Conor McGregor is in a precarious position in his career at the moment. After a breath-taking demolition job win against Donald Cerrone in January last year, the hopes of every McGregor fan were at an all-time high, but with a disastrous turn off events, his fabled ‘’2020 season’’ was cut short due to the Covid-19 Pandemic that ensued two months later. McGregor was forced to the side-lines for the remainder of the year, only for politics to keep him out of contention.
He returned at the start of this year against former Featherweight rival Dustin Poirier, but this time at Lightweight. What started out with hope and curiosity turned into a rude awakening for the Notorious. Getting stopped for the first time in his career through knockout was a sight to behold for many MMA fans that had seen the Irishman’s aura fairly diminished in upsetting fashion and for McGregor fans an image they want to forget (me included). The loss has put into question his motivation and eagerness to become the fighter he once was and if he were to lose his next fight, retirement is not out of the question!
With talks with an immediate return come May time, I have decided to look at each potential opponent McGregor could face for the remainder of his career if he were to continue. So here is my ranking for all opponents ranked in terms of hardest to easiest.
9) Kamaru Usman
It is rather simple, McGregor should be no where near the powerful Nigerian, the Welterweight Champion is currently on a steam-roll through the Welterweight division, much like McGregor through his Featherweight stint from 2013–2015, there is no stopping a force like Usman, especially not from a natural Lightweight like McGregor who lacks the grappling strength and overall stamina to withstand the power of Usman.
Now that is not to say McGregor would not have advantages, his striking and fight IQ would make the fight semi-interesting and with an onslaught of trash talk, how Usman deals with that would be a major factor in how the fight transpires. However, Usman has many similarities to Khabib, but much bigger, stronger, and cleaner boxing. It would be a hill to steep to climb for the Irishman.
8) Khabib Nurmagomedov
What can be said about this rivalry that has not been said already? Easily one of the most toxic rivalries in MMA history and a black spot for the sport in many ways with what happened throughout the build-up. The first fight was a typical wrestler vs striker match-up with Khabib dominating McGregor throughout the fight before finishing McGregor with a neck crank in the fourth round.
However, McGregor is still clamouring for the rematch and one could argue he could defeat the Russian if granted the chance to redeem his lost. Many factors have been thrown around to bolster another fight, ‘’he clearly wasn’t motivated enough’’, ‘’he was drinking leading up to the fight’’, he didn’t respect Khabib’s skill enough and ‘’he was two years out of the octagon’’. All excuses have truth in them, and one could only imagine a truly tuned in McGregor would give Khabib a worthy rematch and the being the first man to take a round of The Eagle is a achievement in its own right, but looking logically at the match-up, McGregor would have to be at his very best to oust his rival and looking at Khabib..someone’s best is rarely ever good enough to dethrone his suffocating reign.
Whatever happens, the rematch is still the superfight!
7) Colby Covington
The loudmouth American has been labelled as a wannabe McGregor, and one cannot really argue against that statement. Controversy creates conversation and that is exactly what Covington has done for himself to even be regarded as a top star in the company.
Looking at a match-up however between the two, I can only imagine it would go one or two ways, either McGregor simply outboxes Colby and puts him a way early, which could easily happen as Colby has minimal boxing and is feather fisted compared to his counterparts in the Welterweight division or Covington pours his offensive wrestling and smothering volume punching onto McGregor, bringing him into deep waters which has shown to be McGregor’s kryptonite on more than one occasion.
After his last title matchup against Kamaru Usman, neither Covington nor Usman attempted a takedown on one another, cancelling out each other’s main stylistic strategy and stuck to stand-up, leading Colby to a TKO loss in the fifth round, if one looks at that fight, McGregor would be favoured in the opening rounds but if Covington is still present, it could be a long a gruelling night for the Notorious.
6) Michael Chandler
Now this is a tricky one for me. Having not entirely watched Chandler up until his UFC debut against Dan Hooker, I was sitting on the fence on rather or not the former Bellator man would have what it takes to compete in the most dangerous division present in the UFC. A shark tank filled with contenders and facing Dan Hooker for his first fight, the cards were stacked against the Tennessee man from the outset.
