MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Conor McGregor is in an interesting place for his next fight, as both the top two options present stylistic challenges that could be kryptonite to the UFC’s biggest star. McGregor has shown very little weaknesses in his fight game, backing up everything he’s said he’s going to do. The perception of both Frankie Edgar and Rafael dos Anjos giving McGregor trouble stems both from the fact he is exclusively a striker and his fight against Chad Mendes. While Mendes had to eat punches to close the distance, he was able to effectively mount offense on the ground and control McGregor when he was able to take him down.
Edgar is an even better wrestler, with better control and ability to get people to the mat than Mendes. His striking game is also much more technical, and he’s entirely comfortable exchanging on his feet before using his stand up skills to set up a takedown. Dos Anjos showed a scary relentlessness and power when he trucked Donald Cerrone in a touch over a minute. Besides dos Anjos’ powerful violence, moving up to fight the Lightweight Champ partially negates a natural advantage that McGregor has over his current division: size. I say partially, because McGregor would still have a four inch reach advantage were he to take a shot and the 155 pound belt right now. Fighting a bigger opponent does, however, raise the chances that the fight may end up on the ground.
McGregor fighting for the Lightweight Title at some point is almost a sure thing right now. It is important at this juncture that he pick the fight that will extend his reign the longest, and keep or raise his earning potential for the time being. He’s in the unfortunate position that the opponents for doing so aren’t necessarily ideal. The less dangerous fight at the moment might be Frankie Edgar, but there’s even more impetus for taking that fight right now than just that. Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis face off in less than a month, and the winner of that has a good chance of fighting for the title next. Were McGregor to beat Edgar, a fight against Alvarez (fantastic) or Pettis (MAKE THIS FIGHT) at UFC 200 or shortly thereafter is one of the most appealing realistic dream fights there is. And of course, should dos Anjos prevail, McGregor could always take him on at that point.
Nate Diaz vs. McGregor would sell, and sell well. Diaz can provide what Jose Aldo couldn’t in promotions and run his mouth with the best of them. Now, Diaz has come out and said he’s got McGregor next, but it’s more than fair to take what he says with a fairly large bucket of salt. It would look like strange booking to match those two up together at the moment, but there is a scenario that makes some sense here. If McGregor was truly done with making the cut to 145 pounds, fighting Diaz would be a marketable way to avoid RDA for the time being. This is of course, assuming that McGregor is a realistic favorite in a Diaz match. He could “earn” a title shot at 155, with the potential of facing a more favorable opponent in Alvarez or Pettis when he does eventually challenge for the belt.
That’s a few convoluted reasons to set up a fight that doesn’t fit perfectly with the way the rankings currently sit. Outside of that, there isn’t a big reason to make that fight right now. A Diaz bout is can be made at any time, and is a good one for the UFC to keep in their back pocket in the event that McGregor loses his title and isn’t quite ready for a rematch. With Diaz coming off his best victory in years, there’s also the chance that he’s an arguable title contender with another good win, making a legitimate championship shot with McGregor a lucrative proposition in the future as well. McGregor has expressed a desire to stay busy, hopefully we’ll see what’s next for him soon.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
He has to fight either Aldo or Edgar. As much as I would love to see McGregor fight dos Anjos, you can’t hold up the division. I favor Aldo for the title shot at McGregor, but if McGregor doesn’t fight him next it has to be Edgar who fights him. I would definitely be in favor of McGregor going for his second title if it wasn’t for the fact that both Aldo and Edgar have great cases for title shots of their own. Aldo and Edgar should be given one chance for a title shot. If either guy has to pull out due to injury, it’s done for him.
So, basically it should be that you set up a fight between McGregor and Aldo and you tell Edgar to stay ready in case. If Aldo pulls out due to injury, he loses his shot and it goes to Edgar. If Edgar also has to pull out, he loses his shot and McGregor can move up to face dos Anjos. If Aldo is able to fight, Edgar gets the winner and then McGregor can move up if he still wants to. As exciting as a fight between McGregor and dos Anjos would be, I don’t think you can book that right now.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
DAN MOORE, MMATORCH UK COLUMNIST
The path is clear at lightweight for Conor McGregor to take his shot, there’s never been a better time for him to capitalise. A fight with Rafael dos Anjos isn’t going to generate record breaking money, but it’s a means to an end if it earns him a second championship. Even if he loses, it won’t hurt him in the long term. General opinion of dos Anjos has dramatically improved after his last two fights, so a defeat at the hands of the Brazilian isn’t a show stopper. Both Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo are deserving of a Featherweight Title shot, but they can wait until the summer. Do dos Anjos vs. McGregor in March or April, and then if all goes well injury wise, set McGregor vs. Edgar (or Aldo) at UFC 200 next July.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I would hope Frankie Edgar is next, but there’s no way I’m going to make an actual prediction here. From a sporting perspective, that’s the most just fight to make. Edgar’s been passed over time and time again, he’s the undisputed #1 contender in the champion’s weight class, the current champion bypassed him for a title shot, the guy who passed him for the interim title shot lost both that shot AND to Edgar himself a couple weeks ago, the current champ hasn’t defended his current title once and should at least do that before moving up, and the lightweight division has not at all been cleaned out. There are just too many compelling arguments for McGregor to stay at featherweight for at least his next fight. So, with that said, non-title fight with Nate Diaz, MFers! 209! 209! 209!