The decade begins with a bang in the UFC as former two-belt world champion Conor McGregor ends his 15-month hiatus to take on Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in Las Vegas.
The welterweight contests headlines the promotion’s first show since The Korean Zombie defeated Frankie Edgar on December 21 – and BT Sport Box Office HD will bring you exclusive coverage of what promises to be an unmissable night at the T-Mobile Arena.
McGregor is looking to claim his first win inside the Octagon since 2016 in his 26th MMA contest while Cowboy makes his 51st career appearance in what will undoubtedly be the biggest – and most lucrative - fight of his storied career.
Few athletes on the UFC roster are as richly deserving of a paycheque run through the McGregor money mill than Cowboy Cerrone.
The 36-year-old Denver native has become one of the most popular fighters in the promotion over the course of his nine-year tenure in the UFC, sharing the canvas everybody and anybody across the 155lb and 170lb divisions.
From Nate Diaz, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis to Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez and Robbie Lawler, a look at Cowboy’s lengthy ledger shows the story of a perennial contender foiled four times on his quest for gold but never dispirited by his shortcomings.
A three-time WEC lightweight title challenger, Cowboy’s only attempt at UFC honours was emphatically cut short by Raphael Dos Anjos in 2015 after a brutal body kick felled him in the first round and since then his form has been unpredictably streaky.
Training out of a custom-built MMA gym at his ‘BMF Ranch’, Cowboy has endeared himself to fans across the globe with his mantra to fight anyone, at any time, in any place. Even in the latter stages of his lengthy career, he remains one of the most prolific athletes on the roster, fighting four times a year at minimum with little sign he plans to slow down any time soon.
He currently holds the record for the most wins, the most finishes, the most knockdowns, the most post-fight bonus awards and the most appearances in UFC history, tied with legendary journeyman Jim Miller.
In May last year, Cowboy took the spoils against Al Iaquinta - predictably in a Fight of the Night barnburner – to piece together an impressive three-fight win streak that appeared to have him on the cusp of title contention once again.
Since then however, he has come unstuck against both Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje in back-to-back losses which, ironically, appear to have positioned him perfectly for the most important fight of his career.
But Cowboy has been here before and, speaking to MMA Fighting earlier this month, he spoke of his confidence heading into battle against McGregor on January 18.
“Do I feel like a better mixed martial artist? Absolutely,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve been in the big fights. I’ve walked this path many, many times. This is my 51st MMA fight coming out of that tunnel. Literally, I’ve done it more than anybody.”
In signing terms to fight McGregor later this month, Cowboy also penned a new seven-fight extension with the UFC, signalling his intent to remain in the hunt for a UFC title.
And UFC boss Dana White went out of his way to remind fans that the veteran remains one of the most dangerous fighters in the promotion.
Reacting to suggestions that Cowboy had been positioned as the fall guy for a McGregor comeback, the outspoken promoter said:
“The level of disrespect being shown to ‘Cowboy’ through this whole thing...apparently people forgot [how good he is].
“Cowboy has lost two in a row. But Cowboy has lost two in a row and gone on unbelievable runs. So let’s not count Cowboy out.”
The UFC has been criticized for not booking McGregor against a higher-ranked opponent, but White says the Cerrone bout makes perfect sense from a matchmaking perspective.
“Nobody is disappointed about Cerrone, I promise you that. I guarantee you it will be the biggest bar business. [It’s] a crock of s**t to say anybody is disappointed about Conor versus Cerrone. Crock of s**t. Crock of s**t.
“If you look at the way we do our matchmaking, Conor lost his last fight. And Cerrone lost his last fight.
“These are two top-five guys fighting each other. Don’t listen to the bulls**t.”
McGregor echoed White’s words, praising his soon-to-be-rival ahead of a night the Irishman promised to “crate magic inside the Octagon”.
“I appreciate Donald,” the 31-year-old told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani.
“He’s fought a lot of times and since the last time I saw him – I saw him at the [Jose] Aldo press conference many, many years ago – he’s gone on to fight so many more times. He’s also a family man with his grandmother and I appreciate that and I respect that.
“I’m happy… to have my comeback fight at the beginning of my season against Donald.”
Can Cowboy cut McGregor’s season short – or will the Notorious deliver another night of history at UFC 246?
BT Sport Box Office HD is the only place to find out. Click here for information on how to order this unmissable event.