Conor McGregor needs an opponent, and Rafael dos Anjos deserves a “baby we’ve done it” moment. There have been far worst ideas than pitting a pair of iconic lightweight figures together for a fist fight. Pop open a champagne bottle, bring out the chocolate strawberries and don’t forget about the red panties.
It’s about to get weird.
McGregor’s most notorious press conference jab was originally aimed in the direction of then UFC lightweight champion dos Anjos over three years ago. Dos Anjos was asked if he’d accept a money fight rather than facing the next man in line at 155 pounds. No one could have predicted his response would prompt the most quotable one-liner in UFC history.
“I can make you rich. When you sign to fight me, it’s a celebration,” McGregor told dos Anjos. “You ring back home, you ring your wife and say, ‘Baby we done it. We’re rich, baby. Conor McGregor made us rich. Break out the red panties.’ So don’t say you would not take that fight when you would take that fight like everyone else up here would take a fight against me if it was offered, regardless of belts and any of that (expletive). I’m the money fight in the male (expletive) at all the weight divisions so (expletive) everyone else up here.”
McGregor and dos Anjos were originally scheduled to fight in a champion vs. champion bout at UFC 196 back in March 2016, but dos Anjos suffered an injury in training, essentially nixing the UFC’s plans and paving the way for Nate Diaz to step into the spotlight on short notice. Upon return, dos Anjos would go on to lose the lightweight title to Eddie Alvarez by TKO and then drop a decision to Tony Ferguson, which ultimately ended his time at 155 pounds.
His success in the lightweight division followed him to 170 pounds, where he defeated former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, along with a pair of respectable contenders in Neil Magny and Tarec Saffiedine. Then a couple losses to current UFC champ Kamaru Usman and top contender Colby Covington brought him right back to his old stomping grounds at lightweight and potentially in the crosshairs of McGregor.
Reigning UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov isn’t taking the bait on an immediate rematch with Conor McGregor, and his team seems hell-bent on doing right by interim champ Dustin Poirier. That essentially leaves the brash Irishman without a dance partner for the summer, which he is reportedly targeting as his timeframe for a return.
Diaz is already slated to fight Anthony Pettis in August, and Cerrone is going head-to-head with Ferguson on June 8 in a title eliminator bout. There isn’t another fight out there that makes sense for McGregor as far as keeping him relevant in the title picture. A fight with lightweight contender Justin Gaethje would be a fun time, but it wouldn’t carry the same weight as a proposed bout with dos Anjos. If jumping to the front of the line isn’t an option, McGregor could easily cut into the wait time by attempting to knock off a former champion.
Sorry, Tony Ferguson.
Not only would a win over dos Anjos clear a path back to the title for McGregor, but it would also add further intrigue to what would have already been a blockbuster rematch. Dos Anjos has one of the best ground games in the lightweight division, as he gracefully reminded fans by taking Kevin Lee down repeatedly and eventually submitting him with an arm-triangle choke. If McGregor could stave off dos Anjos’ takedowns and survive his web of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doom, he would have an easier time convincing even diehard skeptics that he has a legitimate shot at taking back the throne.
While some are quick to point out the fact that McGregor hasn’t won a fight in nearly three years, he has also only lost to Nurmagomedov and Diaz under the UFC banner. The loss to Diaz has already been avenged, and Nurmagomedov is revered as one of the greatest lightweights to ever step foot in the octagon. So it isn’t like Conor McGregor has gone on some extended losing streak that should automatically disqualify him from being in the title picture.
As for Rafael dos Anjos, the chance at a marquee fight against the biggest draw in the sport is warranted for such an underappreciated talent. Cerrone, Diaz, Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis—dos Anjos has unseated so many great fighters over the years and never really received the recognition he rightfully deserves. It makes sense to drop the future Hall of Famer smack-dab in the middle of the McGregor circus and give him the opportunity to soak up the spotlight.
The context of McGregor’s comments towards dos Anjos is ironic several years later.
Belts are merely a prop that pale in comparison to the name attached to the fight card. Even without a UFC title to his name, McGregor remains the A-side of the ticket—the lone personality that commands the attention of the mainstream sports world. A five-round, non-title fight with dos Anjos would still be the most lucrative bout of the year, assuming it’s the only fight McGregor took in 2019.
But it won’t always be that way, especially if he continues to lose fights. There could come a time when the masses start tuning out the quotable one-liners and writing off the pre-fight banter as manufactured drama. Conor McGregor still holds the sports world in the palm of his hand simply because he hasn’t given them a reason to peek behind the curtain. That championship rematch is still out there, and with it, McGregor can rebuild his case as lightweight king.
However, another loss to Nurmagomedov—or even worse, another contender—could leave the former two-division champ searching for his own red panty night.