Conor McGregor: What’s next for the UFC’s lightweight champion?

After a lucrative (albeit painful) venture into the sport of boxing, we take a look at the possible routes Mystic Mac can take upon his return to the UFC.

After a monumental boxing bout against one of the greatest boxers of the modern era, it’s safe to say that all bets are off when it comes to the limitations of Conor McGregor’s career. Even in a tough loss, McGregor made out like a king with a sizeable purse and even more awareness from the general public through the exposure of this fight.

From top to bottom, every press conference and media scrum led to the fireworks that were realized on August 26th, and no matter where ‘The Notorious’ takes his focus to in the following year, he is guaranteed a swarm of devoted followers. McGregor’s gift of the gab has transcended the MMA bubble, and he’s taking back a certain flair to the UFC that has been dormant in recent months, with numbers still to come in from his boxing bout, many fans remain anxious over what his next move may be in the coming months.

Next In Line

Looking down the calendar for viable opponents, there are a few candidates that have the potential to rival the mystique of McGregor if they can make it out of their scheduled bouts. Tony Ferguson is the leading contender in that race with a whopping nine-fight win streak in the lightweight division.

Ferguson has been on the cusp of a title shot at 155 for far too long, and now he finally has a chance to earn the interim gold he has been longing for with a tough matchup in Kevin Lee. Although there’s a lot of athletic attributes that make ‘El Cucuy’ elite for the division on paper, Lee has Ferguson’s number in a few of those categories.

Even with the height disadvantage, Lee enjoys a slight reach advantage over Ferguson and has the right skill-set and body frame to present a different kind of danger that Ferguson has yet to experience in the octagon. Lee has been making a case for himself with his recent media runs shedding light on the calibre of opponents he has taken out on the way to this fight, and when you look back at his track record, his mental toughness and ability to brawl under pressure is what got him those hard-fought wins. Regardless of the winner, the future interim champion will have their hands full with whatever ‘The Notorious’ brings at them, and it’s only a matter time before their paths will cross at 155.

Down the line, the eventual fight between Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje is the next source of excitement out of this division. Gaethje, coming off a stellar victory over Michael Johnson a few months ago, has wasted little time in making his presence known at lightweight and his fight against Alvarez is just another stepping stone on the way to achieving his goal of being champion.

He has also been very outspoken about ‘impressing’ McGregor with a big win over Alvarez. Given the performance that he was able to deliver against Johnson, it seems we’re poised for yet another lightweight war, and Gaethje’s ability to shine when push comes to shove will certainly be an X-factor for this fight.

Alvarez, on the other hand, has a bit more dirty work to do if he wants another title shot in the near future. After a litany of high-profile fights that got him to the title against RDA, Alvarez has taken a backseat on his recent performances and is taking the time to reinvent himself in the octagon. This fight has all the makings of a ‘Fight of the Night’ brawl and, whoever the victor, a statement win to headline a TUF finale event is the kind of victory that puts you in the title picture.

Another route of speculation for what McGregor’s next move will be has centered around a possible end of the year card against Khabib Nurmagomedov. But with Khabib currently nursing an injury and no big fight venue booked in any area, it’s safe to say that the Nurmagomedov ship has sailed for the time being. Even his monster record in pro MMA that won’t be enough to get McGregor ready and willing.

With his recent string of pulled fights due to missed weight or recurring injury, there have been rumblings that Nurmagomedov may have to keep proving himself at lightweight to keep his stock high in a constantly shifting division.

Whichever direction McGregor and his team decide to go, one aspect that can’t be overlooked en route to his next bout is the dramatic lack of escalation when it comes to what he can actually do in the octagon. He’s already won multiple titles, he’s made all the money he needed to make, and in his mind, there is a lack of contenders in the UFC at the moment that will benefit his success in the long run.

All in all, it’s possible that he’ll sit out the rest of the year as he lets the lightweight division shake itself out until a clear-cut number one takes control. Until then, McGregor will take his sweet time making his return to the octagon, devoting his attention to family and friends as negotiations continue to take place.

The Trilogy

The most talked about match-up in the aftermath of the Mayweather/McGregor fight has been the inevitable rubber match between two of the most pivotal names in MMA. Without taking into account the meritocracy of the interim title at stake at UFC 216 between Ferguson and Lee, a Nate Diaz fight against the brash Irishman will always be a blip on the UFC’s radar in terms of sales and marketability.

At one fight a piece, there is still a legitimate score to settle between the two parties, and that might just be an option for McGregor if he’s looking to make a quick turn around to finish out the year. Diaz has done his fair share of work to remain in the headlines during the whole Mayweather fiasco, showing up to see Mayweather before the big fight and even squabbling with Brendan Schaub backstage after the festivities.

There’s always a buzz around Diaz that keeps him in fight talks without him even stepping in the octagon. Whether or not you appreciate it as a spectator, it’s a skill he has used to his advantage as the traction for the third installment of McGregor vs. Diaz seems more and more likely by the day.

There are a few caveats to this matchup that make the likelihood of this fight being officially announced all the more distant. Just last week, Diaz’s boxing coach Richard Perez told the media it would take anywhere from 20 – 30 million on Diaz’ side for the trilogy to even be arranged. Given how stubborn the Diaz team was for the second negotiation, this might be the price the UFC has to pay to get another premium headliner.

As hard-headed as Diaz’ management can be, Dana White has also proven his propensity not to play ball when needed, and this might be another scenario where both parties just simply won’t see eye to eye until one lacks the leverage to maintain their position over the other.  With all the negotiation tactics at play, there is still much to speculate over when it comes to the future of McGregor’s fighting career. Regardless of the outcome, we can be sure to keep an eye out for all the developments to come.

  1. Who do you think is next for Conor McGregor?

    1. Nate Diaz
    2. Winner of Ferguson vs Lee
    3. Khabib Nurmagomedov
    4. Something else (leave a comment below)
    36 votes
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