After a tumultuous 2019, a multitude of questions hung over Conor McGregor’s long-awaited return at UFC 246. And for every question he answered with his 40-second destruction of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, another question arose, and none were more pertinent than “Who is next for Conor McGregor?” The possibilities are endless as he straddles the two deepest and deadliest divisions in the sport (Lightweight and Welterweight). And while Dana White has likely had his dollar-sign eyes set firmly on a rematch with the Lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov, I thought I’d put on my fantasy booking hat and try to arrange all these moving parts into the fights I’d like to see when it comes to the top halves of these two messy, yet thrilling divisions.
Nate Diaz vs Dustin Poirier
This one is just a fun fight between two experienced high-level fighters that really came into their own in recent years. After numerous setbacks and key losses due to recklessness inside of the cage, Poirier went on a hellacious winning streak, taking out numerous former champions before defeating pound-for-pound great Max Holloway to finally win UFC gold, and prove he was an elite competitor. Diaz made a similar statement when he shocked the world and submitted Conor McGregor, before recently cementing himself as a box office star by creating his own “BMF” belt and headlining Madison Square Garden. The two were set to meet at the iconic arena in 2018 before Poirier pulled out with a hip injury, something Diaz had some not so kind words to say about. With both competitors coming off losses, it’s a stylistically interesting, sensible fight between two great fighters in their prime with bad blood; what more could you ask for?
Jorge Masvidal vs Kamaru Usman | Welterweight Title Bout
It’s hard to argue that Kamaru Usman is not the best welterweight in the world today. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has bulldozed through the majority of the division, dominating Tyron Woodley to win the belt, before brutalising Colby Covington just last month in his first defence. As it stands, there is only one man in the top 5 that Usman hasn’t yet beaten: Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal. Masvidal’s ascent to stardom was perhaps the most unexpected and exciting stories in MMA in 2019. A seasoned veteran that made his name fighting in backyards under Kimbo Slice, finally putting all of the pieces together and realising his full potential. There’s no better way to top off the astonishing run he’s on than with a shot at UFC gold. And with Masvidal’s ability to finish a fight in devastating fashion, paired against Usman’s dominant wrestling, it’s a tough fight to call, and a fight where each fighter has a chance to put an incredible stamp on their respective legacies.
Donald Cerrone vs Carlos Diego Ferreira
While piecing together fights from all of Conor McGregor’s possibilities is all well and good, it would be wrong to leave out his most recent opponent, octagon legend, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Coming off three losses to three of the division’s best, the beloved “Cowboy” seems set on continuing to fight at an unmatched frequency, against only top guys. Carlos Diego Ferreira, on the other hand, had arguably the best weekend of his career, submitting former champion Anthony Pettis in impressive fashion. Now boasting a six-fight winning streak, a win over a higher-ranked opponent only makes sense to help establish him as a serious contender. Conversely, a win for Cerrone over a hot, young prospect would be a perfect way to prove that the “Cowboy” is far from done.
Conor McGregor vs Justin Gaethje
The rules of ranking systems go out of the window when Conor McGregor is involved. With unmatched star-power and an impressive recent win under his belt, the “Notorious” one is pretty much free to pick and choose who he wants. However, with his sights seemingly set on reclaiming the lightweight title, and with his love of fighting reinvigorated, a number 1 contenders bout against Gaethje makes complete sense. And who in their right mind wouldn’t want to see this one? “The Highlight” Justin Gaethje has been adding to his reputation as MMA’s most violent man with 3 consecutive first-round knockouts. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for five years, you’ll know that Conor McGregor also knows a thing or two about first-round knockouts and violence. Both are coming off wins (over the same guy no less), both are vying for a title shot, and if Conor decides to make it ugly in the build-up as he has done so many times before, Gaethje is more than happy to oblige. Combine all this with a guarantee of complete carnage inside the cage, and you have a mouth-watering, high-stakes brawl on your hands that you’d be a fool to miss.