The UFC welterweight division has officially turned into the Wild, Wild West—a sultry, convoluted mess of a weight class with a handful of potential No. 1 contenders. Even former two-division champion Conor McGregor has somehow crept his way into the conversation of challengers to the Kamaru Usman throne.
Apparently, that’s what happens when your milkshake brings all of the pay-per-view buyers to the yard.
"Conor's quiet now. Why is Conor quiet? Who says no to a title shot?"@USMAN84kg sees McGregor as a worthy title challenger, but is surprised by his silence 🤫 (via @bokamotoESPN) pic.twitter.com/6XQpxgK2o5
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 26, 2020
The fight makes all of the sense in the world for Usman. It would basically pit him against the hottest draw in the company, who he just so happens to dwarf in both size and grappling abilities. A real opportunity to turn the UFC’s cash cow into prime rib isn’t something most fighters are willing to pass on.
Say what you want about McGregor, but the brash Irishman isn’t one to back down from a challenge. He’s the same guy that was calling out the best featherweights on the planet when he was only two fights into his UFC career. He’s the same fighter that willingly bumped up to lightweight to challenge and defeat former champion Eddie Alvarez. He’s the same man that agreed to fight Nate Diaz with less than two weeks’ notice at welterweight.
If a bout came together that made sense, you can rest assured McGregor would show up with a bottle of Proper Twelve whiskey in one hand and a pen in the other, ready to do business. But the last thing the UFC needs is an incendiary contract that sparks an ugly crashing and burning of its megastar.
Usman is basically a bigger version of Khabib Nurmagomedov with arguably better striking. So it’s hard to make sense of believable odds for McGregor after he was consistently taken down and grinded into submission by the reigning lightweight king back in November 2018.
Not to mention another loss would make him 3-3 in his last six fights, essentially eating away at the mystique of him being a viable title contender. It was no surprise when White vehemently swatted down the proposed bout.
“Listen, the next title fight for Usman is going to be one of these guys—it’s gonna be Colby [Covington], [Jorge] Masvidal, [Leon] Edwards,” UFC President Dana White said during an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “It’s going to be one of those guys. It’s not gonna be Conor McGregor.”
A non-title super fight with MMA legend Anderson Silva at a catchweight would make more sense for McGregor than a fight with Usman at this point. There would likely be no threat of a takedown, and despite giving up size, McGregor would be the significantly younger fighter. The timing also seems right with much of the all-time great talk swirling around at the moment.
I accept. https://t.co/HYqF132EvZ
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) May 28, 2020
Just imagine the buildup for a bout between McGregor and arguably the greatest fighter of all time. What better way for Silva to ride off into the sunset than punching the biggest golden ticket since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
But then again, the fight doesn’t really make sense from the UFC’s perspective. One blockbuster event isn’t worth potentially burying McGregor in the lightweight title picture.
The hope for the promotion is to get back to the rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, assuming interim lightweight champ and No. 1 contender Justin Gaethje doesn’t change those plans. A potential loss to a 45-year-old fighter on the brink of retirement does nothing for the UFC’s future plans.
Perhaps it’s a fight the promotion would consider revisiting if McGregor goes on to lose his next lightweight bout. That would be the time to start digging through the bottomless bag of potential fun, fan-pleasing popcorn fights.
But if not Silva or Usman, what’s next for McGregor?
There’s a madman on the mend by the name of Tony Ferguson that would probably love a chance to climb back into the title picture. The winner of Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker on June 27 could also be an intriguing option.
And then there’s Nate Diaz. Everyone knows a rubber match involving one of the company’s greatest rivalries has to happen at some point. Of course, this is all assuming Gaethje isn’t willing to roll the dice and chance his much-deserved shot at Nurmagomedov for a possible “red panty” night with McGregor.
Don’t expect the UFC to rush to a decision with the business recently taking out a $260 million loan to help with the Coronavirus relief efforts. The cancelling of multiple fight cards, along with the lack of a live gate due to emptied arenas, has taken its toll on the company. So it might actually behoove them to hold off on McGregor, particularly until more clarification comes their way on things reopening.
Even without a UFC title, McGregor remains illuminated by the radiating aura of marketability around him. Top contenders, current champions and even former legends from both MMA and boxing have all knocked on his door, asking for a fight.
They all understand the one simple truth right now in the fight business: Winning a world title changes your status, but fighting Conor McGregor changes your life.