Conor McGregor can’t afford to look past his massive UFC featherweight title unification bout with Jose Aldo at UFC 194, on December 12th, but we can do it for him.
With a bunch of hungry, salivating beasts waiting for him on the other side of that contest, we can’t resist speculating about the future.
There are so many interesting fights, and serious challenges out there, whether he stays in the featherweight frying pan, or ventures forth into the lightweight fire.
So let’s examine the 5 fighters who pose the greatest danger to McGregor’s unblemished UFC record, should it remain intact following UFC 194…..
(Each of these fights are assumed to be 5 round affairs)
5. Frankie Edgar
Frankie Edgar has a great chance of landing a fight with McGregor in the near future. He is likely to be the stand-in should Aldo once again need to be replaced on short notice, and he is also scheduled to meet Chad Mendes, the night before UFC 194, in a fight that is a final eliminator in all but name.
In the last few days, UFC president Dana White has also suggested that Conor wants Edgar before moving on to lightweight.
Many feel that Frankie is “The Answer” to the McGregor question. His technically sound boxing, savvy movement, title-fight experience, and underrated wrestling could certainly cause problems for Conor.
The former UFC lightweight champion is also accustom to battling men who are much larger than he is, some of whom were even bigger than Conor, and has been successful in doing so.
Frankie has the tools and smarts to beat Conor, however, he would have to fight the perfect fight. Any mistake that he made in the striking battle would be brutally punished, and despite his impressive chin it would be hard to imagine the much smaller Edgar withstanding many shots from McGregor.
25 minutes is a long time to go without making a mistake.
4. TJ Dillashaw (at 145lbs)
Everyone from bantamweight to lightweight, and probably beyond, wants to get their hands on Conor McGregor. Dillashaw, however, will be the only bantam on this list.
Given that McGregor has a massive natural size advantage over pretty much everyone at featherweight, and probably quite a few lightweights, it would take an exceptional 135 pounder to pose any threat to him.
Dillashaw is exactly that.
Conor McGregor has dismissed the idea, forwarded by Urijah Faber a few weeks ago on UFC Tonight, that Dillashaw is a bad match-up for him. The Dubliner referred to TJ as “a little twerp” and claimed that he would “smoke his boots”, but I believe the bantamweight king has the tools to frustrate and potentially outpoint McGregor.
In some ways this is a similar style match-up to McGregor vs Edgar. Dillashaw and Frankie possess many of the same qualities, and both would have to minimize mistakes in order to pick up the win. However, TJ’s superior athleticism, and unpredictable style would give him a better chance of pulling off the upset.
The Team Alpha Male product blends a quality wrestling game, a trait shared by most of the fighters on this list, with a unique approach to stand-up.
Though he is much smaller than McGregor, the combination of Dillashaw’s blinding speed, high work-rate, and elusive “neo-footwork” could bamboozle the bigger, stronger man. His unpredictable movement would keep Conor guessing and off-balance. Not only would this allow him to remain competitive on the feet, but it would create opportunities for him to mix in well-timed takedowns.
Dillashaw’s biggest problem would be discouraging the aggression of McGregor when the fight is upright,
Conor has an iron chin, and while TJ has enough pop to keep fellow bantamweights on their toes, he doesn’t possess the power to even make McGregor blink. Without having to worry about what is coming in his direction, “The Notorious” would bring immense and constant pressure for the full duration. With Conor stalking him and landing long kicks to his body, TJ would have to be in sensational condition to stave off the stoppage for five rounds.
I could see Dillashaw getting out to an early lead, but McGregor would begin to slow him down and catch up to him as the fight wears on. TJ might have to go into full on survival mode at the death, but if he could hang on he might nick a decision.
Unfortunately, this fight is unlikely to happen. McGregor has made it crystal clear that an eventual move to lightweight is an inevitability for him, and it could happen sooner rather than later. That would put significant daylight between these two.
3. Joseph Duffy
The last man to beat Conor has to go on the list.
At the Go Big presser a few weeks ago, McGregor referred to his former conqueror as “a journeyman”, but it’s hard to imagine that he really believes this about the well-rounded Tristar fighter.
Duffy has looked fantastic so far in his admittedly short UFC career. The 27-year-old smoked Jake Lindsey in his promotional debut at UFC 185, and then showed some sublime submission skills to dispose of Ivan Jorge, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt without a tap-out loss to his name, at the recent Fight Night 72 card in Scotland.
Next, he faces his toughest test so far when he takes on former McGregor victim Dustin Poirier.
