The biggest star in mixed martial arts, Conor “Notorious” McGregor, announced in June that he was retiring from the sport. In an interview with ESPN, McGregor said part of his decision for retiring stemmed from not being excited about his potential matchups. Notorious’ retirement has been met with skepticism from the MMA community. This is the third time McGregor has retired in five years, and many believe that he will compete again in the UFC and in boxing.
Notorious, who is ranked No. 4 in the lightweight division, last competed in January when he defeated Donald Cerrone by TKO at UFC 246 in a welterweight bout.
UFC 251 takes place July 11 at 10 p.m. Eastern time on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. It will air as a pay-per-view on ESPN+.
With the lightweight title unification bout between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Justin Gaethje supposedly taking place later this year, Notorious was only left with a top contender bout if he chose to fight in the division. McGregor has also been called out by many fighters, including former middleweight champion Anderson Silva. McGregor said to ESPN, “The game just does not excite me, and that’s that. All this waiting around. There’s nothing happening. I’m going through opponent options, and there’s nothing really there at the minute. There’s nothing that’s exciting me.”
However, the result of UFC 251’s main event may change McGregor’s mind about retirement. Welterweight champion Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman is set to defend his belt against No. 3 ranked contender Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal. If Masvidal defeats Usman on July 11, a match between him and Notorious is arguably the biggest pay-per-view the UFC could schedule, and it may be all McGregor needs to enter the Octagon once more.
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Masvidal’s Starpower Could Incentivize McGregor to Come Out of Retirement
From a rankings standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for Notorious to earn a crack at Masvidal if he defeated Usman and became the welterweight champion. However, it has long been known that McGregor is not typically subjected to UFC rankings, and he could likely negotiate his way into a title fight with Gamebred.
Although Notorious has fought at welterweight three times, he would give up a size advantage to Masvidal. From a stylistic standpoint, however, McGregor and Masvidal are both strikers and would match up well.
A fight with Masvidal could give McGregor the largest incentive to end his retirement. Gamebred is one of the most popular fighters in the sport. He had a blockbuster year in 2019, finishing three big names in the sport.
After taking all of 2018 off, Masvidal returned to the Octagon in 2019 and knocked out English star Darren Till. The victory catapulted Masvidal into a massive bout with the popular Ben Askren. Masvidal only needed five seconds to earn his iconic flying knee knockout. With that victory, Gamebred’s star power skyrocketed and he found himself standing in the Octagon across from another UFC star, Nate Diaz. The two fighters squared-off for the fan-pleasing “Baddest Motherf**ker” title in the main event of UFC 244 in November 2019, which Gamebred won by doctor’s stoppage.
If Gamebred defeats The Nigerian Nightmare at UFC 251, he will have done it on less than a week’s notice. Gilbert Burns was supposed to fight Usman on July 11; however, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced out of the bout. The hype around Masvidal will likely hit new levels if he is able to pull off an upset victory over the welterweight champ, and it may be enough to drag Notorious out of retirement.
Notorious Would Have the Chance to Make UFC History By Winning the Welterweight Title
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Another reason McGregor could be enticed to return to the Octagon if Masvidal defeats Usman at UFC 251 is the prospect of making history. No fighter in the history of the UFC has won three titles in three different weight classes. If Notorious fought and defeated Gamebred for the welterweight title, there would be no denying the Irishman’s feat.
McGregor won the interim featherweight belt at UFC 189 and then unified the belt at UFC 194 when he knocked out Jose Aldo. Notorious made history at UFC 205 when he defeated then-lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, becoming the only fighter in the promotion’s history to simultaneously hold two belts in two different weight classes.
The chance to make history again, especially if fighting a star like Masvidal, may be enough to bring Notorious out of retirement.
McGregor May Choose to Fight Usman If He Remains Champion Since Khabib’s Short-Term Fighting Future Is Unclear
Last week, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father died due to complications from COVID-19. Nurmagomedov and his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, were extremely close as his father was also one of his trainers. It is unclear if Khabib’s short-term fighting plans have been derailed following his father’s passing.
Khabib is already set to take on interim champion Justin Gaethje next, and with Khabib’s family tragedy, McGregor may believe that a lightweight title shot is not likely in the near future. Because of this, he may elect to throw his name in the hat for a potential fight with Usman should the reigning champ defeat Gamebred at UFC 251.
From a rankings standpoint, Gilbert Burns should get the next title shot. However, if McGregor campaigns for a bout with Usman, the UFC may oblige. A fight between Notorious and Usman would be very different than a bout between the Irishman and Masvidal. The Nigerian Nightmare is a world-class wrestler with a relentless pace, and Notorious would give up a distinct size advantage.
When asked about a potential match with The Nigerian Nightmare during a recent interview with MMA Fighting, McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh said: “That would be an interesting one. A fair size difference in there. Look I’ll be honest, anybody up to or around about his weight class, if there is a very motivated Conor, I think he beats any of them.”
He continued, “He has knockout power. He easily has knockout power up to that weight class, and if he was to put in a serious training camp, I think he wins.”
No matter the result of UFC 251, it is likely that Notorious will be watching the fight closely. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the victor, whoever he is, calls out McGregor during their post-fight interview.