With Justin Gaethje’s knee-buckling KO of Donald Cerrone, it seems that Conor McGregor is looking down the barrel of a loaded gun for his comeback fight. Since discussing the UFC’s biggest cash cow/most-hated Irishman is a mixed bag, I have a deal for you all.
For non-fans and sensible fans, we’re going to explore how McGregor cornered himself. For the typical Conor fans, I have a bottle of cheap whiskey and a coloring book (you’ll have to share). Don’t worry, US Prohibition tactics of poisoning bootleg liquor are frowned upon so you’re safe. Though if the reviews are to be believed, the effect may be the sa . . . oh they’re already necking the bottle.
Anyway, McGregor’s absence after his expected drubbing at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov leaves him in a bind. On the one hand, he still carries ridiculous clout and can name his next opponent. On the other hand, I’m not sure he can name an opponent that won’t beat him to a pulp. Because being a lightweight can suck royally.
1. Dustin Poirier
This is the “safest” option by far. After all, Conor finished Poirier in the opening round when they first met.
Despite Poirier’s brilliance at lightweight, he can still be hit and hurt. Both Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway found his chin repeatedly before succumbing to his natural, fluid power striking. He doesn’t defend leg kicks as well as he should, evidenced by the damage both Justin Gaethje and Jim Miller inflicted. Conor’s beautiful counter left straight and the leg kicks he showed in the Diaz rematch should give him a fighting chance.
That being said, Poirier beat all four of the fighters used in the example.
Both he and McGregor carry more power at lightweight than featherweight, but Poirier has a larger sample size to pull from. He’s fought wrestlers, submission artists, knockout artists, and technicians while performing remarkably. Conor’s two fights at lightweight are Eddie Alvarez and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
That’s a short guy who dives in on punches (aka counter fodder) and possibly the greatest lightweight on Earth. Not much to go off of.
2. Justin Gaethje
As his nickname “The Highlight” suggests, Justin Gaethje is must-see TV. For the overwhelming majority of his career, Gaethje absorbed the kind of damage that makes NFL players go “See, THAT’s what CTE looks like!” Like a poor barterer, Gaethje was willing to absorb 3-4 strikes to deliver one. And until he got into the UFC, that strategy worked.
After two bone-crunching knockouts at the hands of Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Gaethje decided he could still knock people silly without going full Homer Simpson. Three straight first-round knockout wins validated this decision. His most recent knockout against Cerrone was particularly impressive. Rather than a result of his aggression, he stepped back and countered him with a beautiful right hand.
Again, McGregor has a puncher’s chance in the fight. And I’m not saying that to be insulting. But against a taller fighter with ridiculous power, a granite chin, decent defense with brutal leg kicks? Is that really the fight McGregor wants to take, especially when dealing with ring rust?
And the crazy thing is that Gaethje is still a way better matchup than the next two men on this list.
3. Tony Ferguson
I’ve sung the praises of Tony Ferguson so much that you’re probably as tired as I am.
Mcgregor carved a swath of destruction through featherweight for two primary reasons: he was taller and longer. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a guaranteed win. As James Vick’s decline showed, length can be a curse as much as a gift. But Conor used a tried and true pattern; harass them at length, wait for them to lunge and slam them with a counter left.
How is that supposed to work against Tony Ferguson, who has a two-inch height advantage and four-inch reach advantage? A man who is 15-1 in the lightweight division and hasn’t received a title shot only due to his injury-prone nature? A guy who while happily roll for leg locks as much as he’ll cut you to ribbons with elbows?
4. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Okay, let’s say McGregor’s fouls are called regularly. How do you see this fight going? No seriously.
There’s a reason that the Jose Aldo rematch is being teased. Aldo is short and, when pressed, will sit down on his heels and swing wildly. While this worked against Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano, McGregor and Holloway took advantage to finish him. As much as I love Aldo, a rematch would be a gimme fight.
So fans, plastic fake whiskey survivors… what do you think?