For the regular team on ESPN’s MMA broadcast desk, Conor McGregor’s inventive and devastating performance was a thing of beauty. But for veteran sports broadcaster Stephen A. Smith, it was cause to berate Donald Cerrone.
Alongside Jon Anik, Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping on the UFC 246 post-fight show, Smith unloaded on Cerrone, announcing himself “quite disgusted” with the tactics on display in Saturday’s headliner.
Nearly apoplectic, Smith implied Cerrone had one again choked under pressure. He said Cerrone should have pulled away before taking the shoulder strikes that stunned him early.
“Step back, gather yourself,” he said. “The man’s got over 50 fights in his career, for crying out loud. You know how to fight. We’ve seen you. We’ve seen 17 submission, we’ve seen 10 knockouts. Excuse me, step back and go like this, ‘OK, he caught me with the shoulder. I’m a little bit rattled right now. Let me catch my bearings. Let me catch my breath.’ I’m not even a fighter and I know this. C’mon, y’all! You guys fought, I didn’t!
“This guy knows better, and somehow, someway, you’re in there with Conor McGregor, and I’m going to tell you all something right now,” he said. “He never had a pay-per-view before. He hasn’t been a champion. It could be that the lights were a little bit too bright. I’ve covered sports for a quarter century – not this sport, but sports – and there have been plenty of examples where I’ve seen guys that when the bright lights are brighter, palms get sweaty, backsides get tight, and ... they don’t show up that particular night, and that’s what happened to ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. He didn’t show up – period. and I don’t understand it.”
Sonnen and Bisping didn’t directly challenge Smith’s take, but instead spoke about the pressure that comes with pivotal fights. But Smith was convinced that Cerrone was a beaten man before the main event and acted like a deer in the headlights.
“When you look at ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, that did not look like a fighter that was prepared to fight tonight,” he said. “We knew Conor was going to be ready. We wondered whether or not he would take him out early, because obviously, the later the fight goes on, ‘Cowboy’ is the bigger, stronger guy – supposedly. But for him to be get hurt in 15 seconds, get away from the clinch, and still just let Conor come right back at him. C’mon, you smarter than that – except tonight.”
For followers of Smith’s broadcasting career, the vitriol on display was no great surprise. The ESPN personality regularly goes for the jugular on just about every sport he covers, and is well known for trolling the stars he covers with outrageous takes on their performances. After McGregor’s loss to Floyd Mayweather in “The Money Fight,” he dissed the all-time great’s performance as “not sharp.” Smith has also gone after McGregor in the wake of the Irish star’s repeated brushes with the law.
Smith made it clear on the UFC 246 broadcast that he was all in on McGregor. He just didn’t like the circumstances of the win.