It may not go down well with fans. It probably would not even go down well with the man himself given his comments on the possibility in the past but Conor McGregor should vacate his featherweight title and focus on making lightweight his new home.
There are a number of reasons why this makes sense.
For starters, the weight cut to 145 pounds has left Conor McGregor looking incredibly gaunt in the past. Granted, it is widespread across the sport for fighters to look unhealthy on weigh-in day. However, his recent stint at 170lbs. is likely to make the cut even tougher than it has been in the past.
One can look at the recent example from the Olympics where Paddy Barnes, who had won medals at back-to-back games at 49kgs, was left looking sluggish and lethargic in his defeat to Samuel Carmona Heredia in their last-32 light-flyweight encounter.
Barnes has explained that he has found the weight tougher to make as he gets older.
At 29, Barnes is just a year older than Conor McGregor, so it could prove to be an issue. Further to the physical toil of dropping down to 145 again, there is also the danger that the Irishman may not feel the same requisite excitement, and even fear, to motivate him to get in the best possible shape. His recent comments after UFC 202 clearly articulate that he does not consider it the greatest potential challenge out there. He even went so far as to say that while watching Aldo defeat Frankie Edgar on points at UFC 200, that he wanted him to do it in a more convincing fashion.
In the Nate Diaz rematch, we saw a Conor McGregor who was hungrier and better than ever.
That was largely down to his defeat in the first encounter, and knowing that there was a very real chance of him losing again. McGregor amended his strategy of not preparing specifically for one opponent. He spent huge sums of money in order to make sure that no stone was left unturned. He dialed back his media commitments, and even his showboating during the walk-out to the octagon. As for the fight itself, he kept his ego in-check.
He did not rise to Diaz’s attempts to provoke him into a brawl, instead sticking to the game-plan of successive leg kicks and resetting away from Diaz whenever he got into cardio trouble. He did all of this because of the introspection he subjected himself to after the defeat at UFC 196.
Even then, in the midst of a defeat he remarked how he: ‘Enjoyed the fact that a person could take the shots and keep coming’.
This statement might seem perverse to the average person, but it demonstrates that although he enjoys the money and accompanying glitz and glamour that comes with it, fighting is still the thing he enjoys above all else.
At featherweight, he often finishes fights very quickly.
Against the biggest challenge of his career, McGregor rose to the occasion and was euphoric by the end, not only with the result, but also the magnitude of the fight that he had just been in. In a behind-the-scenes video after avenging his loss to Diaz, McGregor punches the air and exclaims jubilantly, ‘What a knock!‘.
Moments like these demonstrate what really excites him and what really brings the best out of him. A rematch with someone that he put to sleep with the first punch he landed is unlikely to spark that same fire within him.
It may well be that to continue to see Conor McGregor’s star burning brighter and brighter he needs to leave the stale featherweight division behind and challenge the best lightweights in the world, but more importantly, challenge himself.
Vincent Whelan, Pundit Arena