LAS VEGAS -- Inactivity be damned, the controversial face of mixed martial arts returned to the Octagon with a bang on Saturday.
In just his second appearance since 2016, former two-division champion Conor McGregor needed a mere 40 seconds to bust the nose of Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and finish him via first-round TKO in their welterweight main event at UFC 246.
Draped in the flag of his native Ireland, McGregor (22-4) sat on top of the cage wall and celebrated in front of an adoring crowd at T-Mobile Arena as "The Notorious" won for the first time since taking the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.
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"I made history here tonight. I set another record. I'm the first fighter in UFC history to get knockout victories at featherweight, at lightweight and now welterweight," McGregor said. "Donald holds the record for the most head kick knockouts so I was very very happy to get one myself. Thank you all for the support!"
Cerrone (36-14, 1 NC) was never in the fight. After McGregor missed a wild left cross to open the fight, he used his shoulder in the clinch to draw blood from Cerrone's nose. A brutal head kick followed before McGregor dropped him and finished him off with punches on the ground as referee Herb Dean waved off the fight.
"He wasn't expecting that," McGregor said of the head kick. "I'm so happy. I'm very proud of that accomplishment. UFC can strip fighters and give other fighters make believes belts but they can't give out knockout victories across multiple weight divisions. Etch my name in history one more time."
"I've never seen anything like that," Cerrone said. "He busted my nose and it started bleeding and I stepped back and he head kicked me," Cerrone said. "I love this sport and I'm going to keep fighting."
Instead of calling out lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for a rematch of their UFC 229 bout that broke pay-per-view records for the sport, McGregor appeared more into the idea of staying at welterweight, where he improved to 2-1 in the UFC. He went on to call out current champion Kamaru Usman.
"I like this weight and I feel good. God willing I came out of here unscathed and I'm in shape," McGregor said. "I'm going to celebrate and talk to my family before getting back to the gym with me team."
"Thank you Cowboy, I appreciate you. You are a f---ing legend in this game."
UFC president Dana White insisted after the fight that Nurmagomedov, should he beat Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in April, would be next for McGregor and didn't want to hear anything else of the sort. He also noted that former pound-for-pound boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, whom McGregor faced in 2017, had been blowing up his phone all night. Mayweather also teased a possible rematch with a cryptic post on Instagram.
"Listen, every time there's someone out there fun ... there's always someone fun that can match up," White said. "When you look at what makes sense, we're in a place where Conor has said going into the Khabib fight he had a lot of personal stuff, injuries, all these things going on. And he's been obsessed with getting that rematch cuz he knows he wasn't 100%."
"And when you look at this for Khabib, Khabib is 28-0, he's undefeated," he continued. "You start talking about this kid's legacy - first of all, to go 28-0 in this sport, I don't care who you fought, it's tough to do. This kid's a world champion. And after tonight, with how Khabib won the first time and how famous Khabib has become since that first fight, we're looking at Haggler / Hearns. Ali / Foreman, Ali / Fraser. This is a massive fight with global appeal. It's the fight that you make. It's the fight that makes sense. It's for the 155 pound title."
UFC 246 card and results
Conor McGregor def. Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone via first-round TKO (punches)
Holly Holm def. Raquel Pennington via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Aleksei Oleinik def. Maurice Greene via second-round submission (armbar)
Brian Kelleher def. Ode Osbourne via first-round submission (guillotine)
Carlos Diego Ferreira def. Anthony Pettis via second-round submission (rear-naked choke)
via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Sodiq Yusuff def. Andre Fili via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Askar Askarov def. Tim Elliott via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Drew Dober def. Nasrat Haqparast via first-round TKO (punches)