Where is the pride of Ireland headed next?
Fresh off his defeat at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, UFC superstar Conor McGregor finds himself in a unique position.
Having shown the ability to transcend sports with his first foray into professional boxing, the Irish hotshot is now tasked with the laborious decision of where to take his talents next, a luxury few fighters are ever afforded. Should McGregor choose to again plunge himself into the deep waters of mixed martial arts, a legion of hungry challengers, faces old and new, will await a crack at the lightweight kingpin. In the boxing ring, a single opponent sits waiting for McGregor.
In the meantime, while McGregor meticulously plots his next move, let’s take a look at a handful of potential suitors for the UFC’s golden boy moving forward.
Perhaps the most likely adversary for McGregor’s return to the world of four-ounce gloves, a looming third contest opposite former foe Nate Diaz might also prove the most lucrative.
What might be more enticing for both men is a chance to settle the score. The pair infamously squared off twice before. The most recent of the two resulted in a hard-fought majority decision victory for McGregor, with both contests proving to be major pay-per-view successes. A trilogy fight, an option McGregor himself suggested at last week’s post-fight press conference, would provide ample motivation for each man to gain a competitive edge over one another. The fight would also put their heavily-publicized bad blood to rest once and for all.
The money certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.
Tony Ferguson/Kevin Lee winner at UFC 216
Fresh-faced challengers Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will compete for the interim lightweight championship at UFC 216, a prize pundits have deemed a consolation prize in the wake of McGregor’s extended absence from the sport. While neither man carries the sort of household name value McGregor might require of his next combatant, both would gleefully engage in the sort of verbal, pre-fight warfare McGregor’s outings have become known for.
Ferguson and Lee face a loaded task of unseating Diaz from his rightful claim to McGregor’s throne. However, with the right performance in Las Vegas on October 7th and a fearless challenge issued to the champion, perhaps ‘Mystic Mac’ could be swayed.
Lauded by many as a stylistic nightmare for McGregor inside the octagon, Nurmagomedov represents the kind of competitive challenge that might entice the Irishman. Though Nurmagomedov, much like Ferguson and Lee before him, remains somewhat of an unknown to casual audiences, McGregor must be licking his chops at the thought of dismantling the oft-injured Russian’s unblemished 24-0 professional record. That impressive record includes eight dazzling victories under the UFC banner.
It remains to be seen if McGregor would be willing to risk his place atop the pecking order opposite a wrestling-centric player in Nurmagomedov. If his skirmish with Mayweather taught us anything, it’s that if the money is right, the double champ doesn’t shy away from new challenges.
If winning two belts set the world on fire, imagine what three would do.
On paper, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley boasts the kind of top-heavy wrestling game and one-punch stopping power that should give McGregor problems. In practice, Woodley’s tendency to freeze like a deer in the headlights opposite crafty strikers capable of controlling the distance is troublesome at best. Perhaps McGregor will look to strike while the iron is hot.
A lofty challenge for the Dublin product, no doubt. With troubled favorite Jon Jones in hot water and former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey seemingly all but formally retired from the sport, however, a champion vs. champion super-fight in Woodley and McGregor might be the big ticket scuffle the UFC is looking for.
Should McGregor opt to dip his toes back into the boxing world, a clash with short-lived former sparring partner Paulie Malignaggi feels like a safe bet.
Following the abrupt release of closed door footage of McGregor trouncing Malignaggi in the ring, the former WBA welterweight titleholder turned analyst took matters into his own hands, publicly disparaging McGregor at every turn. Call it posturing by Malignaggi for a future showdown, if you will, but it’s hard to argue the backstory isn’t compelling enough to seize the attention of the masses.
It’s anyone’s guess if McGregor would grant Malignaggi the kind of payday he desires, perhaps believing the footage of the knockdown is enough to close the books on the matter, but as it always does, money talks.