Win or lose vs. Donald Cerrone, Conor McGregor has plenty of options for his next fight

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor moved up a spot in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings in December, going from 14th to 13th.

His Nov. 12, 2016, win in New York over Eddie Alvarez must still be resonating in the minds of the voters.

McGregor also dropped, from third to fourth, in the UFC’s lightweight rankings. Perhaps there, the voters concentrated on the fourth-round submission loss in 2018 to champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

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But McGregor’s rankings show the imprint he has made on this sport which he has ruled for the better part of the last five years despite increasingly infrequent victories. McGregor, whose last win came at UFC 205 when he stopped Alvarez in the second to win the lightweight belt, will have a chance to get back on track Saturday when he takes on Donald Cerrone at welterweight in the main event of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena.

[Don’t miss Conor vs. Cowboy on Jan. 18: Order UFC 246 on ESPN+ now!]

It’s pretty obvious what awaits him with a victory: A shot against the winner of the upcoming lightweight title fight in April between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

If McGregor and Nurmagomedov each win, a rematch between them could be the first MMA bout in history to sell more than three million on pay-per-view.

It gets a lot more complicated, though, if McGregor loses. He says he’s committed to fighting and wants to fight at least three times this year, if not more, though retirement would have to at least be considered a viable option if he suffers a bad loss to Cerrone.

The options are much greater if he continues to fight even in light of a loss. He could take on the loser of the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight in a bout that would also be massive on pay-per-view. A McGregor loss to Cerrone would bring a bout with Jorge Masvidal into play, as well.

It might mean that Justin Gaethje gets the shot against McGregor that fans wanted so badly to see on Saturday, or it could bring a rubber match with Nate Diaz.

In addition, a boxing match can’t be ruled out. McGregor said during an interview with ESPN on Monday that he wanted to box again and mentioned Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao as potential opponents.

UFC fighter Conor McGregor in attendance at Bellator Dublin in the 3Arena on Sept. 27, 2019 in Dublin. (David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
UFC fighter Conor McGregor in attendance at Bellator Dublin in the 3Arena on Sept. 27, 2019 in Dublin. (David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Mayweather and McGregor combined in 2017 to sell 4.4 million on pay-per-view, which is second all-time following the 2015 boxing match between Mayweather and Pacquiao, which did 4.6 million. Dana White insists Mayweather-McGregor is No. 1 but that Showtime, which controlled the pay-per-view, didn’t want a bout with a UFC fighter to come out as the all-time leader.

Whichever it was, though, it created massive public interest, and even if interest dropped 50 percent, that would mean pay-per-view sales of over 2 million and a live paid gate of about $27.5 million. To put into context how big of a gate that is, Saturday’s bout at T-Mobile between McGregor and Cerrone is sold out and expected to do a little better than a $10 million gate.

Mayweather signed a deal with White last year which White says is for Mayweather to fight. What he wouldn’t specify was who it would be against and whether it would be a boxing or an MMA fight.

Mayweather hasn’t fought since defeating McGregor on Aug. 26, 2017, and he hasn’t fought an actual boxer since beating Andre Berto on Sept. 12, 2015. He’ll be 43 on Feb. 24, so he’s also getting to an age where if he is going to compete again, he’ll have to do it soon.

Yahoo Sports reached out to Sean Gibbons, the head of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, to ask about Pacquiao’s interest in fighting McGregor. Gibbons said that he had been stuck in Japan for several days because of a volcano eruption and had just returned to Manila. He said he hadn’t spoken to Pacquiao yet.

A Pacquiao-McGregor fight would probably surpass a million pay-per-view buys, but could create issues at ESPN, which has an MMA contract with the UFC but has an exclusive boxing deal with Top Rank. White and Top Rank chairman Bob Arum have a contentious relationship and so it is not known how that would impact the bout. Fox pay-per-view could do it, and the UFC used to be on Fox (while Pacquiao used to be promoted by Top Rank), but would ESPN agree to let UFC put its biggest star on a rival network? Top Rank president Todd duBoef declined to comment.

There are three other MMA fights that have to at least be considered possibilities for McGregor: rematches against ex-featherweight champion Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier, and a welterweight bout with Colby Covington.

Covington is perhaps second only to McGregor as a trash talker and they’d light up social media to promote a fight. Awareness and name recognition are the biggest drivers of PPV sales and McGregor and Covington bring both.

McGregor will continue to have plenty of options regardless of how the fight goes with Cerrone. The name of the game in the fight business is selling tickets and pay-per-views, and no active fighter is better at either than McGregor.

That’s why he’ll be in big fights, win or lose, for the foreseeable future. 

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