Conor McGregor, the UFC’s biggest star since Georges St-Pierre, is back with a bang.
At UFC 246, he unceremoniously dispatched of long-time favourite Donald Cerrone, announcing his return to the sport’s biggest stage. The fight itself isn’t worth covering but the options available for the next fight are quite intriguing.
McGregor cut his teeth in the featherweight (66kg) and lightweight (70kg) divisions but has recently stepped into the welterweight (77kg) arena. Given his stardom and drawing power, there’s no shortage of people lining up to fight the man.
There’s a lot of noise around Khabib Nurmagomedov, the current lightweight champion. The proud Dagestani is undefeated and doesn’t look like losing any time soon. The catch is he dismantled McGregor in a heated title fight, taking him down and mauling him into submission.
As much as I like Conor, there’s no part of me that wants to see take two on that one – there’s very little chance of a return bout ending any other way. The other complicating factor is Khabib already has a fight that MMA purists have been itching for, against Tony Ferguson in April at UFC 249. McGregor has said he wants four fights this year so there’s no reason to wait for the outcome of that one.
Given the size Conor put on for the Cerrone fight, the division likely to offer the best match-up for the fans is welterweight. Cerrone himself was primarily a lightweight fighter so he’s on the smaller side when it comes to muscle mass and power. The rest of the division are bigger and stronger but let’s be real, Conor transcends weight divisions. When you have the pull he does, the established rules go out the window.
The two fights that the UFC should be looking at are Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal. Usman is the welterweight current champion, and the one we can thank for dispatching Colby Covington from the interim throne.
The issue here is that Conor would jump a long, long list of fighters to get a shot at the belt. He’s ranked 14th by the UFC and would leap ahead of Covington, Rafael Dos Anjos, Leon Edwards and others, which undermines the ranking system entirely. Admittedly, the UFC ranking list is flawed but if this fight were to happen, you may as well can the entire system.
My preferred fight here is Jorge “Street Jesus” Masvidal who is ranked third in the division. Both are strikers, hit like trucks and sell fights like no other. Masvidal has been waiting for an opponent, Conor is fresh as a daisy and both men are here to throw down. Beating the third-ranked fighter opens the door to Usman if Connor wants it and should Ferguson beat Khabib, multiple monster options are available to the UFC.
Let me take this opportunity to rule out boxing. Whether it’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, nobody wants to see this. Boxing fans know how this one ends, MMA fans learnt last time what happens when you put a good boxer against an all-time great boxer. Pacman does offer the promise of a large windfall of cash but for all that is holy, please don’t.
What is likely to decide this is how the UFC wants to manage their biggest star. For some time now, there has been a vacuum of superstars at their disposal. Ronda Rousey famously flamed out, Jon Jones can’t stop getting arrested and Daniel Cormier has the personality of a wet towel. The UFC cannot afford to mismanage this one.
For this reason alone, the Masvidal fight makes the most sense because it’s the most winnable of the above options. Mix in the inevitable stand-up war, future matchmaking options and potential for memorable finish and you’ve got yourself a surefire commercial success and a great fight for the fans.
Make it happen UFC, you need a UFC 250 Main Event and we need this fight. As Masvidal says, this is super necessary.