In the wake of a phenomenal showing against Donald Cowboy Cerrone at UFC 246, we weigh up Conor McGregor's options and work out who "The Notorious" is fighting next.
We knew it’d be quick, but we didn’t know it would be that quick. Since the fight was formally announced, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the UFC 246 main event bout between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone wouldn’t go the distance. Nevertheless, to see the former two-time champion standing tall after dispatching of Cowboy in such an efficient and decisive fashion was still a sight to behold. As he descended upon the T-Mobile Arena to the familiar strains of his Sinead O’Connor/Biggie mash-up, Conor’s steps towards the Octagon radiated an understated confidence. Gone was the billionaire walk and overbearing arrogance of the past. In its place, a disarming humbleness that masked the analytics that he was running in his brain.
UFC 246 - Steve Marcus/Getty Images
40 seconds after Herb Dean allowed the two to engage, Conor would pick up the W without absorbing a solitary strike. At upwards of 170 pounds, McGregor was imposing in both physical appearance and in the surgical dismantling of an MMA legend. Rocking the all-time leader in head-kick KO’s with his own signature move, the stoic Conor kept moving forward and fought with the ferocity of a man with a net worth of $200 rather than $200 million. A performance that arguably surpassed his finest hour against Eddie Alvarez, Conor didn’t simply emulate the dominance of the past, he actively innovated and added new dynamics to his repertoire. Upon catching Cerrone with a knee as he attempted to shoot for a takedown, McGregor weaponized the clinch in a way that took Jon Jones’ offensive use of the shoulder and morphed it into something far more devastating.
Returning after a year and a half without a hint of ring rust, all the tumult of the past few years suddenly melted away as the McGregor hype train had lurched back into life. Sharp, present and as tenacious as he was during his initial ascent, if this upward momentum continues, his dark period in the wilderness seems likely to be downgraded to a minor blip in an otherwise astounding career.
The Notorious will leave Las Vegas with his head held high and, more importantly, his plan to be incredibly active throughout 2020 completely unimpeded by any medical suspensions or a catastrophic loss. Propelled back to the status of the UFC’s biggest draw, both fans and pundits’ attentions now to turn to who’ll be standing across from him when he next makes the walk. As has been the case for much of his UFC tenure, Conor’s options now fall into two distinct camps-- the logical and the extravagant super-fights. Although he’s barely had time to decompress, he isn’t planning on any lengthy lay-off this time around.
UFC 246 - Steve Marcus/Getty Images
“I don’t think the ‘who’ matters,” McGregor said at a post-fjght press conference. “The who doesn’t matter for me. I’m looking at dates now. I know March was there. I’m going to have a look at a calendar and see where we’re at … I’ll be ready.” As the dust begins to settle on UFC 246, McGregor has proved to millions of people that he still possessed the talent and magnetism that made him a superstar. Not least of all to the UFC’s commander-in-chief, Dana White. Dana suggested that he isn’t that eager to see McGregor squaring off against a new adversary. Instead, he’d rather see him reignite his feud with an old one. Compared to classic boxing rivalries of old such as “Hagler, Hearns, Ali, Foreman, Ali, Frazier,” Dana hopes to facilitate a rematch between undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor.
"Going into the Khabib fight, Conor had a lot of personal stuff," White declared. "Some stuff self-inflicted, he had injuries. He has been obsessed with getting that rematch because he knows that he wasn't 100 per cent right. This is a massive fight with global appeal. Khabib versus Conor is the biggest fight in the sport's history." Considered to be one of the more volatile rivalries in MMA, there’s no doubt that the Dagestani Eagle and McGregor’s rematch could equal, if not surpass, the pay-per-view record that they’d previously set. However, White’s pre-emptive plan negates the possibility of Tony Ferguson exiting his UFC 249 bout against Nurmagomedov with the win.
Criminally underrated for much of his career, El Cucuy’s exclusion from the conversation mirrors the shunting of Justin Gaethje from the matchmaking conversation. A fearsome knockout artist that’s stationed at number 5 in the rankings, McGregor battling the Arizonian fighter could’ve made perfect sense but his lack of perceived drawing power seems to have kiboshed the bout. Even so, he threw his hat in the ring after UFC 246’s conclusion on Twitter. “That man is good. Bitch move to take that fight. Say my name.”
