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Joe Rogan says Conor McGregor needs a "tune-up" fight before Kamaru Usman - here are 5 potential opponents

Who should Conor McGregor fight upon his return to the octagon?
Who should Conor McGregor fight upon his return to the octagon?
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Anurag Mitra

UFC commentator Joe Rogan recently suggested that Conor McGregor consider taking a "tune-up" fight on his imminent return to the octagon instead of directly fighting Kamaru Usman for the UFC Welterweight Championship.

In his next fight, McGregor claimed he'd like to take on Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title. The Irish fighter is confident about beating Usman and is looking to become the first fighter in UFC history to win titles in three weight divisions.

Watch what McGregor had to say below:

Conor McGregor believes he should fight Kamaru Usman on his return to action. https://t.co/IfeSvhVMYs

Although he rates McGregor highly as a fighter, Rogan feels that the Irish star needs a warm-up fight to get his mojo back after the year-long lay-off.

Citing the example of McGregor's welterweight clash against Donald Cerrone in 2020, Rogan said that 'Notorius' should find a similar opponent for his next fight, someone who isn't at the peak of their prowess currently. According to Rogan, it will be difficult for McGregor to hang with the best fighters on the planet like Kamaru Usman immediately upon his expected return later this year.

During an appearance on the Hotboxin' with Mike Tyson podcast, Rogan said:

"If Conor wants the most chance of success, I would say fight a guy who is a little below championship level. Maybe a guy on the come-up, who Conor has an advantage over, but it’s still a competitive fight. Give him a test, but don’t put him in there right away with Usman...He should do whatever he wants to do, but if I was like a manager to him, and I said what’s the best path to success, the best path to success is like the ‘Cowboy’ fight. No disrespect to ‘Cowboy,’ but that fight turned out to be kind of like a warm-up fight."

Does Conor McGregor require a "tune-up" fight?

Kamaru Usman is arguably the greatest welterweight of all time and is currently on a 15-fight win streak inside the octagon. McGregor, who suffered back-to-back losses in 2021, has clearly suffered a dip in form. Coming back from a severe leg injury (broken tibia and fibula) might do the Irishman good if he pays heed to Rogan's suggestion.

If Conor McGregor can get back in the win column, he will gain the much-needed confidence and momentum required heading into a title fight against one of the most dangerous men in the UFC. Although the 'Notorious' Irish superstar can get an immediate title shot by virtue of his immense popularity and drawing power, it may do him a world of good to fight a comparatively easier opponent first.

Let's take a look at five potential opponents who could be the perfect "tune-up" fights for Conor McGregor's imminent octagon return.

#5. Nick Diaz

Will Conor McGregor end up fighting the elder Diaz brother?
Will Conor McGregor end up fighting the elder Diaz brother?

Nick Diaz is one of the most popular fighters in UFC history. Despite recent speculation surrounding his retirement, the elder Diaz brother is still in the USADA testing pool. According to his coach Cesar Gracie, the veteran fighter will step inside the cage by year-end.

Although he did look a little rusty on his cage return in the rematch with Robbie Lawler at UFC 266 last year, there were moments of brilliance when he displayed his prolific striking game. One must also consider that he was away from the sport for six long years.

Diaz could still hang with some of the best fighters around, given a proper training camp. Conor McGregor has been out for a year as well, and there's a chance that he may be rusty, so it makes sense for him to fight Nick Diaz next. Since he's a well-rounded fighter, Nick could prove a worthy challenge for McGregor before taking on title fights.

Another reason why a matchup between the pair could work out is that there's history between them. McGregor's rivalry with Nick's younger brother Nate is a part of UFC folklore. The pair have fought each other twice previously, and Diaz would like to get his hands on the Irishman for bragging about having beaten his younger sibling.

A fight between the two stars would undoubtedly sell pay-per-views like hotcakes and give McGregor the perfect opportunity to gain momentum.

#4. Rafael dos Anjos

Will Rafael dos Anjos and Conor McGregor reignite their rivalry?
Will Rafael dos Anjos and Conor McGregor reignite their rivalry?

Conor McGregor and Rafael dos Anjos were supposed to fight for the lightweight title at UFC 196 in 2016. However, the matchup never came to fruition after the Brazilian pulled out due to injury. Six years later, a potential clash between the pair makes a lot of sense.

