Conor McGregor’s camp hold high hopes the UFC star will return to the octagon this year, as they seek an opponent that truly excites the former two-division champion.
McGregor, still the biggest draw in the sport, has not competed since July 2021, when he lost his trilogy bout to Dustin Poirier after breaking his leg towards the conclusion of the opening round in Las Vegas.
The former champion at featherweight and lightweight, the first athlete in the UFC to hold two belts simultaneously, had lost to Poirier six months earlier in Abu Dhabi, meaning he has won once in his past four appearances in the promotion.
McGregor, 34, is expected to make his long-awaited comeback sometime this year, but as of yet nothing has been confirmed.
On Monday in an interview on The MMA Hour, long-time head coach John Kavanagh said of McGregor’s 2023 return: “I’d be willing to bet my house on it. I was actually just chatting with him yesterday or the day before, and then [McGregor’s manager] Audie [Attar of Paradigm Sports] was in town.
“Yeah, I think there’s some interesting negotiations going along now. I absolutely can’t say anything beyond that, but I’m very, very confident that we’ll see Conor back in the octagon this year.”
No matter McGregor’s recent record, or his long recovery from injury, his next bout will be sure to garner significant attention. He should have no shortage of high-profile potential opponents, with Michael Chandler, Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson among those to have called him out.
Also, a money-spinning trilogy clash with free-agent Nate Diaz would hold obvious appeal to the sport.
But Kavanagh said: “I’m asked this so often and I have to be honest when I say I really don’t mind. What matters to me is that, let’s say I’m seeing Conor this week and we’re chatting and he says a few names and I see a name particularly gets the eyes open, particularly gets his pacing up and down the living room and showing me what he’s going to do and what he’s not going to do.
"That would be absolutely the most important thing for me: that it’s a name that’s going to excite him.
“Because for Conor, for training for this next fight, he’s definitely got to find something that’s massively motivating to him to get him out of the silk pants and into the sweaty gym. What’s it going to be? A couple million more [in earnings]? Is that really going to motivate him? I don’t think so.
"He has a couple championship belts. Is that it? I don’t think so. So I think it’s more going to be a particular opponent, a particular skill set and how it matches up against him.”
Kavanagh added: “You’ve got the great Nate Diaz is obviously in there. Justin Gaethje would be a very interesting match-up - somebody he hasn’t fought before. The Poirier fight, we’ve done that so many times at this stage [the American sits 2-1 up in the rivalry] and it’s just a weird one.
“Michael Chandler: a great fighter, a great athlete. They’re all brilliant. They’re all going to bring something different to the contest.
“What I would be looking for would be the one name that gets Conor moving, gets him off his stool, gets him moving around and gets him excited. Some of the names I’ve heard him mention it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’d fight him’.
“But if I see that level of lack of interest, I’d be nervous that won’t get him through 12 weeks of being in a very tough environment. Where if it’s a name that is exciting, then training is fun and training is easy.”