Momentum is slowly growing for the return of UFC kingpin Conor McGregor to the octagon following more than a year away and with UFC 219 being suggested as a possibility for the Irishman, questions around who he might face are now being asked.
In the time he has been away, the landscape of the UFC has changed somewhat, most notably in the past week, where three new champions were crowned at UFC 217.
Before that thunderous event, Tony Ferguson rubber stamped his number one contender status in the lightweight ranks at UFC 216 and now has the Irishman firmly in his cross hairs.
Meanwhile, over in McGregor’s old 145 pound stomping ground, Max Holloway is the new king of the featherweight division, having emphatically defeated Jose Aldo back in June.
When McGregor does return to the arena that made him a star, fans will be eager to see if a year away from the hard knock life of MMA has dulled his desire to rule.
Before any promotional juggernaut can get underway, however, the small matter of an opponent must first be agreed.
As lightweight champion, fans want to see the Notorious one take on Tony Ferguson in what would be the Irishman’s first title defense.
While he himself has expressed a desire to unify the division, history tells us that when it comes to McGregor, it is best not to assume anything.
Following his decimation of the featherweight ranks and his toppling of Jose Aldo at UFC 194, the flamboyant Irishman has given us two incredible contests against Nate Diaz at welterweight, a lightweight destruction of Eddie Alvarez and a boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather.
What he does next is anyone’s guess but in a bid to shed some light on the road ahead, let’s explore the potential options on the table.
This is the fight that most fans would like to see. The American deserves his shot at the champion and McGregor would certainly silence any lingering critics, should he defend his belt.
Ferguson’s defeat of Kevin Lee last month saw him claim the interim-lightweight belt and with it the most credible claim to be McGregor’s next opponent.
Momentum appears to be growing for this match-up but until the contracts are signed, nothing is certain.
There is something so appealing about a third clash between two fighters that have split the previous results.
Diaz is the only man to have defeated McGregor in the octagon and while the Dubliner avenged his loss five months later, theirs is a story that just does not seem finished.
A financial goldmine, McGregor – Diaz III would bring in the pay-per-view buys. The only question is should the UFC put money before integrity.
The welterweight champions has been skirting the periphery of McGregor’s aura ever since the two had something of a ego-driven moment backstage at the weigh-ins at UFC 205.
With neither fighter making any real moves to secure a trip to the octagon and with both seemingly focused on other opponents, a Woodley-McGregor contest is one of the less likely match-ups that fans could be presented with when the lightweight champion returns.
The new featherweight champion has expressed an interest in having another crack at the last man to defeat the Hawaiian in the octagon.
McGregor took an unanimous decision victory over Holloway in the Irishman’s second UFC fight and following his departure to challenges news once he had conquered the 145lb ranks, the American scaled the ladder to the top.
Willing to move up to fight McGregor, Holloway provides an intriguing option for the Irishman’s return.
Georges St. Pierre
A super-fight between two two-weight champions of the UFC certainly would make it easy to promote and would almost surely generate generous pay-per-view sales.
Following St. Pierre’s successful return to action after four years of retirement, musings about a clash with McGregor suddenly hold more credibility than they did only one week ago.
Having defeated Michael Bisping for the middleweight title, St. Pierre now casts a long shadow in a division some 30 pounds above where McGregor resides.
Though the Irishman has fought at welterweight on two previous occasions and the Canadian ruled the 170lb division before his retirement, any talk of a match-up still reside closer to the world of fantasy than reality.
Whichever path Conor McGregor takes for his route back to the bright lights of the octagon, the hype surrounding his return will be immense all on its own.
A lightweight unification contest with Ferguson certainly makes the most sense to many but with massive interest in a Diaz trilogy, a GSP super-fight or some more weight-hopping adventures that could lead to Woodley or Holloway, we will just have to sit back and see what the Crumlin native has in store for us next.
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