Opinion: The UFC lightweight division is moving on without Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor
Image: @thenotoriousMMA on instagram

Conor McGregor recently announced his retirement from MMA, yet as so many inside the combat sports bubble expected, it already looks like that retirement will be short lived. McGregor has continued to hint at a UFC return on his social media channels, and UFC President Dana White has stated that he hopes to coax the Irish superstar back into the Octagon soon — perhaps even as soon as this summer.

Yet if McGregor and the UFC intend to orchestrate another fight in the near future, they might run into a big problem.

There’s not really anybody available for him to fight.

Let’s start with Khabib Nurmagomedov, the UFC lightweight champion, and the man Conor McGregor would likely choose to fight next if it were solely his decision to make. The undefeated Russian is expected to fight interim lightweight titleholder Dustin Poirier next, and not until UFC 242 in early September. So he’s not an option at the moment.

So, how about Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a man often mentioned as a fantastic opponent for McGregor, and a fighter McGregor himself as expressed interest in competing against? Well, he was recently booked for a UFC 238 fight with top lightweight contender Tony Ferguson — a compelling option for McGregor in his own right.

Until very recently, a fight with Nate Diaz seemed like a logical choice should Conor McGregor opt to return to the cage. The Irishman and the Stockton, California based star are tied 1-1 across two previous fights, and undeniably still have a score to settle. Yet the younger Diaz bro has recently been linked to a welterweight showdown with Anthony Pettis. So he appears to be off the menu for McGregor too.

With Nurmagomedov, Poirier, Cowboy, Ferguson and Diaz all tied up, the list of potential Conor McGregor opponents suddenly looks quite thin.

Justin Gaethje is one option, but it’s hard to imagine McGregor welcoming a fight with an opponent so dangerous if there is no title on the line and no score to be settled.

Al Iaquinta is another interesting idea, but he was recently walloped by Cowboy in Ottawa, which sucked some of the appeal out of a matchup between him and McGregor. Furthermore, he’s got a long festering beef with the aforementioned Gaethje, and might well be matched up with the former World Series of Fighting champ as a result.

Consider the facts that Kevin Lee has left lightweight in favor of the welterweight division, that Edson Barboza is riding a brutal knockout loss to Gaethje, and that nobody else in the UFC lightweight top-15 really has a big enough name to be matched up with McGregor, and the problem really becomes clear.

Conor McGregor has long been the biggest star in MMA. He still is today. Yet in MMA, it truly takes two to tango. Even the biggest star in the sport’s history needs a dance partner, and the unfortunate fact is that all of the most suitable dance partners for McGregor have gotten tired of waiting for him and paired up with others. So unless McGregor plans on waiting until the latter phases of this year or returning to the featherweight or welterweight division, it looks like he’s all alone on the dance floor.

If McGregor’s retirement announcement was legit, then this is all a non-issue. He’s got the resources to kick back and relax, and as one of the most successful and exciting fighters in combat sports history, he has more than earned the right to do just that. Yet if his retirement is the thinly veiled negotiation tactic so many members of the MMA community suspect it is, he might have made a serious miscalculation.

What do you think the future holds for Conor McGregor?

Note: The views expressed in this text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of BJPENN.COM or its affiliates. 

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 5/13/2019.