Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Vagner "Ceara" Rocha fight inside the octagon during UFC 131.

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (left) and Vagner “Ceara” Rocha fight inside the octagon during UFC 131. (Photo by Kathleen Hinkel/Icon Sportswire)

The UFC is taking no rest for the New Year, as it opens up 2020 with the highly anticipated return of the “Notorious” Conor McGregor against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246 on January 18. McGregor will look to make a successful splash under the bright lights once more, but Cowboy is saddling up for another grueling contest.

Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone odds

FighterUFC 246 Odds
Conor McGregor-340
Donald Cerrone+250

Will McGregor be rusty?

The inactive McGregor is getting the opponent he wants and the publicity he wants in his return to the UFC, but even though McGregor is facing a badly worn opponent, he is not an overwhelming favorite. Questions linger about McGregor’s potential ring rust and stamina, and whether he will benefit from this fight at welterweight.

Cerrone is five inches taller than McGregor, has a strong ground game and is probably overdue for a change in scenery after he was clobbered in back-to-back losses at lightweight. McGregor may yet head back to lightweight, but taking the fight at welterweight will give him time to focus on technique and coordination, as opposed to losing excess weight. It is entirely possible Cerrone comes in the fresher and stronger man.

McGregor’s striking ability is still lethal

McGregor is the superior striker by leaps and bounds, and while Cerrone is taller, he doesn’t have the reach or striking prowess to stink McGregor out or slow him down to a point where he can score a fight-changing takedown. All McGregor has to do is let Cerrone come to him and work him over to the body, timing his counters to catch Cerrone as he tries to reestablish offensive momentum.

Cerrone’s stubbornness will be his shortcoming

There is just too much mileage on Cerrone’s engine to like him here, and he’s too stubborn to fight against character to slow McGregor down. While there is a chance he can score a takedown and get McGregor to the mat for a shock submission, he’s going to lose his cool and play right into McGregor’s hands. Cerrone wasn’t picked to make McGregor look bad with bigger things on the horizon.

Expect McGregor to look sharp. He’ll clobber the Cowboy within the distance and might even stop him as early as the first round in an explosive performance.

MMA free pick: McGregor (-310)