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Beyond Mayweather: 5 options for Conor McGregor’s UFC return

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After earning the biggest payday of his career this past weekend, Conor McGregor currently finds himself sitting securely in the driver’s seat when it comes to his fighting future.

The way he carried himself in defeat, and considering that he actually won rounds against the greatest boxer of this generation, did more to bring MMA and boxing together than any moment in history. It’s being reported that when it’s all said and done, McGregor will be taking home a 9-figure payday for his first professional boxing bout. Although he has expressed his desire to compete inside of the Octagon to defend his lightweight title, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to do it for what he was earning before; mere pennies in comparison to his most recent payday. The only thing I could imagine that would bring McGregor back to the UFC would be a stake in company ownership or co-promoter status with ‘McGregor Promotions’; we’ll just have to see how that unfolds.

If McGregor does decide to make WME and Dana White happy by choosing to return to the UFC instead of boxing, here’s the 5 best options for his first fight back.

photo credit – James Law

1. Nate Diaz

This is still MMA’s biggest money fight. And it’s the most logical.

McGregor and Diaz are responsible for the top two buyrates in UFC history in regards to pay-per-view. Those events took place just over five months apart. While an immediate trilogy fight could’ve been booked with the two men being even at one win a piece — timing is everything — it just would’ve been too soon. That’s no longer the case.

Similar to the aftermath of his loss to Diaz, McGregor’s stock has never been higher following his 10th round TKO defeat by the fists of Mayweather. The UFC needs a big fight to capitalize on the post Mayweather-McGregor high and there would be nothing bigger than a rubber match between McGregor and Diaz over a year removed from their impromptu history making feud at welterweight. Factor in that McGregor’s lightweight title being on the line this time around and you actually may surpass the first two in PPV buys.

2. Khabib Nurmagomedov

As opposed to McGregor versus Diaz 3, where it’s all pros and no cons, this one provides us with both. We’ll start with the pros.

The UFC can sell Nurmagomedov for what he is, a 24-0 Sambo machine with some of the best wrestling in the promotion. Despite the language barrier, he’s great a promoting himself and he continues to remain relevant despite not having fought since UFC 205, which is coincidentally the last time we saw McGregor inside of the Octagon.

Now, onto the cons. McGregor has been very critical of Nurmagomedov’s penchant for pulling out of fights, which could make it difficult for him to commit to a match up with the current top ranked contender.

If negotiations for a McGregor-Diaz trilogy fight end up going sour, Khabib could be next up for McGregor despite his past as a “pull out merchant,” as McGregor likes to call him. That said, this a fight that is more likely to be saved for the UFC’s debut in Russia sometime in 2018 or beyond.

3. Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee winner

These two men will do battle for an interim title giving the winner a guaranteed shot at unifying the 155 lbs title currently held by McGregor sometime next year. While it’s doubtful that the winner of this fight will be next for McGregor, a victory for either man is the equivalent of a Wonka golden ticket should Conor successfully defend his title and decide to continue on at lightweight beyond that. However, things just never appear to be that cut and dry in the UFC these days.

Top 5 Boxing Opponents for Conor McGregor

4. Nick Diaz

If there’s a bigger fight than McGregor versus Nate Diaz III, it may just be McGregor versus Nick Diaz I. Although the suspension handed down to Diaz for ingesting marijuana metabolites following his UFC 183 bout against Anderson Silva was lifted over a year ago, Nate’s big bro doesn’t seem to be in any rush to fight again. While a once in a lifetime payday could certainly change his tune, it’d doubtful that he’d want to finish what his brother already started. It’d be pretty awesome though.

5. Georges St. Pierre

With GSP back in the fold — the first fight on his multi-fight contract will be for the middleweight title against Michael Bisping in November — the UFC gets a much needed boost in star power when it comes to selling PPV’s. Should St. Pierre defeat Bisping, he’ll be required to unify the titles against interim champion Robert Whittaker before a potential superfight with McGregor could take place. Should he lose, a return to welterweight to take on McGregor wouldn’t be out of the question. He’ll just have to prove that he’s still a draw after nearly 4 years away from the sport that made him a Canadian hero.

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