UFC featherweight and Conor McGregor's sparring partner Artem Lobov has said the lightweight champion will return to MMA to defend his title, and he would beat Paulie Malignaggi if the two were to meet in a boxing match.
McGregor hasn't fought in UFC since becoming the first man to hold titles in two divisions at the same time by beating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, and was last seen inside a boxing ring, losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
He developed a rivalry with sparring partner Malignaggi leading up to that fight, and the latter recently claimed discussions for a bout were ongoing in an interview with FightHype (warning: contains NSFW language):
Lobov believes McGregor is eager to defend his UFC title, however. Per Jake Lambourne of The Sun, he said:
"No matter what people say about Conor, money fight this, money fight that, he never actually took a money fight.
"Every fight that he has taken made sense, he cleaned out the whole featherweight division so then he moved onto bigger things.
"Now that the Mayweather challenge is out of the way he is back to doing what he does, he is the lightweight champion and he isn't planning on letting go of that belt anytime soon.
"So I'm sure that he wants to defend that belt."
Should he instead face Malignaggi next, Lobov believes the Irishman would win:
"I was there, and that is why I am so reluctant to see that fight because I've already seen Malignaggi get his head slapped off him, so why the f--k would I want to see it again?
"I know already what happens in that fight."
News of the supposed negotiations for a second McGregor boxing match was not well received in the MMA community, which has been dying to see the Notorious return to the Octagon.
There hasn't been much movement in the lightweight division since he first announced his intention to box, similar to the lack of action in the feartherweight division during his bid to win multiple titles.
Sports writer Patrick Wyman was among the many who despaired that there could be yet more inaction on the horizon:
The UFC lightweight division is filled with exciting talent and big-name fighters waiting for McGregor, including interim champion Tony Ferguson, sambo practitioner Khabib Nurmagomedov and bitter rival Nate Diaz. Ferguson would likely have the first shot at McGregor, and BT Sport's Owen Roddy would love to see it happen:
A third fight with Diaz would also come with much anticipation after the duo split their first two meetings, and the undefeated Nurmagomedov would present the Notorious with a unique challenge.