Former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor, who was suspended six months by the Nevada Athletic Commission for participating in the UFC 229 postfight brawl, can return to the Octagon in April. He recently took to Twitter to voice his support for potential opponents Cowboy Cerrone, Anderson Silva, Max Holloway, Nate Diaz and more.
Anderson is one crafty, crafty Martial Artist.
You only develop these methods through years of hard fought experience.
The crafty veteran. Big respect always.
It would be an honor!
– Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) February 10, 2019
Book it. I’ll fight Nate on it. https://t.co/ewh4aQ4E7A
– Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) February 10, 2019
For a fight like that Donald, I’ll fight you.
– Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) January 20, 2019
Which of these possible foes — or someone else — should “The Notorious” face when he fights next? ESPN’s MMA contributors — Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani, Jeff Wagenheim, Chamatkar Sandhu, Eric Tamiso, Phil Murphy and Andrew Davis — give their takes.
Okamoto: How good does it feel to see McGregor tweeting about fights instead of whiskey again? Good, right? Of course, until he actually signs a bout agreement, these call-outs don’t mean a lot — but still. It’s nice to see him expressing interest in his next fight.
Look, I’d be more than happy with a Holloway rematch or a Diaz trilogy. I’d be thrilled. But right now, I really like the Cowboy Cerrone fight, man. I do. The UFC’s biggest star against its all-time leader in wins. It feels fresh. UFC president Dana White recently said Cerrone “deserved” the McGregor fight, and I actually think that’s a fair way to put it. Cerrone has never been the type of fighter to ask for a specific opponent. He’s choosing to do so now, and I think he’s earned that right.
Helwani: There’s no right answer here. Do you want to see McGregor vs. Cerrone next? Of course you do. Do you want to see him rematch Holloway? Absolutely. Do you want to see the Diaz trilogy? Yup. The Anderson Silva fight doesn’t make much sense to me, but we’d all watch. You know this is true. McGregor once told me the fight game is all about “numbers and options.” He has both right now. Most important, though? A win. His next fight is an absolute must-win. No doubt about that. After all, we are getting close to three years without a win for McGregor. So if I were advising him, I’d take the most winnable fight next, get back on track and then proceed to watch the numbers and options continue to grow.
Wagenheim: Anyone but Holloway. I’m not as interested in weighing in on whom McGregor should fight as I am in opining on whom he shouldn’t. Conor is not currently in a position — coming off a loss, with no wins since 2016 — where he merits a title challenge at featherweight or in any other division. And I don’t think a non-title scrap with Max at lightweight makes sense, either, as the only fight at 155 pounds that the 145-pound champion should be allowed to chase (while keeping his belt) is a champ vs. champ clash.
Beyond that, whatever McGregor wants — Cowboy, Spider or Nate — is fine with me. Conor has proven himself to be as top-shelf as that famous brand of Irish whiskey he likes to ridicule. He doesn’t need any one of these guys in particular to help him build a legacy. A spectacular win over any of them — and let’s face it, every Conor victory has some majesty to it — would put him right back in position to challenge for a strap. Is that what he truly wants, though? McGregor’s cordial callouts of late suggest that he’s looking for fights that will keep the sport interesting for him.
Looking at it from that perspective, I guess I’d most favor putting Conor in the cage with Cerrone because that seems like a fight whose time has come. A matchup with Silva, by contrast, is beyond its sell-by date — it’d surely sell anyway, but matching a fighter in his prime against a guy who’s about to turn 44 years old might turn the stomach. And as for Nate III, that’ll always be sitting there in the back pocket. There’s no sell-by date on that one — those two can duke it out in a retirement home three decades from now and it’ll still do a big PPV number. So go ahead and hand the notorious Irishmnan a bolo tie and send him out to the dusty Wild West to see if he can lasso the guy in the cowboy hat.
Sandhu: There are a lot of fights that make sense for Conor McGregor right now, and to be quite honest, I’d be down for pretty much any of them. I just want the biggest star in our sport booked for a fight ASAP. We miss him.
