On Saturday, August 26, 2017, Conor McGregor will step into the ring against one of greatest boxers of all time, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr., in a boxing match scheduled for twelve-rounds. After the dust settles from what is likely to end up being one of combat sports most profitable evenings, it won’t be long before the talk shifts to the future of McGregor in the UFC and his status as the largest mixed martial arts promotions 155-lbs champion, especially once the clamoring starts from the sportsbook. Here’s where things will be, and where they might end up if The Notorious decides to step inside the Octagon once more.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0, UFC: 8-0) is still ranked at No. 1 in the division despite not competing since November of last year and suffering weight cutting issues which forced him to pull out of an interim title fight with Tony Ferguson in March of this year. There has been no official word yet on when The Eagle will see action again, but one thing is for certain; it won’t be against Ferguson for the interim title. Dana White stated that Conor wanted to face the undefeated Russian in his home land, but given the amount of money McGregor is set to make against Floyd, we’ll see if he’s willing to take those kinds of risks for small potatoes.
Six weeks after Mayweather-McGregor, we will be treated to No. 2 Tony Ferguson (22-3, UFC: 12-1) against No. 7 Kevin Lee (16-2, UFC: 9-2) for the Interim-UFC Lightweight Championship. Ferguson was denied his chance at (interim) UFC gold earlier this year due to the aforementioned Khabib’s health issues, but he’ll get a second chance against the younger Lee. El Cucuy is the heavy favorite to win this bout, and if so will make him a more viable opponent if and when McGregor returns. Having the gold was good enough for the Irishman to take on Eddie Alvarez, and Ferguson is bound to give him one of hell of a fight if given the chance. If Lee manages the upset, then it’s unlikely his stock will rise high enough to warrant the opportunity. That outcome would more likely lead to Conor moving up to welterweight, or facing someone else with more star power in the division.
The next best option if gold, an Eagle, or a golden eagle is not on the table is a rubber match with Stockton’s very own Nate Diaz (19-11, UFC: 14-9), currently ranked at No. 6 in the UFC. Both fighters are a 1-1, with Diaz winning the first match by second round stoppage and Conor squeaking out a majority-decision win in the rematch. With the first two contests being held at 170-lbs, it is widely believed that the third installment will take place at 155-lbs. If so, bet it will be for Conor’s UFC gold, and all the bragging rights. While Diaz has not competed since his last outing with Conor just over one year ago, he’s always a fan favorite (even if the UFC brass wants to pretend he ins’t) and can make claim to being the only fighter to defeat Conor inside the Octagon.
The lightweight division is undoubtedly stacked right now with talent but still lacks in overall star power, at least when it comes to blockbuster bouts. Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje will coach opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter, and in keeping with tradition likely face off in a significant bout for the division at a date still yet to be determined. Dustin Poirier will face former champion Anthony Pettis in November, and would love a rematch with McGregor, as would anyone, but even with a win the odds are slim. A win for Pettis might put him on the radar, but given his inconsistency, also means that he has a steep hill to climb back to the top. Edson Barboza is probably one of the most dangerous people in the division right now for anyone, and it’s surprising to not see him fighting for the interim-title, as he is ever improving and on the cusp of stardom. His 2015 loss to Ferguson likely factored in to the decision despite his highlight reel finish of Beneil Dariush in March of this year.
While all these fighters are top talent and worthy of consideration for big fights, this is the Conor McGregor Era and if you can’t sell big, then you won’t sell at all. So far the only name mentioned that can headline a pay-per-view is Nate Diaz, but even then the clock is ticking and the division will always move on without you.