Since the announcement of Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor, one of the biggest fights in combat sports history, we have had a spectacular summer of buildup that has left us transfixed at the fight that will bring the worlds of boxing and mixed martial arts together for one night only. Press conferences in Texas, Toronto, Brooklyn, and London has prepared the world for the night of madness that lies ahead. The tantalizing trash talk has had many ups and multiple clear downs, but both combatants will settle their differences in the ring, and despite what you may hear, in 10oz gloves. Whoever comes out on top (I have Mayweather by a very wide decision or late finish), the question that will all be on our minds on August 27th, when the circus is well and truly finished, is when (and if) we will see Conor McGregor competing inside the octagon again.
But why do have to wait to have this debate? The UFC’s featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight divisions are all brimming with talent, and since the two-weight champion McGregor has proclaimed that he is interested in fighting in each of these divisions, we must presume that he is eager to fight in MMA a few more times. This interest means we must analyze the possible fights he can have in each of the respective divisions, although his best options are surely at lightweight. If the Irishman is to keep his grips on his world title, his first fight back will have to be a title defense.
So who should get the shot?
1 Tony Ferguson
Californian Tony 'El Cucuy' Ferguson has caught the eye of fans and UFC executives alike during his recent run; his nine-fight winning streak is one of the longest in the company today. Ferguson has many big names on his résumé, including an exciting decision victory over former champion Rafael Dos Anjos last November. Since then, the #2 contender has been calling for a title shot and looked set to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim strap this March. However, the contest fell through (due to Khabib's weight cutting issues), and Tony has been on the shelf since. In similar circumstances to how welterweight champion Tyron Woodley earned his shot at then-champion Robbie Lawler, it is hard to deny that Ferguson deserves a chance to face 'The Notorious' Conor McGregor in the near future.
It is unclear whether the UFC has different plans for the lightweight, but a title fight between Ferguson and McGregor is one of the best fights that the company can put together at this moment in time. Tony's unusual style could confuse Conor; his grappling is outstanding, and his long, awkward striking has proved deadly against some of the best in the 155-pound weight class in the past. I believe that he is next in line for a title shot, but only time will tell if the 10th Planet jiu-jitsu brown belt will have to do even more to earn his chance at a showdown with Mystic Mac this year.
2 Khabib Nurmagomedov
Russian superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov staked his claim to a title fight at UFC205 last November when he ruthlessly dominated Michael Johnson in one of the most merciless beatdowns in UFC history. Immediately after his victory, 'The Eagle' called out Conor McGregor, the UFC PR 'machine' and the entire nation of Ireland. The sudden surge of interest in the Dagestan fighter prompted the UFC to grant him an interim title fight with rival Tony Ferguson at UFC 209 this past March.
However, Nurmagomedov could not safely make the 155-pound weight limit for the contest, and was withdrawn just days before one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory was set to go down. For this reason, Khabib's momentum has come to a devastating halt, and it is unclear if he will be headed further opportunities for a title fight before fighting again. In my opinion, his health issues are too serious right now for him to risk a quick comeback to action. The division may pass him by in the time that he is out, but his health is of paramount concern, and Nurmagomedov should set his title aspirations aside until he is one hundred percent ready to fight again.
3 Nate Diaz
Why this man's name was not mentioned sooner in this debate is probably a mystery to many, but don't break the pitchforks out just yet. A trilogy fight between Conor McGregor and Nathan Diaz is the no-brainer to end all others and must happen sooner rather than later. In their first two fights, both men put it all on the line and delivered two Fight of the Year contenders consecutively. Nate claimed the spoils the first time around, submitting Conor with a slick rear-naked-choke, handing the Irishman his first (and only) defeat inside of the octagon. The rematch told a different tale, as McGregor would overcome adversity in the middle rounds to leave UFC202 with a majority decision win over his foe, and 'the game back under control'. I highly doubt that anyone who bought the PPV that night will not be rushing to pay for a trilogy, and I am certainly amongst the group of people clamoring for the pair to run it back for one final time.
I feel that if the division does not establish a clear #1 contender soon, we may see this fight before long. However, should Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov face off, the winner of that fight will be guaranteed a title shot. That leaves it up in the air as to whether Nate will get an opportunity to bring a UFC belt home to Stockton, California should he come out on top in the third fight between him and Conor, but this rivalry is so big that it doesn't require a title to add to the hype. McGregor wants this fight. Diaz wants this fight. The fans want this fight. Let's do it.
4 Max Holloway
Being a former opponent of 'Mystic Mac', Max Holloway knows all too well just how talented the current lightweight champion is. Although this fight may not be on the cards for quite some time, I believe that such a showdown makes sense when you consider it. The greatest win of McGregor's career came in his 13-second knockout of the legendary Jose Aldo at UFC194 in December of 2015, and it was made even more impressive when we saw the Brazilian return the following July to dominate Frankie Edgar. However, Hawaiian star Holloway proved that he is one of the very best fighters in the sport today when he also knocked out Aldo, raising his winning streak to eleven and solidifying his place at the top of the featherweight ladder.
Given the radical progression the 25-year-old champion has made since his loss at the hands of McGregor, this a fight that could easily go his way. Despite just winning the title, Holloway has practically cleaned house in his weight class, and needs a major challenge should he overcome Frankie Edgar when they face off later this year. He is interested in a move to the lightweight division in the future, so expect to see this fight in the works within the next couple of years.
5 Tyron Woodley
Since last November's historic UFC 205 event in Madison Square Garden, talk of two-weight champion Conor McGregor pushing for a third title was sparked when tensions rose between him and current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley during the build up to fight night. Multiple staredowns and confrontations led many to believe that a fight between the two was next on the cards, but Conor chose to pursue a fight with Floyd Mayweather instead. Upon his return, it is likely that McGregor will defend his lightweight title, but his ambitious, wild nature may lead him to make an unthinkable jump to welterweight to challenge Woodley, who would certainly relish the opportunity to make a big payday against the Irish megastar.
6 Georges St-Pierre
Last, but certainly not least, the returning Georges 'Rush' St-Pierre is an opponent who Conor McGregor could not refuse. The Canadian legend is one of the biggest stars in MMA history and is arguably the greatest fighter to ever step foot in the octagon. He recently stated that he wants the biggest fights possible to wrap up his career with, and a St-Pierre vs McGregor showdown would undoubtedly be the biggest fight in our sport's history. The matchup is fascinating, with Georges' style being the perfect formula to defeat Conor, and a fight between the pair would most definitely deliver. Should St-Pierre join McGregor on the list of two-division champions with a victory over Michael Bisping, the UFC would likely do everything in their power to get these two men into the cage together for a monumental contest, and I would love to see it happen.
There are many options available for Conor McGregor once he's finished up with Floyd Mayweather. At this time it is difficult to get a gauge on who both he and the UFC will decide is a suitable opponent for him to face next. We should get some clarity on the situation within the next few months, so sit back and enjoy the circus that is Mayweather vs McGregor!
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