Guessing the Odds on Conor McGregor's Next Opponent

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2017

Guessing the Odds on Conor McGregor's Next Opponent

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Conor McGregor is a fighter.

    He isn't for everyone, what with the flash and pizzazz that has come along with his blistering rise to the top of combat sports, but that much is tried and true.

    He is a fighter. Down to his core, he will fight until there are no more fights to be fought.

    That's why, despite concerns that emerged around the time he became unimaginably rich for boxing Floyd Mayweather Jr., McGregor will fight again.

    He became famous for fighting, and he's good at it. And no number of fashion lines, Vegas residencies or perhaps-a-little-too-soon career retrospective documentaries are going to change that. McGregor is a fighter first and everything else after.

    That's why the rumblings have already started, and all that's left is the who, what, when, where and why of finding an opponent. In the fight gameor at least when it comes to a person packing the Irishman's star powerthose are more or less formalities.

    Even so, given McGregor's penchant for the outlandish, the answer to all five is "who knows?" He could fight in any one of three weight classes, for any one of three UFC titles, against any number of UFC opponents—and all of that proceeds on the notion he'll fight in the UFC at all, which is not a certainty.

    With that in mind, here are some suggestions on the chances of seeing certain guys across the cage from MMA's (boxing's?) biggest star when he decides to glove up again.

Georges St-Pierre

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    This one is a long shot. In fact, it borders on folly even to suggest it as a possibility. Yet here we are, pondering it just in case. 

    McGregor is a 145- and 155-pound UFC champion who moonlighted as a welterweight almost accidentally, while St-Pierre is a retired welterweight great returning to MMA as a middleweight, and he's already said he isn't keen to fight McGregor.

    Doesn't look great, does it?

    But since the UFC is owned by Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG), why would anyone summarily dismiss such a fight as being too silly to book? After all, CM Punk is back in training for his triumphant return, and there's nothing sillier than that.

    A fight between McGregor and GSP would be the first time in MMA history where two generational draws would come together. It would be akin to Brock Lesnar fighting Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz fighting Ronda Rousey—the sheer magnitude of the star power would be irresistible, as two names who carried an era in their sport would meet to see who is the best.

    A lot would need to happen to book it, which is what makes it a long shot, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility. McGregor likely would need to refuse to fight before mid-2018, and St-Pierre may need to lose against Michael Bisping in November but insist on continuing his career—which he told the MMA Hour he wouldn't do (via Shaun Al-Shatti of MMA Fighting).

    The odds of this bout materializing aren't great, but they are worth establishing just in case.

    Odds on McGregor vs. St-Pierre: 1,000-1

Max Holloway

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    The only man to survive a full fight with McGregor during his notorious rampage through the UFC ranks, Max Holloway emerged from that loss to become a champion himself. The Hawaiian has won 11 contests in a row since dropping that 2013 meeting of top featherweight prospects, and he's the only man other than McGregor to beat Jose Aldo in the past decade.

    With the taste of that loss to McGregor having never left him and having come into his own as a great young champion, he wants his crack at revenge, as he told FloCombat (h/t Tim Burke of Bloody Elbow). He even would be willing to come up to lightweight to make it happen.

    While he has a meeting with Frankie Edgar already on his plate for UFC 218, he does appear to have a match in timelines for a bout with McGregor. During a recent talk in Scotland, McGregor was both complimentary of Holloway and not entirely dismissive of a potential meeting with him down the road (h/t Nick Strickland of Fansided), which always helps given the clout the lightweight champion has in making his fights.

    The fight itself would be an intriguing battle, as both men have realized their potential (maybe even exceeded it) since that first fight, and both bring fun, exciting styles to the cage. There's also Holloway's willingness to engage a foe in some banter outside of the fight. And while he lacks McGregor's wit or capacity for mind games, he wouldn't be psyched out by them, either.

    The big knock here is the number of other guys ahead of Holloway, who also happens to fight in a different weight class. He also has the obligations associated with being a champion, at least for now.

    You might see McGregor-Holloway II somedayit might not even be too long from nowbut it isn't a favorite to happen next.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Holloway II: 700-1

Paulie Malignaggi

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    If you had pitched this question back in August during the height of McGregor's foray into boxing, a future bout against Paulie Malignaggi likely would have been at the top of the list. After his admirable showing against Mayweather, his storied but secretive beatings of Malignaggi in sparring and the boxer's own intense campaigning for the fight, it might well have come about.

    In the past month-and-a-half, though, McGregor has drifted away from boxing. His next fight likely will be in MMA and, by extension, in the UFC. That puts a Malignaggi fight—the only boxing match that makes sense for the Irishman—on the backburner, unless Malignaggi wanted to worm his way into the Octagon for a night.

    He doesn't, though. Ask James Toney why.

    While the appeal of seeing McGregor, a game and surprisingly capable 0-1 professional boxer, battle a retired-but-kind-of-a-draw-in-this-particular-context craftsman exists, it's only under the Marques of Queensberry rules. Make no mistake, any fight involving McGregor and Malignaggi in anything close to a mixed-rules contest ends with Malignaggi knocked out or choked out before he gets off a shot.

    At least for the time being, Malignaggi is left to scream obscenities into the void of Twitter and hope McGregor throws him a bone and acknowledges his existence somehow.

    McGregor likely won't, causing Malignaggi to fall on deaf ears everywhere aside from a Showtime boxing broadcast, where he still does admirable—and undeniably his best—work.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Malignaggi: 300-1

Justin Gaethje

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Justin Gaethje is a highly interesting foil to McGregor, a cast-iron brawler who appears to be indestructible and has brought his unique brand of wobbly fury to the UFC. He's already established his mission to be the most violent lightweight on the planet, and he made fantastic strides toward that end goal by wildly brawling with Michael Johnson in his summer debut.

