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If Not Cowboy Then Who?: A Look At Conor McGregor’s Return

Conor McGregor has made it clear that he plans on making his return to the UFC octagon in July, but as of right now, the identity of his opponent remains completely uncertain.

If you ask me, I don’t feel as though there’s any reason not to believe the Irishman when he says he’s looking for a fight.

Whether he can come to an agreement with the UFC on terms is another question entirely.

Speaking during a recent Q&A event in Boston, Conor explained that he is angling towards a return in July – which would most likely put in the running for a spot on International Fight Week’s UFC 239.

“We’re currently in negotiations. We’re aiming for July. We’ll see what happens. I’m staying ready.

“I’m ready to fight, I’ve said that. No problem.

“If the UFC wants me to slide into that co-main event slot and help, what that is, if I slide into the co-main event it’s boosting their brand over fighter rhetoric that they have. There’s no problem with that.

“If they want me to push that and I have no problem pushing that, give me my rightful shares in the UFC company. That’s all I ask. You can put me on the first fight of ESPN+ but just give me my shares. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Both sides are stubborn negotiators, though, and now, given Conor’s increasing pull within the sport – who knows how difficult it will be to come to an agreement.

McGregor made it clear that he is still very much believes himself to be deserving of shares in the company – a term he used as the only way that he would ever fight in a co-main event slot.

He doesn’t exactly need to compete again and yet he returned from a two-year lay-off to fight the most feared lightweight of all-time.

Say what you want about the man and his persona, but that takes balls.

So if we’re to take his word on it and assume that he plans to fight again this year – with a particularly close eye on July – here are his options.

Some of these may seem outlandish but I’m going to try and hit every name I can.

There are nine names below. Some are pretty likely, some are far-fetched, but either way, I do not believe that he will fight anyone outside of these nine guys in 2019.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts:

Tony Ferguson

Ferguson’s well-documented troubles outside of the octagon may well keep him out of action for the entire year. To be honest, I would be very surprised to see him compete at all in 2019 – but as he has shown in the past, his determination and ability to beat the odds is incredible.

Even in that case, though, I don’t see it leading to a fight with Conor any time soon.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 2.5/10

Donald Cerrone

Sure, he might have already signed to take on Al Iaquinta on May 4, but if you know anything about Cowboy and his hectic fight-schedule, the two-month turnaround for UFC 239 isn’t anything too extreme.

With that being said, in my eyes, the most likely route to a McGregor/Cerrone matchup would come from Conor and the UFC failing to negotiate a fight for July – something that would allow a more suitable timeframe for Donald to return – provided he beats Iaquinta.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 6.5/10

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20: Donald Cerrone celebrates after defeating Rick Story in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Dustin Poirier

Poirier could well put his name right into this mix if he can definitively defeat Max Holloway in their interim-lightweight title rematch next month. A fight with Conor will be a harder sell, though, than rematch featured Holloway and McGregor.

Max wasn’t dispatched in a minute-and-a-half by the Irishman as Poirer was and while a lot of us know better than to judge things like that, in the eyes of the casual fan – the overwhelming market majority in play – Conor’s first win over Dustin is quite significant. However, if Poirier absolutely runs through Max, do not rule this one out.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 5.5/10

Georges St-Pierre

GSP never used the word ‘retirement’ when he first walked away from the sport after narrowly defeating Johny Hendricks in 2013. This time, he used the word in stating that his time as a mixed martial artist was through. Do I believe he means it right now? Yes. Do I think he would return for a fight with Conor? Absolutely. Do I see it happening in 2019 though? Not really.

It would be a huge fight, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t see how things would spark off this year between McGregor and the mild-mannered Canadian. If Georges really wanted this fight, retiring from the sport wasn’t the best first step in getting it.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 3/10

José Aldo

If Poirier would be a tough sell to the casuals, a rematch with Aldo would be damn near impossible. José was very nearly omitted from this list for that reason but given his devastating run of form of late and his plan to retire after two more fights in Brazil – the first of which being a clash with Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 236, we might as well include him as a far-off possibility. But that’s really it.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 1.5/10

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Call me crazy, but I believe that the uncertainty over the future of Tony Ferguson will see Khabib rematch McGregor in either his next fight or the fight after it – provided that Conor can win his next bout. The lightweight champ claims that he will not return until November – so for the purpose of this point, let’s say that’s the case.

I think Khabib’s options will be limited to the winner of Poirier/Holloway, a rematch with McGregor, or the winner of Conor’s next fight. He’ll want a huge name and a money fight after declaring his intention to retire on top. I think the timeline followed by Poirier and Holloway can allow Conor’s next fight to be pushed back slightly if the winner makes a case for themselves. We could well see Holloway/Poirier vs. McGregor II in autumn and Conor, if he is successful in beating Max/Dustin, calling for a shot at Nurmagomedov in the winter.

It was the highest-selling UFC PPV of all-time by a margin of around 800k buys, if Conor can recapture his momentum with a win, a rematch would more than likely be even bigger.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 6.5/10

Nate Diaz

If you ask me, this is the fight to make. Long overdue, yes, but there are many factors that make it perfect. It would do huge numbers, it’s a stylistically superb pairing and it won’t hold up any of the UFC’s active divisions. It’s the best fight available for both guys right now but unfortunately, Conor and, in particular, Nate’s stubbornness at the negotiating table may hold this one up indefinitely.

Still, though, I think it could happen. Maybe not in July, but then again, you never know. Diaz is apparently in the gym frequently according to his teammate Gilbert Melendez – which is more than he could say for Nick.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 7.5/10

Al Iaquinta

Another long-shot here, to be honest. Again, I included ‘Ragin’ Al for the simple reason that he deserves to be in the discussion, but in a time where the Irishman can fight only in mega-fights, even a massive win from Iaquinta in his UFC Ottawa showdown with Donald Cerrone won’t be enough to see him garner enough attention for Conor’s liking this year.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 2/10

iaquinta mcgregor

Max Holloway

Here’s another solid pick that already has its path set in motion. Again, if we’re to assume that Conor’s estimation of fighting in July could be pushed back due to problems at the negotiation table – fighting the winner of Max Holloway’s rematch with Dustin Poirier could be the perfect title-eliminator to figure out a top-contender to Khabib’s throne upon his return.

Of course, Holloway needs to overcome Poirier first of all, but if he does, there is more than enough of a narrative already in play to see this one become a reality before the year is out.

Likelihood to face McGregor in 2019: 7.5/10

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at [email protected]