Conor McGregor's Next Matchup Will Reveal Who's Running Things

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  Conor McGregor of Ireland finishes five rounds against Nate Diaz in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The next time you see Conor McGregor enter the famed Octagon, you'll know who's the boss before he ever throws a punch.

It will mark the end of a yearlong odyssey where he almost fought to become a two-weight world champion and then became a weird moonlighting welterweight. The next man up for McGregor—fistically famous after dueling Nate Diaz twice and beating his American opponent at UFC 202 in a close decision—will define Ireland's greatest export as a company man or the game's latest rebel.

There isn't any secret in saying McGregor has been on rocky terms with the UFC throughout 2016. He's been more vocal than the company likes its athletes to be, using his considerable clout to get things he wants and refusing to recede in silence when the promotion tried to undermine him.

There has never been a time when the biggest star in the game was so interested in getting his piece of the action, and it's caused more than a little friction.

Still, McGregor seems to have won most of the battles: He got his (mostly pointless) Diaz rematch after making a fortune to fight him the first time, he got to keep his featherweight title while others fought over a (totally pointless) interim belt and now he's just set the (not at all pointless) record for guaranteed money made in a UFC bout.

The only time he scored a loss outside the cage this year was when the promotion pulled him from UFC 200 for missing a (totally pointless) press conference, and even that might have been considered a win if you believe the event bombed without him.

Add up the points and pointlessness and you'd have to score McGregor's struggle with the UFC in his favor.

However, the main event of this ongoing saga is just around the corner. McGregor has, at least temporarily, completed the Diaz portion of his career and is about to move back into more sensible, more familiar territory somewhere in the realm of featherweight or lightweight.

He's the featherweight champion, Jose Aldo's silly paper title notwithstanding. He's also never shied away from his interest chasing a title at 155 pounds, as he was scheduled to do against Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 196 before injury scuttled the matchup and brought Diaz into his path.

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Nate Diaz in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

That means he could be heading to a date with Aldo to unify the featherweight belts, which seems to be UFC President Dana White's preference (via MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas). Either that, or he's jumping the queue to face lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez to do what he set out to before this whole Diaz mess arrived on his doorstep, which seems to be his preference.

Plenty exists to suggest McGregor is not that interested in going back to featherweight anytime soon—or at all.

To begin, he spent most of the year at a fighting weight of 168 pounds. His coach, John Kavanagh, doesn't like the notion of him fighting at 145, which he discussed in an interview on the Anik and Florian podcast (via Darragh Murphy of SportsJoe.ie).

Kavanagh said: "I would like to see Conor at 155 pounds. That's just me as his longtime trainer, and in some way like his big brother. I would be encouraging him to stick with 155 pounds, but that's just my small opinion."

He looks too much like Skeletor making that weight for anyone to feel comfortable.

If he's not keen to make that cut again, he'll push hard for a shot at Alvarez. Likely, knowing the money involved and the appeal of being the first man to simultaneously hold UFC gold in two classes, he'll push for that shot to come without vacating his 145-pound title.

But will the UFC let him make such a play? That's where it gets interesting.

If White is to be believed, it seems the promotion is tired of McGregor holding up an entire division for no good reason. The UFC seems to want him back at 145 in his next fight. White told ESPN "Conor has to defend his title or make a decision to give it up."

Thus, the two sides have arrived at a bizarre impasse where the early days of negotiating through the media have commenced before McGregor's swelling has even subsided from UFC 202. They're all looking to get rich the next time he enters the cage, but there will be a great deal of politicking and jockeying before something gets signed.

You'll know who won when McGregor's next fight is announced.

As the man himself told reporters after his win over Diaz: "The s--t is about to hit the fan."

         

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