Ever the hotbed of controversy, Justin wasn’t the only fighter to air his grievances on social media. Where Gaethje’s lack of mainstream notoriety puts him at a disadvantage, it’s a problem that the 209’s Nate Diaz doesn’t have to contend with. Tied at one apiece, the straight-talking Stockton scrapper saw McGregor’s triumphant return as a little too storybook, declaring: “this shits all fake.”
Exciting as the prospect of the trilogy may be, the general consensus among fans is that rather than seeing these two square-off, Conor should fight the last man to best Nate in the octagon. Heralded as the “fighter of 2019,” Jorge Masvidal’s year of defying the odds culminated at Madison Square Garden when he won the newly-minted “BMF” title against Nate. Brought to the mainstream’s attention via his highlight reel finishes of Darren Till and Ben Askren, Florida’s “Gamebred Fighter” has amassed a huge groundswell of support among MMA fans and was in attendance at UFC 246. During his appearances on camera and brief interview with Megan Olivi on the PPV broadcast, it became clear that he wasn’t there as a passive observer.
Dressed in the same Versace robe that Conor had donned before his Floyd Mayweather bout, McGregor’s post-fight interview saw him refer to Jorge as “that fool in his bleeding housecoat.” As the potential opponents were listed off at the press conference, McGregor wasn’t quite done belittling Masvidal yet. “[The BMF Title is] not a great belt, but I’ll still take it. Add to my collection. It wasn’t a good night for Jorge if you ask me.”
Ridiculed but by no means ruled out, Jorge’s decision to lobby for the fight may have gained the ire of some, but he wasn’t the only representative of the 170-weight class in attendance. Sporting a thumb injury that stemmed from his five-round war with Colby Covington, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was also watching proceedings very closely. Kamaru’s Twitter was reportedly hacked, resulting in numerous profane comments about Conor’s wife being posted on his account.
The weigh-in at UFC 246 with Dana White - Steve Marcus/Getty Images
Yet while Dana frantically phoned Conor and asked him not to react, McGregor saw it as a transparent tactic to drum up animosity between the two. "I'd be sceptical of that," Conor remarked. "Because one came through early and it had all the hallmarks of that little fucking weasel, Ali. They give him control of the accounts…This has been going on for a while." Scarcely acknowledging the incident, an interview with BT Sport saw The Nigerian Nightmare in defiant spirits. "The right fight is anybody to be honest," he claimed. "I’m the champion. I’m the chase and I like being the one who goes out and silences all these guys. If it’s Conor, he can get it too."
Ready as the NCAA Division II wrestler and jiu-jistu black belt Kamaru claims to be, now that Conor has regained his momentum, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be booked in a fight that’d be a complete stylistic nightmare for the pedigreed striker.
Without hesitation, McGregor getting back in the win column compelled Floyd “Money” Mayweather to take to Instagram and post a freshly made graphic for a sequel to their 2017 boxing bout. A longtime admirer of the “sweet science,” Dana White was happy to announce that, in one way or other, The Money Team and the UFC are liaising with one another for 2020. "Floyd is in our plans, and we are in Floyd’s plans this year, and we’ll end up doing something." Yet for McGregor, the omission of one logo has led him to shift his focus from Mayweather to another boxing legend that expressed a desire to face him. "He forgot ‘McGregor Sports and Entertainment’ on the poster," McGregor said. "That right there cuts him out, so it’s me and Manny [Pacquiao]…. He’s far from retired, and that rematch will happen at some stage."
No matter where he heads from here, McGregor’s first bout of 2020 was proof of what he can do when he consolidates his efforts into fighting as opposed to spreading himself too thin. Eschewing the distractions that had derailed him in the past, McGregor seems eager to keep his options open so long as he gets to remain active.
However, should the UFC’s Dana White get his way, Kamaru Usman and Masvidal will abandon their campaigns for the McGregor bout and wage war for the welterweight strap, while Conor will step back into the Eagle’s Nest to attempt to dispossess Khabib of his lightweight title and end his prolific run as an undefeated phenom once and for all. Love him or hate him, you can’t say it’s not good to have The Notorious one back in the mix.