickly became a pulverising opening 45 minutes for the hosts.

    All the shifting plates in Guardiola's 4-2-3-1 seemed designed to put De Bruyne in the areas of the field where he can cause damage. Which, all things considered, amounts to a fair amount of turf.

    Take the combination of athleticism and opportunism that saw him put down the throttle and chase Foden's pass to draw a brainless foul from Romain Saiss. Rui Patricio guessed correctly but De Bruyne struck the 20th-minute penalty sumptuously.

    After the half hour he nipped into a pocked of space behind the Wolves midfield to release Sterling, who set up Foden for number two.

    There was De Bruyne again, forcing a fine save from Patricio after he tore onto Jesus' flick-on, like the archetypal box-to-box midfielder.

    Soon afterwards there was a devilish whipped cross from out on the touchline and, even as City's level dropped and they flirted with throwing away the sort of points they frequently fumbled last term, De Bruyne regularly carved holes in Wolves, working through the repertoire that makes him the most complete footballer in the division.

    Since the start of 2019-20, the Belgium superstar has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player, thanks to 14 goals and 21 assists. He created more chances (six) and had more shots on target (four) than any other City player on Monday.

    Nevertheless, De Bruyne's team-mates are still without the serenity Guardiola claimed for Messi's old colleagues. Around the hour, when Adama Traore had the shackles of his right wing-back brief loosened and Stones became reacquainted with his lackadaisical side, a clatter of Wolves chances came and went.

    The impressive Daniel Podence had the audacity to nutmeg De Bruyne before setting up Raul Jimenez's nicely placed 78th-minute header.

    Despite paying the price for attempting the dirty work on that occasion, the 29-year-old contested a team-high five tackles and gained possession nine times - no City player did so more frequently. He covered 11.58 kilometres at an average speed of 7.12 km/h.

    It was no surprise, therefore, to see which player bustled in between a hesitant Wolves defence to set up Jesus for the game-clinching goal.

    Get the ball to Kevin De Bruyne and that's that.

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