Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 5 December 2020

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz - who's next for Conor McGregor?

Or could the mixed martial artist seek a rematch with Floyd Mayweather?

Conor McGregor’s highly anticipated return to action looks soon be confirmed, with the UFC getting together on Tuesday for a matchmaking meeting that focuses on its summer schedule.

As always, the controversial Irishman has been pretty vocal regarding his comeback, recently calling out a number of fighters. Here we look at the most likely contenders to take on McGregor next ... plus another possible opponent, in another sport.

Nate Diaz

One of the biggest fights the UFC could put together, despite four years passing since the pair fought out their rematch - and Diaz’s relative inactivity in the interim. The American brawler, 35, won the first clash with a McGregor supposedly at his peak, taking the March 2016 fight at the 11th hour, while the Irishman exacted revenge in the reunion five months later. A trilogy bout has long been mooted. Diaz, though, lost last time out to Jorge Masvidal - in November last year - but would most probably jump at the chance to headline another blockbuster event with McGregor once more. As is their wont, the two foes have been trading barbs online.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Nate Diaz of the United States has blood washed off his face during the Welterweight "BMF" championship bout against Jorge Masvidal of the United States in UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. Steven Ryan/Getty Images/AFP == FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS & TELEVISION USE ONLY ==
Nate Diaz has blood washed off his face during the Welterweight "BMF" championship bout against Jorge Masvidal. AFP

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Publicly at least, this seems to be the one McGregor wants most. He lost to the Russian via a fourth-round submission in October 2018, a defeat that prompted a 14-month hiatus from the sport, before McGregor returned in January with his emphatic, 40-second win against Donald Cerrone. That fight with Nurmagomedov, who last fought in Abu Dhabi last September, became infamous for the bad blood beforehand and the brawl it sparked post-bout, and the two have since continued to chip away at one another in public. It remains the most money-spinning fight to make, and UFC president Dana White wants it, too. Currently, and perhaps crucially, Nurmagomedov doesn’t, though.

Khabib Nurmagomedov last fought in the Octagon at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi when he beat Dustin Poirier. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Khabib Nurmagomedov last fought in the Octagon at UFC 242 when he beat Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Justin Gaethje

And anyway, Nurmagomedov is slated to take on Gaethje next. The American earned the opportunity against the undefeated lightweight champion by defeating Tony Ferguson at last week’s UFC 249. Claiming the interim belt, White has promised a unification bout, most probably in September. However, given the recent poor health of Nurmagomedov’s father, maybe that won’t be possible. If so, McGregor is sure to push for a shot at Gaethje, claiming on social media last week that he would “butcher” him, even declaring he'd "wear his teeth as a necklace". The duo had been expected to meet this summer before Gaethje took the Ferguson fight. Given their respective striking abilities, it should make for a classic encounter.

Justin Gaethje has his arm raised in victory after defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. Reuters
Justin Gaethje has his arm raised in victory after defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. Reuters

Dustin Poirier

While this doesn’t feel quite the grudge match of the others, Poirier has repeatedly stated he’s open to any chance of avenging his defeat to McGregor way back when, in 2014. Then competing at featherweight, the latter triumphed via a first-round TKO. Since, Poirier has baulked up and moved up to lightweight, and has won nine of his past 12 fights (one was a no contest). He hasn’t fought since losing to Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi in September - another unification tussle - but has now recovered from a hip injury. McGregor questioned publicly Poirier’s career last week, with the American responding that he’d embrace the opportunity to silence him.

An emotional Dustin Poirier after losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
An emotional Dustin Poirier after losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Or … Floyd Mayweather Jr

Right, so it’s blatantly not UFC. But, not content with cutting through his potential challengers at lightweight, McGregor - ever the self-publicist - has been teasing another boxing match with Mayweather Jr. They’ve been there, done it, when the unbeaten American won comfortably in 10 rounds in their crossover clash in August 2017. Yet McGregor has responded to Mike Tyson’s recent comments that he had in fact fared rather well on boxing debut, watching back the fight and claiming to have “outlanded” his venerable opponent. McGregor, who is said to have made upwards of $80 million (Dh293.8m) from it, rounded off his tweet with “Excited for Part 2”. A rematch is unnecessary, and Mayweather’s retired, but it would undeniably generate substantial interest – and revenue.

Floyd Mayweather Jr, left, won his crossover fight with Conor McGregor in 2017. Reuters 
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr, left, won his crossover fight with Conor McGregor in 2017. Reuters

Updated: May 20, 2020 07:33 AM

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