After his highly anticipated bout last weekend against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, Conor McGregor came up short to suffer his first knockout loss of his mixed martial arts career.
The 32 year old was aiming for an active 2021 against the world’s best, whether it was a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov or a boxing fight against Manny Pacquiao.
However, defeat has put those bouts on hold as we look at who MMA’s biggest superstar could come up against next to get his career in combat sports back on track.
Following the fight at UFC 257, both McGregor and Poirier expressed their interest in another rematch in the Lightweight division, which would be a trilogy and conclude the series between the pair.
It is currently one a piece between both fighters, as McGregor was victorious when they first met back in 2014 at UFC 178.
Redemption in this contest would certainly be appealing to McGregor, and would put him back in the mix for title contention. The Irishman is always willing to prove a point after taking defeat, as we saw in the rematch with Nate Diaz in 2016.
He has a chance to learn from his mistakes in the previous fight, and prove to the world once again that he is still among the elite. Although, one aspect that does need to change if this fight does take place again is defending the calf kicks.
Poirier managed to sink in several of these throughout the contest, which troubled McGregor in the second round. Calf kicks have become a popular weapon in MMA in the past couple of years, and must be defended in the trilogy should it happen if he wants any chance to get his hand raised.
As alluded to previously, another trilogy that would make sense would be another rematch with Nate Diaz.
Dana White confirmed recently that the 35 year old American was looking for a fight in the Lightweight division, and what better time than now when both men would be competing on the back of losses.
Diaz’s last fight was against Jorge Masvidal in 2019, and has since talked about a third fight with McGregor at great interest.
It has been five years since the pair have clashed. A bout in 2021 would intrigue the MMA world between two of the baddest on the planet, especially since both have been fairly unactive since their epic battles.
The original rematch between Diaz and McGregor, where the latter came out on top, was one of the biggest and most entertaining fights in UFC history in a five round war. The blockbuster main event at UFC 202 was special to say the least.
Diaz is as durable as they come in the game, with his terrific cardio and long frame making it awkward for opponents and a stylistic threat to McGregor.
Both bouts were held in the Welterweight division, but a fight in a lighter weight class would be more suitable and comfortable for McGregor to compete in as Diaz is yet to compete at Lightweight since 2015.
Nevertheless, a showdown between the two would be a cracker and one that McGregor has been eyeing for years.
A formidable fighter he is yet to come up against at Lightweight could be next for The Notorious one in Tony Ferguson. El Cucuy has had a legendary career in the UFC, but has been defeated in his last two fights against Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira.
He is still considered to be ranked towards the top of the division and would be another good test for McGregor in the UFC.
Ferguson is known for his boxing skills and incredible durability which saw him survive brutal punishment for most of the Gaethje fight. Should it be next for McGregor, it could be another war that was seen in the Diaz rematch and subsequently another match up for the history books.
The former interim champion also possesses a dangerous ground game, a weapon that is dubbed as vulnerable for McGregor when talking about potential weaknesses.
This gives a chance for the Irishman to prove that he can compete with elite black belts in the game, whilst aiming to gain a win over an all time great who was on a 12 fight winning streak prior to his previous two losses.
Justin Gaethje is another name that is constantly mentioned with McGregor for future match ups, and there would be no surprise if he was next on the list.
Another fighter who tasted defeat in his last fight. Both men have very similar stylistic skillsets that would presumably lead to them trading blows throughout the contest and make it an enjoyable watch.
They have also had similar results in recent history, both losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov via submission in an undisputed title fight and both losing to Poirier via knockout.
When both are victorious, they usually end up being awarded fight bonuses whether it’s for their spectacular performances or vicious knockouts. It would be a no brainer to match the two up, especially considering their current situations.
Unlike Ferguson, Gaethje has appeared to crack when shots have landed which could suit McGregor in this match up.
But Gaethje was also very persistent with his calf kicks against Khabib, albeit they didn’t have huge impact on the Russian, so McGregor must be able to solve that riddle if he is to stand up and trade with another knockout artist.
Ultimately, despite losing and not starting 2021 the way he wanted, Conor McGregor has plenty of match ups that will intrigue fans and help him climb back up the rankings in the UFC.
Although it won’t be for a belt, there are a pool of fighters that are dangerous in the Lightweight division that McGregor can come face to face with and gain redemption as he has shown he can do in the past.
Inactivity has been a huge problem for McGregor over the past few years, so a swift comeback in the spring/summer would be ideal to get back competing and back in the win column.
I believe a trilogy with Poirier will be next up for him, due to how optimistic the American was in his post fight press conference when the idea of it came up. However if it does turn out to be another fighter, there is no doubt in my mind that The Notorious one will be back with a bang in the coming months.