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LAS VEGAS – Several times during a news conference at Radio City Music Hall in New York last month, Conor McGregor referred to his love of fighting.
He’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. He was on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the last two years, and he’ll make it again if his only bout in that time is Saturday’s lightweight championship match with Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena.
It’s all but a lock to become the first UFC bout to ever sell two million on pay-per-view, and it could rise considerably depending upon how the week plays out. That’s going to be money, and lots of it, headed directly into McGregor’s bank account.
If he has proven anything in his five-plus years in the UFC, it’s that he doesn’t fight for the money. He earned $85 million-plus for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather in 2017, and many, including UFC president Dana White, thought we’d seen the last of McGregor in a prizefight.
“I came back for the love of fighting and the love of war,” McGregor said. “I am going to truly, truly love putting a bad, bad beating on this little glass-jaw rat.”
If there is one fighter in the world whose motivation is the love of the competition more than the paycheck, it’s McGregor. He’s proven that, repeatedly.
That said, McGregor has a great love for money, and the six-fight contract extension he signed with the UFC has the potential to make him one of the five highest-paid fighters in combat sports history.
It severely limits, though, his potential future opponents. If McGregor defeats Nurmagomedov on Saturday – Nurmagomedov is a minus-165 favorite – the list of men who may stand across from him in the cage would be no more than six.
At the top of that list would be ex-welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who has mulled a cut to lightweight but could meet McGregor in a catch-weight fight that would be another mega-payday for the Irishman.
McGregor loves breaking records, and if he defeats Nurmagomedov, he could choose to challenge welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in a bid to become the first UFC fighter to hold championships in three weight classes.
Given the large gaps between the weight classes, that would be one of the most difficult records to break in the UFC, and doing things that nobody else has [or could even attempt] to do is one of McGregor’s prime motivators.
A rematch with Nurmagomedov can’t be ruled out, given how well it will do on pay-per-view, but it is vastly more likely if Nurmagomedov wins on Saturday than if McGregor does.
McGregor defeated Max Holloway, now the featherweight champion, in a 2013 bout in Boston. Now, that type of match would be a mega-event, and with Holloway expected to move to lightweight in the not-too-distant future, it’s not out of the question Holloway could get what would prove to be a very rich rematch.
Tony Ferguson can’t be ruled out, particularly if he defeats Anthony Pettis in Saturday’s co-main event. Ferguson was the interim champion but got stripped when he was injured prior to a planned defense against Nurmagomedov in April at UFC 223. A high-profile win over Pettis would make Ferguson the obvious lightweight choice were McGregor to upset Nurmagomedov.
Just for the sheer trash-talk alone, the UFC might consider a McGregor-Colby Covington fight. Covington has stolen McGregor’s shtick, and to see those two go at it in public appearances would be epic.
Nate Diaz has to be on any list of future McGregor opponents, particularly given that they each have a win over the other and their second fight sold a record 1.65 million on pay-per-view in 2016. Diaz fights Dustin Poirier at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden. If McGregor and Diaz win their fights, wouldn’t a rubber match at the annual New Year’s Eve show in Las Vegas capture plenty of attention?
The only other fighter who may seem to be on the list, though he’s decidedly behind the others, would be top featherweight contender Brian Ortega. UFC president Dana White once referred to Ortega as “the epitome of a UFC fighter.” Ortega would only be in consideration if he defeated Holloway once their bout is rescheduled. But if he did that, and was impressive in doing it, he’d likely find his way onto McGregor’s radar.
Figuring out who will be next isn’t simple, because there are a lot of moving parts. It would be best to rank the possibilities in two lists, one if McGregor defeats Nurmagomedov and another if he loses.
Here’s my ranking of the likely opponents if McGregor wins on Saturday:
But if McGregor loses, that changes things, though the way he loses will play into it. But here is my ranking in the event of a Nurmagomedov win on Saturday:
The picture certainly won’t be clarified on Saturday, no matter what because, as White likes to say, “I don’t make fights after the fight.”
We should, though, have a far greater idea of where it is going after UFC 229 than we do right now.
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