We are now just 8 days from UFC 205, an event that will serve as a monumental night for the sport as a whole. Not only does it mark the first UFC show in New York state since UFC 7, but it could also see the organization’s first two-division world champion crowned, as featherweight champion Conor McGregor looks to make his own piece of history by stealing the lightweight belt away from Eddie Alvarez.
Despite the difficult task that lies in front of him, it’s still no harm to wonder on the next move of the Notorious One should his mission prove successful. He seemingly has no shortage of willing opponents with or without his belt but if he does indeed end up atop both the 145lb and 155lb expect the target on the Irishman’s back to only grow in size.
I’m going to put forward a few suggestions for his next opponent along with numerical score based on how realistic a meeting between the pair would be, all with the assumption being made that McGregor successfully overcame the challenge of Eddie Alvarez.
The Winner Of Khabib Nurmagomedov/Michael Johnson
I feel like it has been clear for some time who the number one contender in the lightweight division is. Khabib Nurmagomedov after 7 bouts in the UFC still boasts a perfect 23-0 record. He holds a decisive and dominant win over the former champion Rafael dos Anjos and despite his trouble with injury in recent times is still the best 155lb fighter on the planet in the eyes of many.
In Michael Johnson, you have a combatant who many had discounted after his back-to-back losses to Beneil Dariush and Nate Diaz but what you must remember is that this guy holds wins over Edson Barboza, Tony Ferguson and most recently a comprehensive 1st round KO over top prospect Dustin Poirier. Michael Johnson possesses some of the quickest hand speed in the division and despite the odds being stacked against him, is certainly no pushover.
A fight with either for McGregor might not seem to be the most tantalising prospect for him, Johnson holds virtually no star power right now and Khabib is possibly the worst matchup in the division, not just for Conor but for anyone. If Khabib does what many are expecting of him and gets the win, he should be considered the number one contender and if McGregor does indeed hold the belt, I see this as the option the UFC will be pushing onto their new champion.
The Winner Of Max Holloway/Anthony Pettis
This would be a fun fight! The idea to pit these two exciting strikers against one another was a stroke of genius on the part of the UFC and whomsoever comes out victorious will put themselves in a strong position to get a shot at the title.
Let’s say for a moment that Conor does indeed decide to defend his featherweight belt. On one hand, you have a potential tussle with exhilarating striker Anthony Pettis. This bout would market itself. Two electric strikers, a former lightweight champion, the featherweight belt up for grabs! There would be virtually no fear of McGregor employing the same tactic that the likes of Clay Guida and Eddie Alvarez used to nullify Showtime so an exciting standup battle would be inevitable.
On the other hand, you have an equally marketable rematch with Max Holloway. When McGregor faced Max the first time around, he was a much younger man than he is now. Conor’s torn ACL midway through the bout sapped the energy from his performance but since then Holloway has won a highly-impressive 9 bouts in a row, with that number possibly growing to 10 should he defeat Pettis. It would be a vicious contest and one that fight fans would be clamouring to see.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel like McGregor sees much for him in the featherweight division anymore. It’s no secret that the weight cut he undergoes is tough and should he grasp the lightweight belt out of the hands of Alvarez, do not expect to see him at 145lbs in the near future.
The Winner Of Rafael dos Anjos/Tony Ferguson
The landscape of pretty much the entire UFC could have looked very different from the one we have now if the former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos had not pulled out of his scheduled super-fight with Conor McGregor last March.
RDA cited a bruised foot as his reason for dropping out of the UFC 196 matchup. His replacement, Nate Diaz would go on to shock the world by submitting McGregor, setting in motion a rollercoaster of events that would shake the MMA world to its very core in every possible way.
Tony Ferguson possesses some of the most dynamic striking in the UFC and his tricky submission game has seen him catapult himself right into title contention in recent times. He truly is one of my favourite fighters on the roster but in RDA he faces a man who – before his loss to Eddie Alvarez – was creeping into the ‘greatest 155lb-r of all time’ discussion.
From Conor’s perspective, a matchup with either of these two would not only sell better than a bout with Johnson or Khabib, but stylistically I feel both of these guys offer a more winnable match for McGregor than Nurmagomedov would. In saying that though I do feel the winner of this contest will have to wait in line because to deny Khabib once more would be nothing short of disgraceful, should he get the victory at UFC 205.
There’s a certain inevitability about the trilogy fight between this pair. In the past few days Nate’s teammate Gilbert Melendez claimed that no matter what the outcome of the monumental bout next Saturday, Nate would face the winner.
Whether or not there is any truth or substance to this remains to be seen but after two consecutive McGregor/Diaz bouts, I feel like a break from that fixture would do wonders. As unlikely as it is to happen I would love to see Nate step into the octagon and face someone else first, generate a bit of buzz and then maybe throw in an expletive-laden call out or two to whet the appetites of the fight fans.
To hold McGregor/Diaz 3 directly after UFC 205 would maybe dilute some of the excitement for that matchup, even if the two bouts so far have been among the most entertaining the sport’s history. If it were me in charge I’d urge Nate to take on someone else, get a win and then take it from there. The idea of Nate waiting on the sidelines for his next payday (while understandable) isn’t adding to the anticipation for his final meeting with McGregor.
It’s a terrible thing that UFC legend Jose Aldo’s stock has dropped so dramatically in recent times. In the space of 13 seconds, the world seemed to forget all of the masterful performances the Brazilian has put on consistently throughout the course of his long career.
You can understand McGregor’s perspective on this, though. A whole year was needed to build up their first meeting due to Jose’s late injury and pull out of their scheduled bout at UFC 189. For all the time and money put into promoting this matchup, the entire thing boiled down to a one-punch knockout.
It may not be fair and it may be completely disrespectful on the part of the UFC but the vast majority of fight-fans don’t want to see this bout again, which in modern-day MMA has a huge bearing on how things are handled.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena