After Dustin Poirier surprisingly defeated Conor McGregor at UFC 257 on January 23, the already-tangled weight class became even more exposed to different possibilities. The race for the UFC lightweight title is as exciting as it gets.
Now, the UFC has a challenging yet pleasant issue to solve placed in its hands. At least seven fighters are directly involved in the drama, with arguably two other names on the periphery, if necessary.
Poirier is the best-ranked lightweight contender. He plausibly has some leverage to deal with the UFC and pick what he wants to do next. Although Poirier is the self-declared division's champion, the promotion is still considering capitalizing with a title fight. And that's the root of the problem.
It is challenging to find a suitable justification for the UFC to book Conor McGregor for the belt against Poirier. Of course, "The Notorious One" is a former lightweight titleholder and has defeated Poirier in the past. However, he has not won a bout at 155 lb since 2016.
It is undeniable that Conor McGregor versus Poirier III is the money fight to make right now, but it does not add up competition-wise. No. 2 in the lightweight ranking, Justin Gaethje is also coming from a loss and apparently will be retested before being lined up for another title shot. So why should Conor McGregor be given a chance?
The most legitimate contenders to be selected for the title fight are Michael Chandler - a former Bellator champion who had a very successful UFC debut against Dan Hooker at UFC 257 - and Charles Oliveira, who's on an eight-fight winning streak, including a dominant performance against Tony Ferguson.
A viable, risky solution would be for the UFC to proclaim Poirier the undisputed champion and make him defend the title against one of the other top contenders while scheduling Conor McGregor to have his trilogy fight with Nate Diaz.
However, if Poirier or Conor McGregor lost in their fights, the interest for their third meeting would fall drastically. This scenario makes Poirier versus Conor McGregor III without having the lightweight belt in the line an unfeasible choice.
What else is there to Conor McGregor if not the title fight?
Conor McGregor talked about how he wants competition in 2021. The Irishman acknowledged that he did not have enough time inside the octagon in the past few years and the lack of action made him rusty.
After losing to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, Conor McGregor asks for a trilogy fight with the American with the lightweight title on the line. But that does not seem to be a valid option at the moment.
"The Notorious One" has called for a third fight with Nate Diaz, returning to the 155 lb weight class. Conor McGregor has also praised and said he is open to fighting Tony Ferguson, a contender whose career is also currently in doubt.
Michael Chandler could be another potential opponent. At the same time that Chandler offers a good chance for Conor McGregor to prove himself against an excellent grappler, it can also worsen things as the American can prove to be a formidable opponent at this point.