Four months after a devastating leg injury against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264, Conor McGregor has begun his public campaign to line up his next opponent inside the Octagon. However, unlike previous efforts, this latest push has been broader in scope.
While injured in the cage in July, McGregor was pushing for a fourth fight against Poirier, who has since scheduled a title fight against Charles Oliveira. After poking fun at a move to welterweight several times over the years, McGregor insulted Jorge Masvidal. In recent weeks, when Max Holloway defeated Yair Rodríguez, McGregor posted a video on Twitter in which he walked from one side of his house to the other in front of his television screen, implying that he would like to face the former champion of UFC featherweight for the second time.
As long as he’s getting better, and looking at a comeback sometime in 2022, speculation will run rampant about McGregor’s next opponent until a contract is signed. And with so many notices scattered around, our panel of MMA experts, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, and Jeff Wagenheim, investigates which ideas make the most sense.
Okamoto: Gentlemen, I can’t tell you exactly when Conor McGregor will be healthy enough to return to the Octagon, but what I can tell you is that I could call every man, woman, and child on the list between now and then. Notorious has been active on social media lately.
Responding to the friendly offers of Michael Chandler. Walking into her living room in full view of Max Holloway. He continues to offer explanations about what happened against Dustin Poirier. Insulting Jorge Masvidal. Even Chael Sonnen got a little mad at McGregor. It seems like he wants to fight everyone. So the question we’re here to answer today is simple: Who should Jeff be?
Wagenheim: Well, I know we’re here to discuss which McGregor fight we want to see next, Brett, but what I look forward to the most, in an embarrassing way, is more of his inevitable social media posts on fight night. The recent video of him in his living room walking in front of his TV, shirtless, was comical, but more in a way of laughing at him than laughing with him. That’s kind of sad for a star who was once in charge of the sport and his destiny within it. But the man has become a caricature and a scoundrel, and I no longer find him interesting.
I know Conor’s acolytes will call me a hater for saying that, so I’ll just point out that there was a time not too long ago when I said that McGregor was as good as it gets at MMA. His fight was beautiful, a fluid and efficient assault on his opponents. His screaming and mental warfare were equally well directed. And if he did lose, he did it with grace and a stubborn determination to do better next time. But now? Chael Sonnen was actually being nice when he called Conor “a rich little weirdo.”
So yeah, I can gather some thoughts on a possible next fight with Conor. But Marc, why don’t you say your opinion first?
Raimondi: At this point, it’s harder to find a high-profile fighter who hasn’t been involved in a Twitter issue with McGregor in some way. Khamzat Chimaev is recent. And let’s not forget McGregor’s spikes that were pointed at our own colleague, retired Daniel Cormier.
Most of these names are not reasonable return opponents for McGregor. At least, let’s hope not. However, I will kick out a couple of people I’m interested in, whom McGregor has recently been linked to via calls on social media: Chandler and Tony Ferguson. I think both are viable opponents for McGregor upon his return. Personally, I would love to see McGregor against Ferguson because of the bad blood there, the history of both of them involved with Paradigm Sports Management and of course both men are in dire need of a win.
Chandler needs a win too, though despite two consecutive losses, his UFC signing cannot be seen as anything other than a success. The guy is instant action and came within a few strokes here and there of being the UFC lightweight champion and 3-0 in promotion.
Okamoto: Raimondi has good taste in McGregor’s comeback fights. Chandler would be my first choice. He was an eye-catching free agent signing, and his shares have only gone up so much since then, even though his record is 1-2. That fight makes sense.
Ferguson? Yeah, but I don’t see any chance of McGregor taking the fight, so it’s hard for me to even imagine it.
The trilogy with Nate Diaz is always, always, always there, and if that ends up happening, I don’t think anyone will complain (although Diaz doesn’t want to wait, and if he wants to fight sooner, the UFC should work with him to find a fight that makes sense. ).
Max Holloway would be great, but I think Chandler makes the most sense. Holloway is the number one contender at featherweight. McGregor doesn’t deserve to fight No. 1 in any division. The fact that he is still within the top 10 of the UFC lightweight rankings is mind-boggling. If we land in Holloway vs. McGregor 2, I would personally love to, but I doubt it will happen.
