Conor McGregor will grace the octagon in a highly-anticipated encounter against Dustin Poirier in the headliner of UFC 257 on January 23. UFC 257 is the promotion's first pay-per-view of the year, and the outcome of the McGregor-Poirier rematch is likely to have massive implications on the title picture in the lightweight division.
Conor McGregor is one of the most bankable stars in the UFC, and most fighters across several divisions would go out of their way to book themselves a big-money fight against the Irishman. McGregor wanted to remain active and compete at least thrice inside the octagon in 2020. He started the year with a bang by picking up a 40-second victory over Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 last January.
It seemed like it wouldn't be long before we saw a motivated Conor McGregor get a few more fights under his belt and reaffirm his status as one of the best lightweights in UFC history. However, things didn't go as planned. The Coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe and fans weren't allowed to attend events anymore.
McGregor didn't fight again in 2020, and he had even announced his retirement. The Irishman later announced his decision to cut the retirement short and return to fight Poirier in January 2021. Now that the fight is almost upon us, let's look at five other fighters that Conor McGregor is likely to scrap with this year.
1) Nate Diaz
This one's never off the table. Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz is a matchmaker's dream. Both fighters are fan favourites across the globe, and the animosity between the pair shone through even before they entered the octagon back in 2016. Diaz and McGregor faced each other in a couple of thoroughly entertaining clashes at UFC 196 and UFC 202 respectively, picking up one win each.
Diaz shocked the world by submitting McGregor at UFC 196, but the Irishman came back strongly and picked up a decision win at UFC 202. Talks of a trilogy fight between the pair have hovered since they competed in a rematch at UFC 202. A high-profile clash between two of the most popular fighters in the fight game will surely draw many eyeballs and earn significant revenue for the promotion.
If both fighters agree to fight each other one last time for the ultimate bragging rights, it will be a treat for us fans to watch.
2) Jorge Masvidal
Jorge Masvidal has called out Conor McGregor in the past. Although the fans want to see a potential slugfest between two of the most violent knockout artists in the game, Dana White isn't interested in the booking. White said that he believes Masvidal is just "too much man" for the Irishman, and a fight between them makes no sense at it might not be competitive.
However, knowing Conor McGregor, one thing's for sure, the man fears nobody. He didn't take White's words too kindly. To prove a point, McGregor bulked up and took on Cerrone at welterweight last January. The Irishman decimated 'Cowboy', and Masvidal was present in the octagon, probably hoping that McGregor calls him out in the post-fight interview. However, Conor didn't name Masvidal but instead said he intends to run through the welterweight division as well.
If Conor McGregor indeed has title ambitions at welterweight, a fight against Masvidal could be the perfect way for him to grab the top fighters' attention in the division. Even in terms of business, both Masvidal and McGregor are brilliant trash-talkers who could sell this brawl to a priest.
3) Winner of Michael Chandler vs Dan Hooker
This entry is another exciting matchup for Conor McGregor that the bookmakers can look into following UFC 257. With Khabib Nurmagomedov retired and the title seemingly vacant, the winner of the Poirier-McGregor clash will be in pole position to fight for the title afterwards.
If Conor McGregor manages to win the fight, it will make sense for the UFC to pit him against the winner of the co-main event of UFC 257. Both Hooker and Chandler are exciting matchups for the Irishman and will be heading into the cage as fresh title contenders if the lightweight strap is on the line for the potential fight.
Dan Hooker is an 'in-your-face' stand-up guy. He has incredible durability combined with rock-solid hands, so it will be interesting to see how well he fares against one of the greatest strikers in the game. Michael Chandler vs Conor McGregor would be an intriguing stylistic matchup. Chandler is known for his wrestling while McGregor's stand-up is one of the most feared skillsets in the lightweight division.
4) Justin Gaethje
Conor McGregor vs Justin Gaethje will be a firefight. The fans would love nothing more than to see two of the greatest strikers in UFC history throw down inside the octagon.
Gaethje's went on a violent knockout win streak before succumbing to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 and Conor has only looked vulnerable inside the cage against the Russian. With Khabib now retired, it only makes sense for the UFC to book a fight between two of the best fighters at 155lbs. Gaethje and McGregor had heated verbal exchanges in the past. A matchup between the pair is sure to catch the fancy of fans worldwide.
Conor McGregor's knockout artistry is known to and appreciated by many people, but against a striker like Justin Gaethje, who can put people to sleep with one shot, he may be facing his equal.
5) Khabib Nurmagomedov
The ultimate rematch. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor is a matchup that has bad blood written all over it. A rivalry that began with McGregor throwing a dolly ay the bus that Khabib and other UFC fighters were traveling in. Such was the animosity between the pair that the Irishman flew over to the United States in his private jet to confront the Russian.
Ahead of the fight, Conor McGregor left no stone unturned to get under Khabib's skin. He took his famed trash talk to a darker level, attacking the undefeated Dagestani's friends, family, and religion. The build-up to the fight was intense, and it felt like the world was waiting with bated breath to see two of the greatest fighters in UFC lock horns inside the octagon. The matchup was promoted as 'the biggest fight in UFC history'.
When the cage doors closed behind them, Nurmagomedov dominated the Irishman and earned himself a submission win. However, that wasn't where the fighting finished. Immediately after securing the win, Khabib leapt over the cage and jumped onto Conor McGregor's teammates. Khabib's teammates entered the octagon and attempted to hit the former two-division champion.
McGregor announced that the war between him and Khabib would never be over. Two years have gone by since UFC 229 and Khabib Nurmagomedov is retired, but Dana White remains hopeful of bringing him back to the octagon one more time. He recently claimed that if Conor McGregor manages to get past Poirier at UFC 257 and Khabib agrees to fight again then the rematch will be the fight to make.
A rematch between Khabib and Conor will bring in revenue like no other matchup in the UFC. They are two of the most popular fighters on the planet and people want to see how a motivated Conor McGregor performs in the rematch. For Khabib, he will have the chance to establish his legacy as the greatest fighter in UFC history by pulling a double over the one fighter who took a round from him.
While it's unlikely that Khabib will return to fight Conor, it's also true that money talks and a matchup like this will surely earn massive paydays for both fighters. Fans are on board and so is Dana White but only time will tell if Conor McGregor manages to beat Poirier and Khabib agrees to return to the UFC.Published 05 Jan 2021, 01:53 IST