Conor McGregor's time as the No. 1 fighter in UFC's stable may be over—at least that's what one of his rivals is saying.
Fresh off a TKO victory over Tony Ferguson, interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje says he has no interest in taking on McGregor, telling ESPN's Brett Okamoto the Irish fighter's popularity among his peers is tanking:
"[McGregor's] losing his clout. I don't mean with the general public, but with fighters, he's losing so much respect in the game, which he probably doesn't care -- but to someone like me and even him, I would assume that matters a little bit. He doesn't hold the cards right now. I put myself in a great position. I asked for a say in my destiny and I showed up. Now I can pick between Khabib and Conor. If I wanted to fight Conor right now, I could. Believe me. Why wouldn't [UFC president] Dana White put that together? But that's not the fight I want."
McGregor last fought at UFC 246 in January, beating Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone by TKO in 40 seconds.
It was supposed to mark the start of a comeback tour for McGregor, who had been out of the Octagon since falling to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in 2018. Gaethje and McGregor may be headed for a fight in the future, but the interim champ wants Nurmagomedov next as he looks for a unification fight with the other lightweight titleholder. He told Okamoto:
"I have nothing to say to [McGregor]. You don't get to fight me next, unless there are crazy circumstances, where Khabib cannot fight. Then we'll fight. That's the only way. Other than that, you don't get a say. Dana White laughed whenever they told him Conor said he was fighting me. He said, 'No, Gaethje is fighting Khabib.' You're still worth all the money in the game, that's true. But you're losing clout when it comes to inside the game."
Gaethje said he's out to make money now and will gladly fight McGregor after he beats Nurmagomedov.
When Nurmagomedov and Gaethje will be able to meet is up in the air. Nurmagomedov remains in self-isolation in Russia waiting out the coronavirus pandemic while his father and former trainer, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, remains in critical condition with an undisclosed illness in Moscow.
In the meantime, it's unclear who White would line up for McGregor. Publicly, McGregor is still as well-known as any UFC fighter, giving his next challenger the sport's largest stage to make a name for himself.