Conor McGregor actually accomplished the impossible by pulling together a hundred million dollar fight with Floyd Mayweather. He lost, of course, like almost everyone expected him to, but it was an entertaining bout that left most people satisfied with the spectacle of it all. In the immediate aftermath of the fight, he said he would return to the UFC for his next fight, the organization partly responsible for his rise to the top of MMA.
McGregor is still the UFC lightweight champion and technically never lost the UFC featherweight championship, although it was awarded to Max Holloway. He can’t continue to hold up an entire weight class, so the smart money is on him returning to 155-pounds and defending his UFC title. However, McGregor has made a habit of pulling surprise career moves. No one expected him to jump weight classes and hold two titles simultaneously, but he did anyway. People laughed the idea of him fighting Floyd Mayweather, but he somehow made that happen too. At this point, it seems the cocky Irishman can do whatever he wants.
He took a loot around the world of combat sports and came up with 10 potential opponents for McGregor’s next fight. Some of them are the obvious suspects and some of them are outlandish longshots. It really doesn’t matter though, because people will tune in to watch McGregor fight regardless of who is standing across from him.
10. Khabib Nurmagomedov
The most obvious choice for McGregor’s next fight is the undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov. Since arriving in the UFC in 2012, Nurmagomedov has tore through the lightweight division with relative ease. His career mark of 24-0 should easily be enough to warrant a shot at McGregor’s UFC title, although there are now concerns about his ability to make the 155-pound weight limit.
Nurmagomedov was scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson in March 2017 for the interim Lightweight title, since McGregor was off making millions fighting Floyd Mayweather. However, trouble with the weight cut forced Nurmagomedov to be hospitalized and the fight was cancelled. Assuming that was a fluke occurrence and not a sign of a bigger problem, Nurmagomedov is probably the one fighter most deserving of a big money title shot about McGregor.
9. Georges St. Pierre
Forget about the Lightweight title for a minute. McGregor has already made a habit of foregoing his responsibilities as a champion to face big money fights with other huge names. Well, names don’t come much huger than the returning former Welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre. GSP is already booked to fight Michael Bisping on November 4th for the Middleweight title, but perhaps GSP could be convinced to drop to 170-pounds one last time for blockbuster fight against McGregor.
McGregor has fought at welterweight twice already in his career, as both fights against Nate Diaz took place at 170. He would be giving up a fair bit of size and weight to GSP, since St-Pierre was long considered one of the biggest welterweights in the game. Then again, if the UFC promised him $20 or $25 million to take on the Canadian legend, it might be hard for McGregor to say no. Likewise, it would easily be the biggest payday of GSP’s career, and a nice little bonus before he eventually retires for good.
8. Paulie Malignaggi
McGregor made a bunch of money in his first foray into boxing, and some analysts are already speculating that he might not bother to return to the UFC at all. After all, why make $10-$15 million to compete in the UFC when you can make $40-$70 million in a marquee boxing matchup. The only problem is that there aren’t a lot of marquee boxing matchups for McGregor to take on.
One possibility, however, is a grudge match against retired boxer Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi. He was hired to come into McGregor’s training camp ahead of the Mayweather fight, but famously and publicly walked away after someone leaked sparring footage that portrayed him in a negative light. He had a brief 15 minutes of fame as a fight analyst for Showtime, but repeatedly said he would happily unretire to give McGregor another shot at picking up a boxing win. It’s not as flashy as a fight with Floyd Mayweather, but it might be enough to keep McGregor interested in boxing.
7. Max Holloway
Back to the UFC for this potential opponent. McGregor started his UFC career as a featherweight (145 pounds) and quickly rose up the ranks, winning the interim Featherweight championship in a fight with Chad Mendes while undisputed champ Jose Aldo nursed various injuries. When the time came to unify the belts, McGregor needed all of 13 seconds to leave Aldo unconscious on the mat, the victim of a nasty left hook.
As McGregor pursued the Lightweight title (and the Mayweather superfight), the UFC felt they had no choice but to strip McGregor of the Featherweight championship due to inactivity. After a brief shuffle of interim and undisputed title holders, the belt now belongs to Max Holloway. If McGregor is feeling particularly slighted about having that championship taken away from him, he may attempt to get it back. It would require a grueling cut back down to 145-pounds, plus it’s a fight that wouldn’t generate as much money as some of the other options on this list, but McGregor may have a point to prove about the Featherweight title.
6. A.J. Styles or John Cena
We admit, this is most unlikely choice of all the choices on this list. There are a lot of barriers that would prevent McGregor from adding “pro wrestling” to his resume — his size (5’9″, 160-pounds), his contract demands, and the fact that he’s still in the prime of his legitimate athletic career are all reasons that McGregor isn’t likely to appear on WWE television any time soon. However, the one thing that is more valuable than anything in the world of pro wrestling is the right “character.” Make no mistake about it, McGregor has a great character.