I was 100% unequivocally wrong! Michael Chandler for his size is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division, boasting elite wrestling, similar to that off Chad Mendes from size, style, and power he will give McGregor a run for his money and coming from his pro-wrestling style post-match he has the confidence too truly state his position as a top contender.
5) Dustin Poirier
One would question as too why I have put Poirier not closer to the top of the list, but I still believe McGregor is more than capable of beating the Diamond, but only if he truly wants too! What I mean by this is if McGregor does not move back to a more fluid, on his toes approach, moving in and out of range, rather than a strict boxing stance that was ultimately his downfall from the leg kicks that left him open for his looming knockout.
Not taking anything away from Dustin who has clearly evolved more than Conor since their first encounter six years prior. His fight IQ is one of the most underrated in the sport and his granite chin and heart of a lion mentality shows why he should be considered as ‘’elite’’.
The trilogy fight will make or break McGregor’s career moving forward, win and he is right in contention, lose and retirement could be on the cards. It is truly and 50/50 fight that will tell a lot for McGregor in his ambitions going forward.
4) Jorge Masvidal
A dream match-up for all involved, McGregor and Masvidal would be box-office, from the build-up, the press conferences and of course the fight itself. Both men are similar, both in size and in stand-up with Masvidal just edging out McGregor is height and in reach.
Both have outstanding arsenal is with striking that differentiates massively, McGregor with a more counter-punching style and Masvidal who throws with harsh intent and with volume. Both could end up cancelling each other out based on how they prepare for the fight, but one thing is for sure, there will be fireworks and predicting a winner would come down to who can withstand who the longest.
3) Nate Diaz
The trilogy fight that has been in the making since McGregor’s majority decision back in 2016. Both fighters since then have had their up’s and down’s, carrying wins and losses that have impacted their inevitable rubber match.
Any fan of MMA has been clamouring for this fight since their last battle and who can blame them, the rivalry has all the ingredients of greatness, with both men coming off losses it makes sense to make this trilogy sooner rather than later while both men are still in and around their prime.
What is so captivating about this fight, however, is the unpredictability of it. Looking back at their two previous encounters McGregor showed that he can last with Diaz’s triathlon stamina and Diaz showed that he can absorb truly stupid amounts of punishment, getting knocked around and dropped but continued to battle on.
The fight is too close to call but if McGregor’s stamina holds up like he says it can, I sway towards the Irishman…just.
2) Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson’s recent form would tell you that he is past his best and at 37 years old, his time at the top could be soon coming to an end, but one could only hope he faces off with The Notorious before calling it a day. The two have had their fair share of heated trash talk the past few years ever since McGregor won Lightweight Gold dismantling Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 back in 2016.
I do give Ferguson a chance in this one however, his zombie like stamina and ability to withstand punishment can only be applauded along with his movement and dangerous ground game and even more impressive submission game, McGregor would have a war on his hands.
However, looking at his age, his last two performances and overall damage sustained I do not think Ferguson would be able to stand with McGregor enough to cause any problems, and if McGregor hits you clean, you can only expect the worst for El Cucuy.
1) Justin Gaethje
A controversial pick as McGregor’s ‘’easiest fight’’ but Gaethje is everything McGregor would hope for when preparing stylistically. Gaethje is an elite striker, no debate there but what he has in power, he lacks in IQ and technical ability. Throwing haymakers upon haymakers in nearly every fight with no real technique could be his downfall if he were to face McGregor. One word that comes to mind would be ‘’reckless’’ when it comes to Gaethje’s boxing and facing a counter puncher like McGregor would spell disaster in my opinion.
If all else fails for Justin, he can rely on his wrestling to get him out of any potential danger he may face, boasting some of the best wrestling credentials in the Lightweight division thanks to his NCAA All-American pedigree. Ironically, he rarely ever attempts takedowns on his opponent, needlessly favouring ruthless and wild stand-up which is applaudable in its own right but has been shown to be a chink in his armour throughout his career. He also has debilitating leg kicks and going by McGregor’s last fight that is something to look out for, but I do not see a world where he does not prepare adequately for that specific danger.
I could easily be proven wrong with my assessment but from seeing the two face off against all styles I can only see it being a McGregor win.
As the old adage goes, ‘’styles make fights’’ and McGregor’s style is all wrong for Gaethje