Conor McGregor returned to UFC action last month for the first time since October 2018. The 31-year-old Irish superstar stunningly defeated Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone by stoppage in the first round at UFC 246, and the fight world has been buzzing ever since over who might be next in line to face the UFC’s original ‘champ champ’.
ESPN’s Ariel Helwani recently named Justin Gaethje and Nate Diaz as the two fighters he believes are the “current front-runners” to be McGregor’s next opponent. The UFC analyst also reported that he thinks Gaethje is “slightly ahead” between the two in the race to land the fight.
As for a crossover boxing battle against Manny Pacquiao, Helwani doesn’t think that happens this year, even after Pacquiao signed with Paradigm Sports, the same company that manages McGregor.
McGregor split two previous fights against Diaz in 2016.
‘Serious Talks’ Haven’t Happened Yet
While Gaethje and Diaz are believed to be the frontrunners, there’s still a long way to go.
Helwani revealed there haven’t been any “serious talks” yet between the UFC, McGregor and any potential next opponents. In fact, when McGregor shockingly suggested last week on social media that he could fight Diego Sanchez next, it could be viewed as just a way McGregor was blowing off a little steam while awaiting firmer details about his next fight.
“And here’s what I know: There haven’t been any serious talks about his next fight yet, per sources,” Helwani wrote.
As for McGregor, Helwani suggested the UFC superstar was already back home and preparing for his next fight. Whether it’s Gaethje, Diaz, Pacquiao or even Sanchez, it sure seems as if McGregor is all-in on continuing his outstanding fighting career in 2020.
“For now, McGregor appears to be in good spirits. He’s back in Ireland training and itching for his second fight of 2020,” Helwani wrote.
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Why UFC Might Be Holding off on Announcing McGregor’s Next Fight
While McGregor repeatedly told the media before UFC 246 that he wanted to fight three times during 2019, Helwani believes the UFC could be holding off on announcing the star fighter’s next contest while the company waits to see whether the upcoming UFC 249 battle between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson actually ends up happening.
That makes sense. After all, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have done this same little dance before only to see their scheduled fight get canceled over and over again. It’s already happened a total of four times since 2015, so the UFC would be wise to have a back-up plan.
Besides, UFC president Dana White seems anxious to get the rematch deal done between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. The two busted the all-time UFC pay-per-view buyrate record less than two years ago, and all signs point to the potential rematch being even bigger than the first.
Nurmagomedov defeated McGregor via fourth-round submission at UFC 229.