Think about it. The tattoos, the fur coats, the charming Irish accent spitting out white-hot insults into any microphone in his general vicinity. If half of being a success in pro wrestling in the ability to work the mic and produce a genuine reaction from the crowd, whether it be love or hate or laughter, then McGregor already ticks that box with ease. It’s a longshot, sure, and it may not be realistic until McGregor’s real fighting career is over. Still, how cool would it be to see McGregor at WrestleMania? For the record, we picked A.J. Styles because he is just 5’11” (so he won’t tower over McGregor) and an incredible worker. We picked John Cena because, well, he’s John Cena.
5. Tony Ferguson/Kevin Lee
After going through multiple attempts to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson has moved on. He is booked to fight Kevin Lee for the interim UFC Lightweight championship on October 7 at UFC 216. In theory, the next fight after that would be a unification bout with McGregor, in order to once again get it down to a single champion at 155-pounds.
Ferguson is on a nine-fight win streak going into the cage against Lee (who has won five straight himself). It should be an exciting battle, especially since they both know that a big-money fight with McGregor could be next. That sort of added incentive should bring out the best in both Ferguson and Lee. As for who McGregor would prefer to face, he likely doesn’t care at all.
4. Manny Pacquiao
Sure, why not? We said right off the top that McGregor probably made more money in one night of boxing than he had in his entire MMA career up to that point. So why go back to the UFC at all? There’s at least a couple other big names in boxing, and a Conor McGregor vs. Manny Pacquiao fight would certainly sell a whack of pay-per-views, even with the Filipino superstar being long past his prime.
Pacquiao fought twice in 2016 and once in 2017, the latest being a decision loss to Australian Jeff Horn that cost him the WBO welterweight title. Seeing that Manny is almost 40-years-old and still a member of the Senate in the Philippines, it’s unlikely he will attempt to get back into title contention. However, pocketing a cool $100 million (or more) in one last spectacle boxing match against McGregor is probably a pretty attractive offer. Would McGregor sign up for this? If the price was right, he would.
3. No One
This may be a loophole, considering this was supposed to be a list of people that McGregor might fight next. But what if he doesn’t fight at all? Like, ever? The man made $100 million to get schooled by the greatest boxer to ever live. Do you really expect him to go back to getting choked out by Nate Diaz or knocking out nobodies in the UFC for $10 million per fight? Sounds like a tough sell, to us.
So maybe McGregor just takes his nest egg, invests it wisely, and fades off into the sunset. He has a brand new son in his life, one that he clearly adores based on the way he speaks about him in interviews and on social media. That’s the kind of life-changing perspective that makes a fighter reconsider a career that involves getting punched in the face for a living. While we’d still be surprised if McGregor actually hangs up his gloves for good, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that he walks away.
2. Tyron Woodley
We already mentioned a move back to welterweight for McGregor, but if GSP isn’t the right man for the job (he might be the Middleweight champion soon enough), there’s another option. Current Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley is in need of a pick-me-up after his title defense against Damian Maia at UFC 214 set the record for the least amount of punches landed in a championship fight. It was about as exciting as watching grass grow.
McGregor could skip the taxing weight cut and take a crack at being the first fighter in UFC history to win championships in three different weight classes. He’s already the first to hold multiple division titles at the same time, and only two other fighters (B.J. Penn and Randy Couture) have been champions of two different weight classes. Fighting the much bigger Woodley would be tough for McGregor, but he might not be able to resist the urge to make history once again, and declare himself the only “triple champion” in UFC history.
1. Nate Diaz
Forget the welterweight fights, the boxing, or even the unlikely WWE cameo appearance. THIS is the Conor McGregor fight that everyone wants to see. It was Nate Diaz, after all, that handed McGregor his first UFC loss as a last-minute replace at UFC 196. McGregor was unprepared for Diaz’s unique boxing ability and eventually ended up on the ground, the victim of a vicious rear naked choke. The two would meet again five months later at UFC 205, this time with McGregor getting a decision victory. It’s obvious to every fight fan that the trilogy must be completed.
Diaz has repeatedly told the media that he’s not fighting again unless it’s a huge payday against McGregor. If he does get his wish, the fight may be at 155-pounds instead of 170, since McGregor has demanded that a third and final fight be fought “on his terms.” Throw in the Lightweight title as a little extra incentive, and McGregor vs. Diaz 3 would be one of the best-selling UFC pay-per-views of all-time! It’s bound to happen eventually. It might as well be next.