Jorge Masvidal and Justin Gaethje likeliest options for McGregor
"Yes, I think so. Yes. Yes... YES!"
That was Conor McGregor's response when asked, by Ariel Helwani, if he would fight again before the summer. If he stays true to his word it makes Justin Gaethje and Jorge Masvidal the likeliest opponents to next face 'The Notorious'.
In the aftermath of McGregor's 40-second destruction of Donald Cerrone, at UFC 246, pretty much everyone went on record admitting the Dubliner was calling the shots.
UFC president Dana White may try steer McGregor back towards the lightweight division but, ultimately, what the former feather- and lightweight champion wants, he is likely to get. Attempting to appeal to McGregor's sense of MMA history and spectacle, White declared:
"Conor has been obsessed with getting that Khabib rematch because he knows he wasn't 100 per cent right.
"We're looking at Ali/Foreman or Ali/Frazier. This is a massive fight with global appeal. It's the fight that you make. It's the fight that makes sense. For the 155lb title."
McGregor himself has said he stands ready to fight at April's UFC 249, in Brooklyn, if either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson are injured or miss weight for their bout for the 155lb strap. He has also expressed a willingness to fight again as early as March 7 at UFC 248.
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, speaking to ESPN's Brett Okamoto, tried to rise above the McGregor hyperbole by claiming fighters must come to him for a shot at his title. Asked later in the interview, however, if he was dismissing McGregor, Usman changed his tone. He wants the big money fight, just like every other man on the UFC's roster, featherweight to welterweight.
Usman was in Las Vegas for UFC 246 fight week and did a raft of interviews. He was wearing a cast on his left hand but was vague on the details of the injury, which is suspected to be a thumb he damaged in his UFC 245 title defence win over Colby Covington.
On Sunday, Abe Kawa, manager of Jon Jones and many other fighters on the UFC roster, stated that Usman was 'out indefinitely with another injury'.
Looks like usman is out indefinitely with another injury. Conor is ready to go. Jorge is ready to go. Interim title for 170?
— Ibrahim Kawa (@Abraham_kawa) January 19, 2020
With UFC 249 not until mid April, and with McGregor fresh after his win over Cerrone having not being struck once in the short bout, that pushes forward the cases for Masvidal and Gaethje.
Masvidal himself has a damaged hand that would not yet be ready for the rigours of a full fight camp but he is not far off a return. Any offer, he says, would be seriously considered by both himself and his management team. There would be no push for an interim 170lb belt, though, unless Usman is out long-term.
A fight against Jorge Masvidal could well be for a title, though, as the Florida native brought his BMF (Baddest Motherf*****) belt with him and wore it in his front row seat for McGregor vs. Cerrone.
Gaethje is currently without an upcoming fight but is fit and ready to go. "He's a good kid," said White, who added tat he would be sitting down with 'The Highlight Reel' soon to go through fight options.
UFC 247 is only weeks away and UFC 248 looks sorted now that Israel Adesanya is going to put his middleweight title on the line against Yoel Romero. McGregor and Gaethje as the co main event for UFC 249 would attract huge attention, and pay-per-view money, but one wonders if White and the UFC would be willing to throw that on the same sad as any event headlined by Nurmagomedov.
A third option is that McGregor gets back training and goes on stand-by for UFC 249 should Nurmagomedov or Ferguson not make the dance. Option four could be a quick turnaround against Paul Felder, the man no-one was expecting the Dubliner to blast in his triumphant post-fight speech.