It’s been more than a year since the man who really put UFC on the map and away from the fringes last set foot in the Octagon. Conor McGregor has not had a professional fight since coming second best to Khabib Nurmagomedov, the current champion of the lightweight division.
In the intervening 12 months, he has been more likely to feature in the court reports than the sports pages, there was an article in the New York times this weekend following a sequence of controversies that culminated in him being caught on camera punching an older man in the face last month.
Over recent weeks, however, the McGregor propaganda machine has moved into top gear and he’s been telling anyone who will listen that he will be back in the cage before the year is out. The assurances have got social media channels buzzing and there is no doubt that a McGregor return will be good for business as far as UFC is concerned. This would be the type of fight that would have everyone with even a fleeting interest logging on to sites like Mobilebet to put a few Euros on the man who remains the best-known name in UFC. There’s one small fly in the ointment, though. That’s the question of finding him an opponent.
Nurmagomedov gives the brush off
McGregor has made it clear that he wants another shot at the title, which is understandable enough. But Nurmagomedov chose the anniversary of their last fight to throw cold water over that idea. The undefeated Russian champion is all but certain to face Tony Ferguson as his next challenger, with the latest rumours pointing towards a fight early next year in New York.
The man from Dagestan did not rule out fighting McGregor again some time in the future and acknowledged that it would be lucrative from a business perspective. But he added that at present, Ferguson is more deserving of a shot at the title, as he is currently on a 12 fight winning streak. The message was clear – McGregor needs to chalk up some wins in the octagon before he does anything else. To hammer the point home, Nurmagomedov added that the man from Dublin needs to “stop beating elderly people” – a clear reference to the most recent public indiscretion.
Only two choices
Other fighters have also been quick to offer their opinions. Justin Gaethje has been outspoken in his willingness to fight McGregor and even went so far as to message him directly on Instagram. He told reporters he had “tried every route there is to draw this man out” but has not received so much as an acknowledgment.
Gaethje says the “only other person on earth” McGregor could fight right now would be Dustin Poirier, the last man to try – and fail – to seize the lightweight belt from Nurmagomedov. Whether it’s Justin or Dustin that McGregor ultimately faces, the reigning champion is clearly right about one thing. The Notorious needs to prove he still has what it takes to pick on someone his own size and emerge victorious before he can even think about a title fight.