Wagenheim: The names they both pulled make a lot of sense to me, because they satisfy my number one criterion: that McGregor doesn’t deserve to face someone who wears a championship belt or is within reach of one in a cage right now. That may seem like a no-brainer, given he’s 1-3 since 2016. But the UFC has at times displayed a twisted philosophy when booking title fights: If it makes dollars, it makes sense. And Conor is the highest earner of all.
But while belts obviously do matter to McGregor, they are not essential for his fights to be bigger than big. So yeah, put him in the cage with any of those guys: Chandler, Ferguson, Diaz, Holloway, and it’s a great night for everyone involved. I know we’ve been talking lightweights here, but what about underdog Leon Edwards-Jorge Masvidal, assuming that fight, which was called off after Masvidal’s injury, is rescheduled? Anyone interested in that one at 170 pounds?
Raimondi: I said a long time ago that I wouldn’t mind seeing McGregor versus Masvidal in a battle of two of the greatest exponents in the UFC. But the time is not right. Plus, we don’t even know if Masvidal will fight Edwards next. I have a suspicion that they will give up on that fight, give Edwards a title shot against Kamaru Usman and finally do the Masvidal vs. Colby Covington fight.
I don’t think McGregor should be in the title image at this stage. But surely he and his team will go to great lengths to fight Dustin Poirier if Poirier becomes champion by beating Charles Oliveira at UFC 269 on December 11.
Brett, you mentioned the McGregor vs. Diaz. Do you think the UFC does everything it can to make that happen as soon as possible in the event Diaz leaves as a free agent?
Okamoto: If it does. It’s no secret that Diaz has one fight left on his contract. If you’re the UFC, you obviously want to maximize the value of that final fight, and there is no other fight for Diaz as valuable to the company as the trilogy with McGregor. So that’s for the UFC and Diaz to take notice. I understand that the UFC wants to maximize that final fight, but I also understand that Diaz doesn’t want to be held hostage to McGregor’s timeline. We’ll see what happens.
It’s hard to find the perfect answer for McGregor’s next opponent, because we don’t really have a clear idea of when he will return. Right now, Chandler makes the most sense to me. In a few months, if Diaz hasn’t fought yet, I guess I’ll say it makes more sense. Or Holloway, if he were to beat Volkanovski to regain his title and then express his desire for promotion.
But I’ll tell you who won’t make sense. DUSTIN POIRIER! Can we finish that now? I got over it. And if Poirier has the lightweight belt by the time McGregor returns, then I really am over it.
Wagenheim: I like the way you think, Brett. Let’s not just focus on who McGregor should be paired with; Let’s also clarify who shouldn’t be in a cage with. No more Poirier-McGregor! Stop!
Now, you guys are much more connected to the machinations of the UFC on a day-to-day basis than I am, so I will refer you both in any conversation about what is most likely to happen. But where I feel comfortable weighing is in which fights they are the most appropriate. And I usually agree with the two that Diaz and Chandler would be the right matchups.
I guess I’m leaning towards Nate because he’s pure entertainment, guaranteed to produce a massive profit, and in terms of fighters’ places in the lightweight division hierarchy, he’s totally out of left field. If the UFC wants me to stop laughing at Conor’s embarrassing fight night social media posts, they should give him something else to do, like completing that trilogy with Diaz.
Raimondi: I don’t think we’ll find anyone who doesn’t want that third showdown with Diaz, and I totally agree with Brett that the UFC will try to make that happen next year. My question is, what happens if Diaz wins and then leaves? That would be a disaster for the UFC. After a win over McGregor, Diaz would be a massive name in the mainstream, and he could make money elsewhere. It is very risky.
Brett, is there a way for the UFC higher ups to mitigate that? Or do you think they’ll be willing to roll the dice for perhaps the most lucrative fight in promo history?
Okamoto: If the UFC has no hope of re-signing Diaz and has only one fight left, it has to do the trilogy. It is worth too much money. And by not doing it in the final Diaz deal fight, you also risk the trilogy happening someday outside of the UFC, which is a bigger risk than sending Diaz to the free market as a superstar (which he already is). .
It will definitely be interesting to see what happens. Meanwhile, Marc, I think McGregor just challenged you.