B/R Staff Roundtable: What's Next for Conor McGregor?
Conor McGregor returned to action over the weekend with a stunning 40-second destruction of Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at UFC 246 in Las Vegas.
McGregor, 31, from Dublin, Ireland, wasn't even finished consoling Cerrone's grandmother in the center of the Octagon on Saturday night when just about everyone in the MMA world was already turning their attention to one question: What should McGregor do next?
Cerrone, after all, was a tough-as-nails 36-year-old who was supposed to reveal what McGregor still had left to give to the sport.
Would the Irishman just continue to live off the outstanding legacy he had built for himself from 2016 and prior, or could there be even bigger and better things laying ahead in his career?
The answer seems clear to me, and the Bleacher Report MMA crew surely feels the same way judging by how each writer answered that question for our latest roundtable.
McGregor has a slew of options right now. Here's what each of us thinks he should pursue next.
Taylor: Jorge Masvidal
Tom Taylor: This is not that complicated.
When you have peanut butter and jam, you make a PB&J. When two of the biggest stars in your organization are riding huge wins in the same division, you pay them a few wheelbarrows full of cash to fight each other.
Just think about this.
McGregor, the biggest star in MMA history, is back in the win column. After a fantastic 2019, Masvidal is more popular than ever. They both like fighting at welterweight. They're both healthy.
Yes, Masvidal divulged on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on Monday that he's "leaning towards" a fight with Kamaru Usman instead of McGregor, but Usman was wearing a cast at UFC 246, so he's not exactly available. And yes, Dana White has repeatedly stated that he wants McGregor to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov next, but Nurmagomedov is booked for an April scrap with Tony Ferguson—right before he starts fasting for Ramadan—and McGregor wants to fight again as soon as possible. So why not have McGregor and Masvidal fight in the meantime?
While I have you, let me dispel the notion that this would be some kind of beatdown in favor of Masvidal. First and foremost: Sorry, Uncle Dana, but no, he's not that much bigger than McGregor. They're both natural lightweights. Secondly, contrary to the way Masvidal looked in 2019, he has lost plenty of fights before and can certainly lose again. We're not talking about Nurmagomedov or Jon Jones here.
This is a competitive matchup.
Here's hoping the UFC books it posthaste. It would be a dream fight for the fans and McGregor and Masvidal would no doubt be toasting their hefty paydays with a few shots of Proper No. Twelve and El Recuerdo after the fact.
Snowden: Nate Diaz
Jonathan Snowden: Conor McGregor could create a spectacle with a broomstick. Almost any fight, as long as he's a part of it, becomes an immediate box office extravaganza. Saturday night was proof of that, as the whole world (even LeBron James!) watched as MMA's biggest star battered poor Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone insensate in less than one minute.
Cerrone is 36 years old and had lost six of his last 10 fights. His career tells the story of persistence and courage, if not top-level performance and championship-level success. The result was all but guaranteed—and still, the world watched.
That's why it doesn't make sense for the UFC to rush McGregor into championship fights with stylistic boogeymen like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kamaru Usman. You don't need the shiny allure of UFC gold to attract a fickle fanbase. McGregor shines plenty bright on his own.
Why not, instead, complete what would immediately go down in history as one of the most compelling MMA trilogies the young sport has ever seen with Nate Diaz?
The two men are perfect antagonists, fistic rivals for the ages, as different as you could possibly imagine, despite their numerous similarities. The first two bouts were both box-office and critical successes. The fighters, and their fans, deserve a rubber match to establish eternal bragging rights.
Whatever misgivings critics might have would be erased the moment someone offered either man a microphone. It would also show MMA fans that McGregor intends to stick around the sport for more than just a cup of coffee this time, while also allowing him to shake off some ring rust the quick demolition of Cerrone may have left attached.
Championship matches come and go. A great rivalry, MMA's Gatti vs. Ward, is forever. And who doesn't want to live forever?
Fitzsimmons: Kamaru Usman
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Cowboy Cerrone was dizzy on the mat.
Conor McGregor was jubilant atop the octagonal fence.
