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3 potential opponents for Conor McGregor following UFC 246

Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 14 Jan 2020, 17:06 IST

Conor McGregor returns to the UFC this weekend to face Donald
Conor McGregor returns to the UFC this weekend to face Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone

Conor McGregor is back; the Irish superstar makes his long-awaited return to the UFC this weekend, as he faces off with Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in a Welterweight bout in the main event of UFC 246, taking place from Las Vegas, Nevada. The last time we saw McGregor in the Octagon, he was firmly defeated by current UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 229, a show which ended up being the biggest-selling pay-per-view in promotional history.

The loss hasn’t seemed to cause a lack of interest in ‘The Notorious One’, though, and despite various legal issues since that fight, McGregor’s return this weekend is likely to draw a huge audience again.

After the Cerrone fight is all said and done, though, what’s next for the Irishman? Perhaps one of the following 3 fighters could face off with him next.

#1 Jorge Masvidal

A fight between Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor could be a box office smash
A fight between Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor could be a box office smash

While it’s arguable that Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya accomplished more, no other fighter saw their stock rise quite so much as Jorge Masvidal in 2019.

‘Gamebred’ returned from over a year away from the Octagon to knock out Darren Till, broke the UFC’s record for fastest knockout in his next fight with Ben Askren by turning the wrestler’s lights out in 5 seconds, and ended the year by becoming the UFC’s first ever ‘BMF’ champion with a win over Nate Diaz.

Masvidal could easily command a shot at Usman’s UFC Welterweight title next, but instead he’s been coy, and the likely reason for that is that he’s waiting for a possible fight with McGregor once the Irishman is done with Donald Cerrone this weekend. And win or lose against ‘Cowboy’, McGregor would be a great next fight for the Cuban-American star.

Firstly, nobody in the UFC can match the drawing power of ‘The Notorious One’, and a McGregor fight would almost certainly make Masvidal more money than a title fight with Usman would. And that isn’t discussing the fact that in reality, Usman is a horrible match for ‘Gamebred’, whereas the Irishman – a natural 155lber – would, on paper at least, be much more beatable.

Throw in the fact that Masvidal is also a natural on the mic – an abrasive, brash figure with the air of a hardened street fighter – and the trash talk between him and McGregor would be something to behold. This fight would no doubt draw hugely on pay-per-view, and that alone means it make sense for all parties.

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#2 Khabib Nurmagomedov (or Tony Ferguson)

Big money could be made if McGregor were to rematch Khabib Nurmagomedov
Big money could be made if McGregor were to rematch Khabib Nurmagomedov

While a fight between McGregor and Masvidal would undoubtedly draw well, the UFC knows that the really big money is probably in a rematch between the Irishman and the last man to beat him, current Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Despite the one-sided nature of their first fight, the infamous post-fight brawl that broke out at UFC 229 made the rivalry perhaps the most bitter in UFC history, and despite detractors suggesting McGregor should win multiple fights before another shot at the 155lbs crown, there’s a reason why UFC President Dana White has hinted that he’d be willing to make the match should ‘The Notorious One’ get past Donald Cerrone.

Of course, the big problem with booking the fight is that Nurmagomedov has what should be his toughest ever fight coming up in April against top contender Tony Ferguson. ‘El Cucuy’ has won a ludicrous 12 fights in a row in the UFC’s toughest weight class, and there’s every chance that he might dethrone ‘The Eagle’ when the two finally face off.

If that’s the case – and McGregor beats Cerrone – it’s very likely that the UFC would put a fight between Ferguson and ‘The Notorious One’ together – with the hope that McGregor would dethrone ‘El Cucuy’, giving the UFC a natural path to a McGregor/Nurmagomedov rematch.


#3 Nate Diaz

The trilogy fight between McGregor and Nate Diaz could make sense for later in 2020
The trilogy fight between McGregor and Nate Diaz could make sense for later in 2020

Should McGregor lose to Cerrone this weekend, then suddenly, his future options become a little slimmer. A title fight – either against the Nurmagomedov/Ferguson winner or even at Welterweight against Kamaru Usman – would instantly be out of the window, and Jorge Masvidal may even find him a less tempting fight given his current lofty status.

That’s why the one fight that would make sense for him would be a third meeting with Nate Diaz. The Irishman famously took on Stockton’s favourite son twice in 2016, with Diaz winning the first fight by submission, and McGregor coming out on top in a razor-close decision in the rematch. Both fights headlined shows that broke the UFC’s pay-per-view buyrate record at the time.

Plenty has happened since; McGregor has held and dropped the UFC Lightweight title, fought Floyd Mayweather in the boxing ring and then lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov, while Diaz sat on the shelf for 3 years before returning to defeat Anthony Pettis, only to fall to Jorge Masvidal last November.

So is there still money in a trilogy fight between the two rivals? Almost definitely. Any fight involving McGregor or Diaz instantly draws eyeballs, and you can almost guarantee that the two would be more than willing to snipe at one another on the microphone again.

Essentially, with a loss to Cerrone, ‘The Notorious One’ would, more than anything else, need a fight to make him relevant again – and Diaz would definitely be that fight. 

Published 14 Jan 2020, 17:06 IST
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