After being comprehensively beaten by Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday, Conor McGregor’s career now sits in a very precarious position.
Forget the melee that erupted after UFC 229. In the actual main event, Nurmagomedov battered McGregor in an extremely one-sided lightweight title fight. Yes, a title fight.
That means that McGregor has now lost three of his last four battles.
And for an athlete who has time and again said that his legacy as a fighter is more important than anything else (money, fame etc.), his next move is quite possibly the most important of his career.
Here are his options.
Revenge on Nurmagomedov
Just hours after UFC 229, McGregor took to Twitter to confirm his desire for another crack at Nurmagomedov.
“Good knock,” he Tweeted. “Looking forward to the rematch.”
On Instagram McGregor very confusingly posted: “We lost the match but won the battle. The war goes on.”
Social Media is still trying to work-out what ‘battle’ McGregor won. Anyway, we digress.
While a shot at redemption with Nurmagomedov appears to be McGregor’s main priority, it won’t just happen at the click of his fingers.
Among the many things that need to be considered are whether Nurmagomedov would accept the fight considering the things McGregor said in the build-up to UFC 229 and, also, whether the UFC feel McGregor deserves another shot at the lightweight title after being so thoroughly outclassed.
A title eliminator with Ferguson
In the highly likely event that McGregor does not get the green light to lock horns with Nurmagomedov right away, his next best route to another shot at the Dagestan native would be through a title eliminator with Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson is ranked as the second best lightweight in the UFC and if the winner of McGregor vs Ferguson were guaranteed a meeting with Nurmagomedov, McGregor would surely sign.
Ferguson and McGregor, or McNuggets as Ferguson calls him, have history too.
“Money made McGregor soft,” Ferguson said last year.
“I say ‘McNuggets,’ because he’s made of that fake s**t, that pink stuff from McDonalds that nobody wants.”
A third instalment to the McGregor-Diaz series
McGregor and Nate Diaz are still locked at one apiece following their two epic duels at UFC 196 and UFC 202 and both athletes have previously entertained the idea of a triology.
Diaz’s meeting with Dustin Poirier, that was scheduled for UFC 230, was called off on Tuesday this week.
That means that Diaz has now not fought in the UFC since August of 2016, that’s over 26 months of inactivity and counting.
Bizarrely, Diaz’s stock has increased greatly during that time and the man famous for the ‘Stockton Slap’ won’t step into the octagon with anyone anymore.
He only wants money fights and McGregor would certainly provide just that. Admittedly, this narrative has quietened down of late but it wouldn’t take much to reignite.
Another scrap outside of MMA
There have been whispers of McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather II in a boxing bout (yawn).
Former two-division world boxing champion, Paulie Malignaggi, has also expressed his craving for a brawl with McGregor (yawn).
Despite being gimmicks, neither of the above would be hard to sell.
Mayweather is Mayweather.
And of course Malignaggi and McGregor have plenty of hostility toward each other after footage was leaked of the latter knocking down the former in sparring last year. Malignaggi felt he had been set-up and made to look bad, especially since he claimed that he had dominated the session.
The two have been at it ever since.
At 30-years-of-age, McGregor is no spring chicken. He is also the father to his son Conor Jack McGregor Jr. and his life is now about a bit more than Burger King commercials, flashy cars and fighting.
He has previously stated his intention to retire young, once going so far as to actually announce his retirement before returning to the octagon in a 180 not uncommon to the world of combat sports.
With enough money to last him numerous lifetimes and having made history by having won two UFC belts in different divisions and having competed outside of MMA, there is a distinct possibility that we won’t see McGregor in action again because he has achieved so much.
However, for a career as loud as McGregor’s, retirement after such a damning defeat (which Saturday was nothing short of) just wouldn’t seem right.
For many years, McGregor was the UFC. He forced the company into the lives of many everyday sports fans at a time when MMA was considered nothing more than organised hooliganism.
He made history by becoming the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion.
He once spoke (albeit slightly fictitiously) of working his way through the entire roster and securing his status as the greatest of all time.
His loss to Diaz was considered a minor blip on his resume that was quickly removed by a stellar clean-up operation.
Then came his battering at the gloves of Mayweather. But still the sporting world put McGregor on a pedestal. His spirit of adventure and bravery that led him to debut in boxing was celebrated and he received little criticism for another defeat.
And now, two years on, he has been humiliated by Nurmagomedov and for once there is very little to hide behind.
Social Media confirms this. In the aftermath of Saturday, the sentiment towards McGregor has never been so sour.
For the first time in his career, Mr. Extraordinary is staring ordinary dead in the face. His legacy as a competitor has always meant more to him than anything else. He will be hurting and also fully cognisant that his reputation has been badly stained.
Retirement under such circumstances would be an acceptance of inferiority.
Should he fight again, regardless of who his opponent will be, he will be fighting against mediocrity too.