    It was the rare performance that caused the entire MMA world to stand up and take notice—the willingly reckless spilling of blood that makes a man a household name overnight. Gaethje went from a fun, relative nobody holding a title in World Series of Fighting to getting mainstream recognition, a gig coaching The Ultimate Fighter and a shot at a former champ almost instantly.

    And perhaps more importantly, he got McGregor's attention.

    After his war with Johnson, McGregor tweeted it was good to see "two fighters, fighting." In doing so, he provided the sort of rub few have gotten from him. Gaethje has also taken notice of McGregor, taking time out of more than one interview to acknowledge he would be a nightmare matchup for the champion and that he can't wait to prove it.

    For now, though, the Colorado product will round out his year waiting for his TUF season to air before squaring off with fellow coach Eddie Alvarez. If Gaethje beats him in December—particularly if he does it as excitingly as he's dispatched 18 others in his career—he could be a surprise entrant in the McGregor sweepstakes come 2018.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Gaethje: 100-1

Khabib Nurmagomedov

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Nobody in the McGregor sweepstakes has fallen from grace quite the way Khabib Nurmagomedov has, and it's largely been of his own doing.

    There was a time when the undefeated Dagestani grappler was a lock to fight for a title—be it against McGregor or Tony Ferguson for an interim title—but it now seems entirely unlikely, at least until he gets back in the cage and shows he can make it through a fight night unscathed.

    Nobody would question his talent, but the number of physical hiccups and schedule misgivings that have befallen Nurmagomedov have left him twisting in the wind. While he's never been anything less than impressive in the cage, training abstentions because of injury or religious requirements, bad weight cuts and tiramisu gone awry have McGregor leery about giving Nurmagomedov his shot.

    It's unfortunate because when he's on, Nurmagomedov might be the best lightweight alive. It's unfortunate for him personally because there was some talk that his title shot could happen on his home turf in Russia, as UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie. It's unfortunate for fans because the tireless wrestler is the one foil McGregor has yet to dispose of in a fight (and no, short-notice Chad Mendes doesn't meet that standard).

    You would put Nurmagomedov in the upper echelon of talents to both challenge McGregor in practice and to get the chance in promotion. But the past year has been unkind to him, and he's fallen from an odds-on favorite to a fringe possibility. One would have to think he's at least a win or two away from a fight with The Notorious One.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov: 50-1

Nate Diaz

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    With the way things have shaped up since their second meeting and the amount of hustling McGregor's team has done to try to make another fight happen between their boy and Nate Diaz, this felt like a foregone conclusion as recently as September.

    But fast forward a month or so, and Diaz is no longer the odds-on favorite to fight McGregor next, even if he remains far ahead of the pack and only narrowly behind the other participant in the two-horse race to score the McGregor payday.

    In a way, Diaz is the foil who made McGregor.

    He memorably called him on in a profanity-filled tirade on network television, took a fight with McGregor on a week's notice and choked him senseless. He then took the two-weight champion to the limit before narrowly losing a decision in a rematch.

    Their fights were iconic and entertaining, and they did the type of business the UFC almost would have thought impossible before the McGregor-Diaz saga took place.

    Yet there seems to be some hesitation to go back to the well, perhaps because McGregor has been holding the division hostage for so long that there's a need to return things to some degree of normalcy. White himself shot this one down in a press conference after UFC 216 and looked to a unification bout with interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson as the fight that "has to happen."

    For that reason, even if Diaz remains more than 10 times more likely than any of his contemporaries to get the McGregor fight, he isn't the favorite any longer. He's close, and you know he will get his chance at McGregor one more time before their careers are done, but he's not the top dog at the moment.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Diaz III: 6-1

Tony Ferguson

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    Ferguson made himself indispensable and undeniable as a lightweight force the old-fashioned way: by winning fights.

    Not exactly a troubadour of trash talk (despite perhaps unfortunately having a true willingness to give it his best shot), Ferguson got his attention by going on a staggering four-year, 10-fight win streak that saw him stop 70 percent of his opponents, and that culminated in an interim lightweight title win over Kevin Lee at UFC 216. 

    It's one of the greatest runs ever in the promotion, and it came in arguably the sport's toughest division. To put it simply, there isn't a lightweight alive more qualified than Ferguson to test McGregor's mettle.

    But if he's qualified, is he better? That's the question a title unification bout would look to answer.

    McGregor is not lauded for his cardio, and there are question marks—not criticism, but genuine questions—about his wrestling and grappling. There's no reason to doubt him because he's so thoroughly drubbed all of his competition, but there's no way to tell what he might look like in a four-minute grappling exchange late in a fight because we have never seen it.

    These weaknesses and questions play right into Ferguson's strengths, but the same can be said for McGregor's strengths playing to Ferguson's weaknesses.

    Ferguson is eminently hittable early in a fight and even once he gets warmed up. McGregor hits almost at his leisure, and when he lands, men crumble—a trait surely magnified by his summer spent training only in boxing. Ferguson takes risks as well, and McGregor's composure and selectivity in countering and timing his shots seems to be the exact approach that would put Ferguson in trouble early and often.

    All in all, it's a fascinating fight, one that appears closer than ever to being made—and one that is more likely than any other out there for McGregor.

    No matter which opponent he signs to fight next, though, having the biggest star in the sport back in action is sure to provide some entertainment.

    Odds on McGregor vs. Ferguson: 4-1

               

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