Conor McGregor has plenty of options for his Octagon return, but which is the correct one?
The short answer is pretty much anyone but Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, even if the UFC goes down this route, ‘The Notorious’ will at the very least have another blockbuster PPV to look forward to. In this case, the most dangerous path may also be the most lucrative one. The potential cost being history repeating itself. Should McGregor lose in emphatic fashion to Nurmagomedov again, he is unlikely to get a third crack at his rival anytime soon.
McGregor’s popularity has dwindled due to his discretions outside the cage, some of which, including punching an old man in a Dublin pub for reportedly refusing a glass of Proper 12, have been criminal in nature. Despite all this, he remains the biggest money fight in MMA.
McGregor has indicated that he wants to fight before the end of 2019. With that timeframe in mind, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje appear to be the frontrunners in the race to fight McGregor.
Diamond in the rough
Poirier’s ears perked up when McGregor tweeted a photo from their fight at UFC 178. On that occasion, the Irishman was victorious via first-round knockout. The 106-second demolition converted a lot of the doubters. If McGregor could beat a featherweight of Poirier’s calibre, he was worthy of a title shot. The performance earned him a title shot against 145 lb legend Jose Aldo, although he would have to defeat Dennis Siver and Chad Mendes before meeting Scarface.
After losing to McGregor, Poirier moved back up to lightweight. He vowed to never return to featherweight again. He went 9-1-1NC, picked up an interim title before his losing effort at unifying the belt against Nurmagomedov.
Although McGregor went onto become a UFC champ-champ, he has now found himself in the exact same position as Poirier – coming off a submission loss to Nurmagomedov and plotting his next move to get back into the title picture.
Maybe that is why ‘The Diamond’ is on his mind.
Justin Gaethje is singing a very different tune to the one he sang after his first-round annihilation of Donald Cerrone. In his Octagon interview, he made it clear that he only had eyes for that coveted golden strap next.
“The Irishman is retired. I want a real fighter… I want the Russian!”
After the adrenaline levels lowered and he probably deduced that Tony Ferguson was Nurmagomedov’s likely next challenge, he took aim at the ‘retired Irishman.’ Gaethje pulled no punches with the call out labelling McGregor a ‘tool’ and a ‘shit human, father and husband.’ The former WSOF lightweight king also unveiled a DM he sent to McGregor demanding a fight in the Lion’s Den.
Spoiled for choice
Both Poirier and Gaethje are tantalizing match-ups for McGregor at this point in his career. Although the circumstances would be very different for the rematch, he would feel confident fighting Poirier again after handily dispatching him in their first meeting. Especially considering he appeared to take up residency inside Poirier’s head with his mental warfare.
Poirier is also a much hotter commodity this time around. He is no longer a prospect on the rise – he is an elite fighter in MMA’s toughest division. His stock has clearly risen. His handling of the Nurmagomedov defeat has seen the charity-working family man add to his fanbase. This was made evident by his UFC 241 post-fight press conference greatly outperforming Nurmagomedov’s on YouTube.
But then there’s Gaethje. A fresh-faced challenger (figuratively speaking, Gaethje has been in some absolute wars) with arguably the most exciting style in the promotion. What’s terrifying is that ‘The Highlight’ has evolved his game to become a more complete, smarter fighter while maintaining his penchant for rendering opponents unconscious.
A less risky fight with Frankie Edgar or a welterweight clash against the winner of Nate Diaz vs Jorge Masvidal may be more appealing to McGregor and the UFC. However, if he wants to really add to his legacy and unequivocally prove that he belongs at the zenith of the division, Poirier and Gaethje are waiting.
Both are hungry, both will come for the finish, both will put on a show. Only one of them can get the next Red Panty Night. And, you know what, maybe neither of them will.