Duffy’s stand up is excellent, and much has been made of his 7-0 professional boxing ledger, but he poses the greatest risk to Conor where he beat him the first time – on the ground
Many will say that McGregor has improved incalculably since their first meeting and that basing a forecast for a rematch off of the evidence of the earlier encounter is ridiculous. While it is true that the Dubliner has come a long way since that 38 second defeat, Duffy showed in his last fight that he is a slick enough operator to work a submission on even a very high-level grappler.
And unfortunately for McGregor, he isn’t one.
Dillashaw and Edgar went on the list because I could see them frustrating Conor, and maybe scraping a close decision, but whether I would actually pick them to beat McGregor if push came to shove, I’m not sure.
Duffy is a different story. I would actually fancy “Irish Joe” to pick up his second submission victory over McGregor.
With Conor bound for 155, this intriguing all-Ireland rematch could certainly happen.
2. Rafael dos Anjos
The current lightweight champion, who will face Donald Cerrone on December 19th, is a real grinder, and a hard night’s work for anyone.
Many people wrote him off against “Showtime” Anthony Pettis, but he displayed all the facets of his well-rounded game in mauling and ultimately dethroning the champion.
The title victory was his 9th win in 10 fights.
Dos Anjos is one of those fighters who has very few weaknesses. His striking is solid, and he possesses good power. He has much better takedowns than most Brazilian fighters tend to display, and his BJJ black belt, as well as his 8 career wins via submission, attests to the quality of his overall grappling ability.
On top of these skills, RDA is a big, strong lightweight, who is extremely tough and has demonstrated a sturdy punch resistance.
You just get the feeling that when confronted with men of a similar size to him, that McGregor’s vaunted power and chin won’t be the X-factors they were at featherweight.
I think dos Anjos would impose his game and will upon Conor to secure a decision win, or perhaps a late submission.
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Any excuse to use that clip.
“The Eagle” has suffered a plague of injuries over the last year and a half, but he is back to wreak havoc on the 155lb class.
Nurmagomedov is scheduled to face Tony Ferguson on The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale in Las Vegas the night before McGregor’s showdown with Aldo. It will be the undefeated Russian’s first fight since April of 2014, when he secured a unanimous decision win over the number two fighter on this list, Rafael dos Anjos.
Khabib’s striking can be a bit wild and woolly at times, and Conor would have success in the stand-up exchanges. He does have a good chin and heavy hands, though, which means he would still remain a threat on the feet.
More importantly, Khabib has an utterly terrifying wrestling game, smothering top control, and immense endurance. In otherwords he is pure McGregor kryptonite.
At UFC 189 Conor McGregor finally faced the kind of wrestler that his doubters wanted to see him fight, and he overcame the challenge. Rather than eradicate the doubts, however, his performance, as impressive as it was in many respects, confirmed that he has some large holes in his grappling game.
With his explosive wrestling, and underrated submission skills, Khabib would make those holes seem like giant, cavernous craters.
Khabib via ground and pound induced stoppage would be the pick if these two were ever scheduled to collide.
Conspicuous by their absence….
A Donald Cerrone vs Conor McGregor fight would be a massive draw in light of their scintillating verbal exchanges at the Go Big presser and Cerrone’s continued attacks on McGregor since, but “Cowboy” doesn’t match-up well with “The Notorious” one.
Anthony Pettis showed that Cerrone is open and vulnerable to the body, when he stopped him with a roundhouse kick to the liver. Pettis also hurt Donald several times with similar strikes prior to the crushing shot that ended Cerrone’s night.
Conor goes downstairs like few men in MMA history, and I feel his commitment to these attacks would pay dividends against the Colorado native.
The aforementioned Anthony Pettis didn’t make the list either, and again it is because another fighter exposed flaws in his game that I believe Conor would exploit.
Rafael dos Anjos demonstrated that an aggressive fighter, who cuts the ring off in an educated fashion, and who mixes his attacks between body and head can stifle the characteristic creativity of the former lightweight title holder. He had little answer for dos Anjos’ stalking tactics, and therefore I believe he would struggle against Conor’s similar, but more refined striking game.
McGregor haters love to talk about Chad Mendes on a full camp, but I don’t feel like any version of the California native would complete the 5 round distance against Conor. A rematch under more ideal conditions would be very similar, to their first scrap. Sure Chad would score takedowns and have success inside Conor’s guard, but Conor would be inflicting all the damage on the feet.
I think Chad would last a bit longer with a lengthy preparation behind him, but he would eventually succumb to the accuracy and power of his tormentor for a second time.