That being said, the one that jumps off the page for me is Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Stylistically, on paper, this is a fun fight. You just know it’ll be action-packed. Cerrone is hot right now, coming off a fight-of-the-night win over Alex Hernandez, which kicked off the UFC on ESPN era and did gangbuster numbers. It was also his return to lightweight and he looked great. So much so that he got some props from McGregor on social media. That, as the kids would say, was the seed. Cerrone wants it, McGregor wants it. Here you have two of the biggest names in the sport and a fight that could headline a pay-per-view and do well over one million buys.
Cerrone doesn’t have too much time left in this sport and wants to put together a run to warrant a title shot. A win over McGregor would certainly go a long way in helping make that dream a reality. For McGregor, he needs a win in the Octagon and has the skillset to beat Cerrone. It would be a very even contest. It’s also a fresh matchup. Not a rematch with Holloway or Diaz. We’ve seen those fights and while I’d love to see the sequel and the trilogy respectively, it would be refreshing and I think quite fun to see what a McGregor vs. Cerrone buildup would look like.
Tamiso: Many times in combat sports after a superstar loses, or hasn’t fought in a while, their next match isn’t against the stiffest competition. When Mike Tyson was stunned by Buster Douglas, his comeback bout was against Henry Tillman. While being an Olympic gold medalist, Tillman wasn’t an elite pro and played a “contender” that lost to Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. After Anderson Silva rearranged Rich Franklin‘s nose for the first time, the former champ took on Jason MacDonald, who while being a super nice guy, went 6-8 in the UFC. For the first bout after Oscar De La Hoya’s first pro loss, he fought Derell Coley, who went on to compete at a Ramada Inn after being knocked out by “The Golden Boy.”
My point? Fight promoters often attempt to build a star’s momentum back up by putting them in a bout that can put them in the best possible light. It reminds fans of the come up years and they’ll think, “Hey, this guy can still fight” and potentially add more content to the highlight reel. At the very least, you want a fun fight, and a fun lead up to said fight.
McGregor’s next opponent should be Diaz. The trilogy fight was always going to happen from a business perspective, the rematch is the second biggest UFC PPV of all-time, so why not book it now? Diaz is 3-3 in his past six fights, and it’d be close to three years since their second fight. Don’t be scared.
Murphy: Conor’s next fight needs to make a lot of sense for both he and the UFC. It’s intuitive, but those benchmarks are particularly critical when the UFC’s biggest all-time star remains winless since November 2016.
While McGregor and featherweight champ Max Holloway both seem keen on building a functional super-fight — and I’d pony up $65 for that in heartbeat — now is not the time to diminish one of those two stars. There are two options for Conor this summer: capping the Nate Diaz trilogy or answering Cowboy’s call.
The former has inelastic demand; that fight could be staged in 2022 and get 1.5 million buys. The window to face Donald Cerrone seems like it would shut faster, so that’s where I lean.
Conor vs. Cowboy an promotional layup that doesn’t compromise Conor’s existing rivalries against either Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov. The renewed, black hat Cowboy, who was clearly motivated by the disrespect from Alex Hernandez, facing a man Notorious for disrespecting his opponent in pre-fight build-up is a stylistic dream that has justification within the lightweight hierarchy.
Davis: At this stage of his career, McGregor is a main-event fighter and he needs to fight in the main event. Regardless of whether an interim title is on the line or not, the fight I want to see is McGregor vs. “Cowboy” Cerrone. Cerrone is the UFC’s all-time leader in knockdowns with 18 and has 10 wins by knockout while McGregor has knockouts in 18 of his 21 wins. This fight is a dream for bringing old and new UFC fans to pay-per-view.
When McGregor fights, people want to watch. They want to see what he’ll do in the cage, but they also want to hear what he will say outside of it. If I’m the UFC and Team McGregor (and for that matter Team Cerrone), I keep the trash talk out of this fight and put the focus on the fact that these men are both new to fatherhood and are fighting for their families. These two fighters don’t need to sell this fight with their words; just grab some whiskey or beer and watch their highlight reels.