We have seen Conor McGregor lose, we have seen him get finished, but we have never seen him knocked out in an MMA cage before.
That’s why the Irish superstar’s next move following his loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 is so vital.
McGregor had a decent start on Saturday, out-striking Poirier in the opening round and getting back to his feet after an early takedown, but by the end of the first five minutes he was compromised fighter.
The calf kicks Poirier was consistently landing on McGregor’s right leg were the difference in the bout. The efficacy of that particular kick is such that it can damage the peroneal nerve, which essentially deadens the leg by limiting motion in the lower leg, foot and toes.
McGregor said he had never experienced that in a fight before, which makes sense considering he’s a southpaw and low calf kicks are most effective when they occur between two fighters with the same stance. Southpaw vs. southpaw matchups are a statistical rarity and Poirier used this to his advantage in the biggest win of his career.
McGregor has never lost twice in a row in MMA and the UFC could go several different directions with the sport’s biggest star. The former two-weight champion feels fully capable of fixing the deficiencies that contributed to the loss and he remains confident he can beat any lightweight in the sport.
With that in mind here are four options for McGregor's next opponent.
After such a one-sided conclusion at UFC 257, an immediate rematch wasn’t top of mind in the hours following the event. However, McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh told ESPN on Monday his star pupil is now “harassing everybody to get the rematch.”
Kavanagh added he doesn’t think Poirier would be opposed to running it back.
“If we could get the rematch before the summer, that’d be amazing,” Kavanagh said. “If it's not to be, well then I guess I don't really know. Maybe he drifts off into boxing.”
McGregor had talked about a future boxing match with Manny Pacquiao, but it’s unclear how McGregor’s loss might’ve impacted those talks. McGregor previously fought Floyd Mayweather in the second-biggest pay-per-view event in boxing history.
“We're 1-1,” Kavanagh said of the McGregor-Poirier rivalry. “We gave him the rematch after the first win and I hope he returns the sentiment.”
Poirier is the consensus No. 1 active lightweight in the UFC so his next fight will likely be for the title. Based on McGregor’s history and star power, a Poirier vs. McGregor 3 bout for the vacant 155-pound title is a relatively easy sell and would again be big business for the UFC.
McGregor also has another trilogy bout on the table and a third encounter with Diaz is perhaps the most obvious – and possibly the most lucrative – of McGregor’s options. They previously met at UFC 196 and UFC 202 in 2016. The meeting at UFC 196 was on short notice and contested at welterweight. Diaz won via submission and McGregor was insistent on an immediate rematch under identical conditions. McGregor won a majority decision in the rematch and a third fight has seemed inevitable.
These guys all get finished all the time
— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) January 24, 2021
A trilogy fight would take place at 155 pounds and the winner could be positioned to fight for the title. Diaz did express his desire to fight Poirier next and tweeted that’s what he’s preparing for.
In terms of competitiveness, rankings, and needing a win to remain relevant near the top of the division, a McGregor-Ferguson matchup works nicely – not to mention stylistically there’s zero chance it would be boring. The UFC’s updated contender rankings have Ferguson at No. 5 and McGregor dropped two spots No. 6. Ferguson has lost two in a row to No. 2 Justin Gaethje and No. 3 Charles Oliveira.
Rafael dos Anjos
People forget but before McGregor’s rivalry with Diaz began at UFC 196, he was scheduled to fight dos Anjos who at the time was the champion. Unfortunately, the Brazilian broke his foot and his matchup with McGregor never materialized. After a three-year run at welterweight, dos Anjos dropped back down to lightweight in 2020 and looked solid against Paul Felder in November.
RDA might just be the division’s under-the-radar x-factor in 2021.