And at that point, I'd have bet my car, mortgage and student loan payments that the next time we saw the "Notorious" one in a UFC promotion, he'd be standing opposite Jorge Masvidal.
Then the last few days happened.
As McGregor launched into his customary—albeit muted, this time around—post-fight rant about world domination and taking on all comers, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman just yawned.
Sure, it was rehearsed for the cameras.
In fact, all it took was a look at the Nigerian's sparkling eyes to realize the idea of landing the large-mouthed Irish bass was precisely the thing for which the 170-pounder was angling.
Nevertheless, it was a clear shot of shade across McGregor's competitive bow.
And then, Twitter-gate.
Though no less an authority than Dana White has debunked the idea that Team Usman was at fault, a series of ugly tweets linked to the champ's account referenced McGregor and his girlfriend, Dee Devlin.
McGregor said he bought that Usman didn't do it himself but wasn't quite so forgiving of his manager—recurring MMA lightning rod Ali Abdelaziz.
"It had all the hallmarks of that little f--king weasel," he said, at the post-show press conference.
Incidentally, Abdelaziz manages Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, two fighters whose social media accounts have been ground zero for envelope-stretching vitriol against McGregor in the past.
Coincidence? Conspiracy theorists say no.
Instead, let's call it the perfect catalyst for a championship-level grudge match...21st-century style.
And toward that end, McGregor is all-in for a shot at a third title.
"I'm more than ready," he said. "I enjoy this division. I like this division. I don't think they're that big."
Harris: Justin Gaethje
Scott Harris: There are two reasons McGregor won't fight Gaethje, as tantalizing of an option as that is. The first is that he wants no part of slugfests, which are dangerous. This is particularly true given that Gaethje will not only meet but perhaps exceed McGregor's pressure. That means phone booth, and that means advantage to Gaethje and his rock-fight style. Gaethje, after all, is 21-2 with 18 knockouts, including in all four of his UFC wins.
The other is that he's in the doghouse with the UFC. Gaethje, speaking to Ben Fowlkes of The Athletic in early January, recounted the company's offers to fight lower-level fighters (Gaethje is currently third in the UFC's lightweight rankings), as well as the public drama with his own promoter turning down fights. So it goes. And it's a shame for Gaethje, because it not only means problems with fight offers, but it also drives down his public profile. That's not attractive to McGregor.
And now, here's the reason he will: McGregor understands his legacy, and he understands that a legacy is made of many different things, all gathering and fitting together. Surely he can see the PR value in lowering oneself into a crucible knowing full well what lies within. McGregor doesn't have a fight like that yet, at least not on the feet. Tactically, though Gaethje and Khabib Nurmagomedov are very different fighters, both are alike in terms of the withering pressure they apply. It would be a meaningful mental test to negotiate that when the live bullets, if you will, are flying. Oh, and this would also set the hardcore fanbase on fire. If that's meaningful to anyone, this is the best fight to make, hands down.
McCarson: Khabib Nurma–errr–Manny Pacquiao
Kelsey McCarson: As much as I like the idea of McGregor fighting all the other suggested opponents, the only answer that makes any sense right now is the rematch against UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In fact, I had a whole long explanation about why McGregor should fight Nurmagomedov next, but then my computer reminded me both what my truest wish for McGregor was (by erasing what I had written about the Nurmagomedov rematch) and that Nurmagomedov was already scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in April.
I'm not making that up. It happened.
Truthfully, the fight I want to see McGregor take next is against boxer Manny Pacquiao. It wouldn't ruin any other UFC fights McGregor wants later this year, and it could be set up super fast since McGregor said the two were already negotiating and neither is scheduled to face anyone else.
McGregor vs. Pacquiao would be way more fun the McGregor vs. Mayweather was, and that was quite the entertaining spectacle. McGregor is much bigger than Pacquiao, and he's a decent enough counterpuncher to have a chance at making the fight compelling.
Pacquiao goes right at his opponent with an absurd blend of speed and power that no one is ever prepared to handle, and McGregor is the brave type of puncher who would just stand there and try to knock Pacquiao out.
Who wouldn't want to see that? It would be explosive.