LAS VEGAS -- Everyone was looking for Conor McGregor's left hand. Instead, it was his left leg.
McGregor cracked Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone to the chin with a left head kick in the opening seconds of their UFC 246 main event fight Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. The end came soon after. In his comeback fight, McGregor was victorious via TKO in just 40 seconds.
It marked the second-fastest win of McGregor's career, the quickest being his 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in December 2015.
Afterward, McGregor knelt in the center of the Octagon and put his head in his palms. Then, he grabbed the Irish flag from his team, paraded around with it and climbed the cage to celebrate further.
"The so-called experts of the game when they break down my skill-set, they say I'm just a fighter with a left hand, which is highly disrespectful and uneducated," McGregor said.
"I knew he was planning to knock me out with a head kick. I knew this is what Donald would have been envisioning. ... But at the same time I know that Donald has many discrepancies in his game, with the leans and dips under certain attacks that can also set him up for the high kick. So the high kick was something I thought I could catch him with, also."
The stakes were incredibly high for both men. For McGregor, it was a chance to reestablish himself in the sport following a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018 (his previous fight) and a 2019 rife with outside-the-cage issues. Last year, McGregor pleaded guilty to punching an older man at a Dublin bar, and the New York Times reported he is the subject of two alleged sexual assault investigations in his native Ireland.
For Cerrone, it was an opportunity to rid the biggest knock on him: that he cannot win the big one. As Cowboy noted earlier this week, it doesn't get much bigger than a McGregor fight in Las Vegas.
McGregor is the most popular fighter in UFC history, the promotion's biggest money mover and the former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion. Cerrone, meanwhile, is one of the most active and successful fighters of all time. He has the most wins (23) and the most finishes (16) in UFC history, among other records.
But Cerrone had never been in a pay-per-view main event until Saturday night and has no UFC titles to his name. There was no gold belt on the line Saturday, but this bout was bigger in some ways than one for a championship.
"I like this [welterweight] division," McGregor said in his postfight interview in the Octagon. "I feel really good. But I came out of here unscathed. I'm in shape. We've got work to do to get back to where I was."
UFC president Dana White said he was "blown away" by how McGregor looked as a welterweight.
"He looked unbelievable. He won't hear another peep from me about fighting at 170," White said. "He looked fast, he looked sharp, he looked strong. It was all about Conor. It has nothing to do with Cowboy being shot or anything like that."
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McGregor said he was keeping his options open for his next fight and wanted to stay active. In talking about a potential next opponent, McGregor, who had been noticeably more respectful in the lead-up to Saturday's fight, was back to being brash.
"Any one of these fools can get it," McGregor said. "All of them. Every single one. It does not matter."
To start the bout Saturday night, McGregor came forward with a huge, winging left hand. Cerrone ducked it, and the two men went into a clinch. From there, McGregor hit Cerrone with his shoulder and his elbow, which Cerrone said surprised him and busted him up early. McGregor then landed a knee, and upon the separation from the clinch, McGregor caught Cowboy with a kick to the chin.
Cerrone was wobbled, and McGregor pounced. Cerrone went down to his knees, and McGregor continued the onslaught until referee Herb Dean called off the bout and ruled it a TKO.
Afterward, Cerrone was transported to the hospital for precautionary reasons because of injuries to his head and face. He was later released.
McGregor outlanded Cerrone 19-0 in significant strikes. He noted that he now has finishes in three UFC divisions -- featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. McGregor said the UFC can strip his titles -- which it has done twice before due to inactivity defending them -- but cannot take away those records.
"Etch my name in history one more time," said McGregor, who also has the third-most knockouts or TKOs among fighters at 170 pounds or lighter with eight.. "For the Irish people. For my mom back home."
McGregor (22-4) had not won a fight since he stopped Eddie Alvarez in the first round on Nov. 12, 2016, to win the lightweight title at UFC 205. The past three-plus years have been tumultuous, though still lucrative for the Irishman, with big fights against Floyd Mayweather in boxing and his blood feud with Nurmagomedov in the UFC.
McGregor, 31, has promised to stay active this year, fighting as many as three times or more. But first he had to deal with a very game Cerrone.
"I'm excited about the future," McGregor said afterward. "I'm not going to dwell on this victory. It's back in the gym and back to work. Who is next doesn't matter, the 'when' is more interesting. The whole world lights up when I fight, so I want to get back out there again. Soon enough, we'll see what happens."
Cerrone (36-14, 1 NC) has lost three straight fights, also getting finished by top lightweights Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson. The New Mexico resident was on a three-fight winning streak and closing in on a title shot before that. Cerrone, 36, is known for his exciting striking style and vowed to keep it standing against McGregor rather than take it to the ground, where he might have an advantage.
"I love the sport," Cerrone said afterward. "I'm gonna keep fighting."
UFC 246 drew 19,040 to T-Mobile Arena for a gate of $11,089,129.30, the fourth highest in UFC history. McGregor was the headliner in three of the top five gates.