There's no love lost between Rafael dos Anjos and Conor McGregor… 👀 https://t.co/PdAP2YVBgD

Neither McGregor nor dos Santos are at the top of their game. Although dos Santos won his last two fights inside the octagon, his stint at welterweight didn't pan out as he'd have hoped. If the pair meet at 170lbs, the Irishman's striking could be a problem for the Brazilian.

Usman is known for his grappling skills, and dos Anjos is known for his jiu-jitsu prowess. Although wrestling and jiu-jitsu are different styles, it would make sense for Conor McGregor to deal with a strong grappler before taking on Usman.

#3. Jorge Masvidal

Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal would be an absolute firefight between two of the best strikers in the UFC.
Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal would be an absolute firefight between two of the best strikers in the UFC.

Jorge Masvidal may be one of the best strikers in the welterweight division, but he is currently on a three-fight losing skid. If there was ever a perfect time for Conor McGregor to fight Masvidal, it's now. Usman managed to put Masvidal to sleep with a straight right during their rematch at UFC 261.

Conor McGregor vs Jorge Masvidal wouldn’t be a bad fight to make next https://t.co/uvT8uh8tGi

While McGregor may not generate as much power as 'The Nigerian Nightmare,' he certainly has the skillset to finish Masvidal on the feet. His bulked-up frame will also allow the Irishman to avoid being pushed around inside the cage.

A matchup between Jorge Masvidal and McGregor will likely be a striking slugfest, and the latter won't have to worry too much about getting taken down. In a stand-up exchange, with no disrespect to Masvidal, the man who went 10 rounds in a boxing match against the legendary Floyd Mayweather will probably outstrike 'Gamebred'.

#2. Tony Ferguson

Tony Ferguson vs. Conor McGregor is a matchup the fans would love to see.
Tony Ferguson vs. Conor McGregor is a matchup the fans would love to see.

Tony Ferguson was once one of the most feared fighters in the UFC lightweight division. However, since his brutal technical knockout loss to Justin Gaethje at UFC 249, 'El Cucuy' just hasn't been the same fighter. After three straight losses inside the octagon in fights where he was dominated, Ferguson seems to have his back against the wall at the moment.

He is currently slated to take on Michael Chandler next. If he loses, one would imagine the 38-year-old future Hall-of-Famer's days are numbered in the promotion. The promotion could consider booking him against Conor McGregor as long as he is around.

Fans would love to see them collide inside the octagon. Both McGregor and Ferguson are known for their outspoken nature, and the build-up to the fight would be incredible. Ferguson could also benefit from not going through a rigorous weight cut to make 155lbs if the fight takes place at 170lbs.

'El Cucuy' is known for his durability, but the beating he took at the hands of Gaethje is bound to have weakened his ability to take a hit. If your chin is vulnerable and you're going up against one of the best strikers in the game, there's only one possible outcome.

#1. Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor went to war at UFC 196 and UFC 202.
Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor went to war at UFC 196 and UFC 202.

Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz's rivalry will live on even after both fighters retire from the sport of MMA. With just one fight remaining on the Stockton native's current contract, the UFC could book a trilogy fight between the pair.

This rivalry may never end 👀 (via @TheNotoriousMMA, @NateDiaz209) https://t.co/mrAS3qYd3A

There's been speculation that the promotion was reluctant to book a matchup between Dustin Poirier and Nate Diaz because they want the Diaz-McGregor trilogy to be the 37-year-old's last fight inside the octagon.

It seems like the trilogy between Nate Diaz & Conor McGregor will be completed this year.There's a reason why the Dustin Poirier fight hasn't been made and is not trying to be made.There's one fight left on Nate's contract, and the UFC is going to make that fight count. https://t.co/DskiYwdBi6

Apart from the fact that the fight will make sense from a business perspective, there are other reasons why these two should fight. Firstly, the pair have one win over one another, and the rivalry needs to be settled. Secondly, a durable fighter like Diaz will test McGregor's ability to fight in the championship rounds.

Conor McGregor's last three fights haven't gone beyond two rounds, and it would be great for him to get some valuable minutes inside the cage against a veteran like Diaz. It would prepare the Irishman better for a potential war with the welterweight champion Usman down the line.

Edited by Phil Dillon
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