For Conor McGregor, it’s time to parlay.
The suitors are lining up. While logistics suggests a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov, possible battle with Jorge Masdival, a longshot clash with Nate Diaz and a maybe more remote rematch with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor fans relish his return from a 15-month layoff last week.
It was stellar.
The Mouth that Roared across the UFC, boxing and social media landscape over the past three years returned exactly the way UFC fans wanted him too.
The 40-second dismantling of Donald Cerrone was a tremendous victory for “Notorious”, who had become viewed as more of a brand than a fighter given his lucrative business deals outside the Octagon in recent years. McGregor is a multi-millionaire who has, in all essence, become a financial partner in UFC promotions.
Whether it’s the sponsoring connection of his whiskey business or the claims he made of pocketing $80 million to fight Cerrone, McGregor should have the letters “Inc.” placed behind his name.
That made the Cerrone fight a renaissance for McGregor’s fans.
In 40 seconds, McGregor overwhelmed the UFC leader for wins and knockouts. He subdued a top 5 lightweight contender. He looked good fighting at 170 pounds, never betraying any potential ring rust from the time away. McGregor triumphed as his backers projected, with a volcanic eruption born of a standup-position strike.
Expect the unexpected with Conor
It ended with a head kick. Ironically to the man with the most head kick KOs in UFC history.
McGregor had studied Cerrone’s tendencies to dip his head from certain positions. He steered the Cowboy into a spot from which he could launch an explosive shot. It was well-timed, intelligent and decisive.
A true finisher, McGregor never let the wobbled Cerrone into the fight. To his credit, Cerrone validated McGregor’s stature, saying afterward he couldn’t believe the punches were coming so fast.
McGregor, a white-collar business entity, prevailed like a blue-collar warrior. And that was important.
How McGregor won mattered as much as that he won. A fight embroiled in a ground struggle would not have revealed his calling card: quick striking power. Anything less than a convincing triumph would have cast doubt on the necessity of seeing him fight Khabib, the UFC’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter behind Jon Jones.
Conor McGregor’s next fight?
McGregor wants three fights in 2020, but will Conor McGregor’s next fight be for a title or for pride?
The fighter in him wants to battle Nurmagomedov right away, trying to avenge the 2018 setback that led to his layoff.
The businessman in McGregor may consider Khabib a great third fight for 2020, concluding a banner year.
Or what about top lightweight contender, Paul Felder for Conor McGregor’s next fight?
Paul “Irish Dragon” Felder, like McGregor, has fought at both lightweight and welterweight. The Philadelphia native is also a UFC as a commentator and was working for McGregor’s win. He was the “little fool at the desk” that McGregor referred to in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
Sounds like Conor McGregor calling out Paul Felder. pic.twitter.com/ye0bOnFKXN
— Jed I. Goodman (@jedigoodman) January 19, 2020
There is a financial hedge in this type of decision. The argument to make Khabib next stems from the business platform of striking while the iron is hot. McGregor has a tremendous tailwind behind him now, but what will the calendar say?
Khabib needs to win against Tony Ferguson on April 18, hopefully as impressively as McGregor just did, to maintain the public’s heightened interest in his McGregor rematch.
And then comes Ramadan, five days later. Nurmagomedov, a devout Muslim, will observe that religious period ending in late May. That would push back training and a possible match with McGregor until the fall.
But will it?
McGregor steadfastly casts doubt on Ferguson-Khabib taking place. Should an injury or promotional snafu derail that bout, McGregor the fighter would be ready to step in.
What about McGregor the businessman? UFC president Dana White prefers the Khabib rematch to occur as a possible opening of the Raiders’ new NFL stadium with an outdoor event before a crowd of more than 60,000.
Reading between the lines, White considers McGregor-Khabib the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier matchup of his sport. White sees the 2.4 million pay-per-view sales of the first fight being spiked to near 3 million buys, combined with the monstrous attendance figures.
In that vein, the principals could engage in a long, five-month promotional tour for a fall super-fight, just as they did in boxing during the closed-circuit era. But is that needed in the social-media age?
McGregor can choose to wait, fight someone in April and try to emerge with the same promotional halo that followed the Cerrone fight. Should McGregor stay in the lightweight division, Justin Gaethje could become a viable opponent.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 21, 2020
Gaethje surpassed Cerrone in the ratings and stands No. 4 behind McGregor, at No. 3. It would normally make sense for the top two contenders to vie and the winner to oppose Nurmagomedov.
But McGregor-Khabib is already, informally, on the books. McGregor may venture beyond his division on the grounds that nothing in the welterweight division can affect his lightweight battle with Nurmagomedov.
Moving Up… Again?
Masvidal provides an interesting link should McGregor want a spring fight in the welterweight division.
Masvidal became a front-and-center name in 2019 and brought some notoriety with his Baddest Mother F—ER tag. What a brilliant promotional concoction. It’s a title for someone who doesn’t have a title and was brought mainstream with Masvidal’s recent triumph over Nate Diaz.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 19, 2020
Masvidal has some internal UFC cred by placing some type of moniker next to his name. His stock may never be higher and he will be viewed as someone riding a hot streak as far as it can go.
Should they fight, Masvidal will supply the vitriol, allowing McGregor to embrace it or stand apart in his new sublime promotional role.
Masvidal would be a physical fight and somewhat risky for McGregor. But risk is what the fans want. Can McGregor beat a good big man in this division? Is it worth the risk when his fight with Habib would likely be in the lightweight class?
Perhaps Masvidal won’t be the odds-on choice for a spring fight. He already believes McGregor has passed him up. Perhaps it will be the man he beat in November, Nate Diaz, selected for McGregor.
McGregor kept his options open by saying “Let’s Go Nathan” to Diaz after his Cerrone win.
The business angle is to make the conclusion of a trilogy match with Diaz sell-able. It would likely be an easier bout for McGregor than Masvidal, but might be viewed as Notorious ducking Masvidal.
This will be an interesting call. If McGregor believes he can destroy either fighter, he’ll opt for Masvidal. If that belief isn’t ironclad, he may select Diaz and accept the criticism, promising to fight Masvidal later.
That’s what happens when you are the sport’s Golden Ticket.
McGregor automatically means seven-figure buys. He has also reached the stage, as Floyd Mayweather did, that his mere appearance becomes bigger than the opponent.
To the UFC’s credit, it wants the fighters to take on tough opponents, whom the fans want. Notorious provides a different wrinkle. His name prints money.
This will be an intriguing development for the big players in this saga. And for Conor McGregor’s next fight, it should be an enjoyable process.
Stay tuned. There will be updates.