UFC 246: Conor McGregor demolishes Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in comeback fight

Irish UFC superstar Conor McGregor promised a "triumphant return" in his long-awaited comeback to the Octagon - and he delivered exactly that.

In his first fight in more than 16 months, 'The Notorious' mauled Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in their main-event bout at UFC 246 in Las Vegas on Sunday (NZT), needing just 40 seconds to secure an emphatic technical knockout victory.

The method of McGregor's massacre was startling and sent an undeniable message to his ever-expanding queue of potential opponents that not only is he back, he's back to his best.

The 30-year-old wasted no time establishing himself in the contest, opening with a straight right that immediately bloodied Cerrone,  followed by two innovative shoulder strikes that left the American dazed.

McGregor lands a head kick.
McGregor lands a head kick. Photo credit: Getty

Sensing the kill, McGregor unleashed a heavy left head-kick that found its mark, a flying knee coupled with a right hook that dropped Ceronne to the canvas, then punctuated the salvo with a slew of heavy shots from the top.

Referee Herb Dean gave Cerrone every chance to display some intelligent defence, but none was forthcoming and he had no choice, but to step in and put an end to the massacre.

"I made history here tonight," McGregor told commentator Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview.

"I’m the first fighter in UFC history to secure knockouts at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight."

McGregor's performance was the ideal antidote for a forgettable two years, during which he was arrested twice, and - by his own admission - lost his way both personally and professionally. 

His demeanour throughout fight week was relatively muted, compared to the bold and brash trash talk fans have become accustomed to. He exuded calm, claimed he was in a "better place", then proved precisely that with one of the most jaw-dropping demolitions of his career.

All options are now on the table for McGregor, who insists he's eager to stay active this year. A rematch with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov - pending his defence against Tony Ferguson in April - seems to be his perferred choice, although big-money fights with the likes of welterweight Jorge Masvidal and Justin Gaetjhe also lay in wait.

McGregor looked sharp and healthy at welterweight against Cerrone - his second in that division - and hinted he may look to stay in that class.

"I like this weight division," McGregor said. "It’s good going up and down.

"God willing, I came out of here unscathed. I’m in shape.

"I don’t believe I’m there yet though. I’ve still got work to do to get back to where I was.

"Any one of these little mouthy fools can get it."

Either way, the UFC brass will be rubbing their hands in glee at the manner in which their promotional golden boy reclaimed his mantle.

McGregor's 19th win by knockout too his professional record to 22-4 and he'll reportedly earn approximately $US3 million ($NZ4.5m) from the fight. He was also awarded a Performance of the Night bonus, valued at $US50,000 ($NZ75,000).

After the bout, Cerrone was transported directly to hospital for further medical checks.

In undercard action, bantamweight Holy Holm earned a lacklustre unanimous-decision win over Raquel Pennington in the co-main event.

Russia's Aleksei Olienik claimed a second-round submission win over Maurice Greene, while Carlos Diego Ferreira did the same against former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.