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A Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone fight checks a lot of boxes

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Brooklyn-Hernandez vs Cerrone Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After beating Alexander Hernandez in Brooklyn on Saturday night, Donald Cerrone was quick to point out that he now had 40 fights under the Zuffa umbrella. He also agreeably embraced the “old man” narrative that popped up for this fight week, suddenly, like the onset of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps what was most remarkable was that in his 30th UFC fight — in his quiet return to the lightweight division — Cerrone didn’t just outfox the greener Hernandez with his experience.

He doled out an ass kicking.

Cerrone dropped his head and stalked forward, a vintage face of grit and bad intentions. Was it just four limbs he was deploying? It seemed like more. Hernandez’s face morphed from intensive to swollen to bloody in phases, like it was being flashed through a slide show. His body was taking abuse from slashing kicks, and each time he dropped his hands in a moment of self-preservation, Cowboy tried to boot his head into the stands. It turns out that “Day Drinking Don,” as Hernandez called him, can still make a sharp ping whenever he spits hard enough into a tin can.

No, on Saturday night, Hernandez caught his first piece of hell in the cage. It likely won’t be the last, but it will serve as the most important for the brash 25-year old Texan, who figures to have many big good years ahead of him. Hernandez has time. For Cerrone, even if he keeps defying our conventions and beating up guys that should be ushering in his eulogies, that time is ticking down. It’s that idea alone that makes the other thing he said in his post-fight speech stand out.

He wants that fight with Conor McGregor. Of course, everybody who isn’t allergic to money wants to fight Conor, but Cerrone especially does. It goes back to that Go Big press conference in 2015, when they jawed at each other just enough to plant the idea. The thought has remained up through Saturday night, when Cerrone the sniper came through again. After winning his second fight in a row — and doing it like the coldest of cold sons-of-bitches — the UFC is right to take it seriously, if for no other reason than this: Cerrone has lived by his “anytime, anywhere, anyone” mantra for the last decade. There are very few sincere members of that rare AAA club, but Cerrone is one of them. He should be rewarded, because he is the prototype of what the UFC wants of a fighter.

And besides, one of the people who’d love to see that scrap happens to be the other side of the equation. Moments after Cerrone casually tossed McGregor’s name out there, McGregor responded on Twitter that he was Cerrone’s huckleberry. Or, more exactly, McGregor wrote, “For a fight like that Donald, I’ll fight you. Congratulations.” Both parties are down. And so is Dana White, who later stifled a grin from creeping across his face when asked about it. He said that the likes the idea of the fight, and he likes to put on fights that the fans want to see.

Good enough.

The bottom line is that McGregor is in a relative no man’s land now that he has been stripped of his titles and has already lost — convincingly — to the lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who himself is currently at the mercy of the Nevada commission for the fracas that followed UFC 229. McGregor doesn’t have a clear-cut next opponent, one who carries a reputation for fireworks and is vital enough to drum up the right kind of doubt. Cerrone checks a lot of boxes. He would accommodate McGregor’s style, and position McGregor back into some kind of normal context again. He could scrub away the lingering memories of Floyd Mayweather and Nurmagomedov, the derailments to McGregor’s competitive self.

All of that is fine. But the best reason to make the fight is because it’s fun. It’s right. It’s fighterly. McGregor and Cerrone are different kinds of people who respect each other. McGregor sells whiskey and rides around in Rolls-Royces, Cerrone drinks whiskey and rides around on unbroken horses. They share one thing in common: Attitude. They both want to fight, and they both shine aesthetically in the glistening, fan-friendly realm of striking. They see no reason why they shouldn’t punch each other for money.

Like he did with Hernandez and so many others, Cerrone wants to piece McGregor up, and get paid for the pleasure. He wants his reward for all that he has done to get here. McGregor wants to find a winnable fight that sells less on audacity that it does imagination.

Make this fight, and everyone gets what they want.

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