As Conor McGregor counts his pennies from the biggest payday of his career, Doug Mattushek explores what is next on the horizon for the UFC superstar.
The Irishman talked his way into the richest combat sports fight in history and while the fight lived up to some of the hype, quite frankly I’m relieved the Mayweather v McGregor circus has packed up its cash cows and promotion girls and closed up shop.
But what next for the UFC superstar? Does he ride off into the lesser-spotted Irish sunset with his millions? Or is it back to work?
For starters, there will be nothing happening soon. The Nevada State Athletic Commission issued McGregor a two-month medical suspension following his TKO loss.
Nonetheless, if McGregor post-fight press conference is anything to go by, he is going to fight again, so we look at his options…
FROM LEFT FIELD – Paulie Malignaggi
The retired boxer and McGregor had beef before Malignaggi even really knew about it. The American was quoted as saying “I’ll beat McGregor with one hand tied behind my back” in the lead up to the fight.
McGregor put that in his memory bank and months later, flew Malignaggi over as a sparring partner. Intentional or not, the relationship quickly soured after McGregor released photos of Malignaggi toppled over on the mat, photos that were later backed up by clips posted by UFC boss Dana White on social media.
A beat up Malignaggi returned stateside with his tail between his legs and started a war of words with McGregor, one that is yet to end.
Likelihood: While this would be a grudge match, sorry Paulie this isn’t happening, you’re a small fish. The UFC has bigger stars. In addition, one only had to see the look of relief on White’s face at the post-fight press conference to realise another boxing/UFC collaboration won’t happen again anytime soon, as long as he’s involved.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – Khabib Nurmagomedov
The undefeated Russian superstar has an immense following of diehard fans but has a rocky relationship with the UFC due to a string of withdrawals in high profile fights. Most notably, a recent botched weight cut saw Nurmagomedov hospitalised at the 11th hour before his interim lightweight championship bout with Tony Ferguson.
Nonetheless, McGregor told White as recently as June that he wants the UFC to cross the Atlantic and organise a Russian spectacle. From a brand perspective, the UFC would be exposing itself a whole new fan base in what has the potential to be an epic event.
Likelihood: Perhaps an option for the future, but not right now. UFC overlord White has had it with a flakey Nurmagomedov, who will surely have to get healthy and actually compete at least once more before White will consider him in a headline event. Three times bitten, twice shy.
THE LOGICAL CHOICE – Winner of Ferguson v Lee
None have been more irate about McGregor’s absence from the UFC than Tony Ferguson. The American was let down by Nurmagomedov – twice – and has not fought since November 2016. To put it bluntly, he is chomping at the bit. Ferguson’s upcoming interim lightweight title fight against Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in October will go a long way to quenching his thirst, but make no mistake: Ferguson wants McGregor in the octagon post haste.
The second ranked fighter in the official UFC lightweight rankings should dismantle a confident Lee quite easily and he will finally have a belt. Then all that will be left is fight against the champion.
Likelihood: Ferguson v McGregor for the lightweight belt is quite likely, but given the timing Ferguson’s next fight, it won’t happen this year, so it won’t be McGregor’s first port of call. I predict McGregor will feature in a December bout, which doesn’t give Ferguson enough recovery time. Which leads me to…
THE FAN FIGHT – Complete the Diaz Trilogy
While Nurmagomedov’s army is huge, the same could be said of the Diaz brothers fans. The enigmatic pair are stalwarts of MMA, having fought 66 fights between them.
Nate Diaz’s battles with McGregor at UFC 196 and UFC 202 were immensely popular, selling nearly 3 million pay per views combined. Not only were the fights popular, but they were immensely close, tough, brutal encounters. Their rematch saw both fighters leave the cage with bloodied and battered bodies. Love it or hate it, this is what many fans want.
Likelihood: When quizzed as to what’s next at the post-fight press conference, the first words out of McGregor’s mouth were “I’ve got a trilogy fight…”. While McGregor didn’t fully commit to it and mentioned other possibilities, it certainly counts that it was top of mind in that moment, no matter how much Notorious whisky he’d drunk.