For somebody who was nowhere close to Vancouver through the previous week, Conor McGregor’s presence was felt throughout UFC Struggle Evening festivities.
The specter of the previous light-weight champ loomed massive as Justin Gaethje battled Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday night time, trying to assist outline the trail to problem for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s crown.
Gaethje did his half, scoring a first-round TKO to take a step nearer to title rivalry. However will that subsequent step put Gaethje in an Octagon reverse McGregor?
McGregor hasn’t fought since shedding to Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018, and he desires a rematch. However the dangerous blood from that occasion, which featured a postfight melee, runs deep, and Nurmagomedov would moderately give the title shot to No. 1 contender Tony Ferguson.
UFC president Dana White opened the door for a McGregor-Nurmagomedov rematch by saying if Ferguson’s bid for a title shot fell by, the rematch would make sense. It definitely would produce big pay-per-view numbers for the UFC.
But when Ferguson does land his well-deserved title shot, the UFC will face an fascinating choice in choosing an opponent for McGregor’s return.
Gaethje had been talked about as a potential McGregor opponent earlier this yr, however no combat materialized. Gaethje had harsh and private phrases for McGregor within the lead-up to Saturday’s card, and afterward he mentioned: “The Irishman is retired. I would like an actual fighter. I would like the winner of Tony and Khabib.”
However the UFC might produce other plans. Now that Gaethje has received, he turns into one of many favorites to face McGregor. A panel of ESPN specialists mentioned whether or not Gaethje needs to be McGregor’s subsequent opponent, and the way that combat would look.
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC
Chael Sonnen, ESPN analyst and former UFC middleweight contender
I believe that Gaethje vs. McGregor would make sense when it comes to the rating and the matchup and the power to attract. It simply does not seem that Conor desires to combat anybody. He is doing this actually bizarre factor the place each week he is calling any individual out. He is by no means known as anybody out who hasn’t instantly accepted, giddy and excited, and in some way that turns him off and he goes and calls any individual else out. No, I might not suppose that Gaethje goes to combat Conor. I might argue that it does make sense, however no, I might not predict that it could occur.
If it did occur?
We do not get higher as human beings with age, and we definitely do not get higher at one thing by not doing it. Conor hasn’t performed it in a significant period of time whereas these guys are working their asses off and competing, so I believe it could be fairly arduous to create a situation the place you’d favor Conor in a contest with Gaethje. The kinds have one factor to do with it, it is like a lazy method that everyone breaks down. It is far more about rust and exercise and momentum and work ethic than it’s about jabs and crosses, however stylistically it could be enjoyable. Conor is a stand-up fighter, Gaethje is a stand-up fighter and really sturdy. It might be very enjoyable to look at.
Ariel Helwani, ESPN analyst
It is inconceivable to say for sure proper now as a result of McGregor’s subsequent combat is not set, however I do suppose Gaethje could be the right opponent to welcome McGregor again. First, his model fits McGregor. He primarily likes to strike and does not thoughts getting a bit reckless in there. That is excellent for McGregor. Second, Gaethje has been poking McGregor rather a lot this yr and has even made issues private currently, so this might clearly be a sellable combat. Now, I are inclined to suppose that even together with his Q score feeling a bit low, McGregor vs. a broomstick sells, but when you could find a striker who will make it private, all the higher. Gaethje is that man. I do not suppose McGregor ought to soar again in there with Khabib Nurmagomedov. Get a win, after which shoot for the rematch.
If it did occur?
It is dependent upon which McGregor exhibits up. If it is a motivated McGregor, I might favor McGregor in that combat. Traditionally, he has performed nicely towards fellow strikers, particularly ones who throw warning to the wind like Gaethje. If it is an unmotivated McGregor, all bets are off. It is arduous to foretell which McGregor will present up today due to the whole lot occurring in his life and his immense fame.
Conor McGregor hasn’t fought since shedding to Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018. AP Photograph/John Locher
Brett Okamoto, ESPN analyst
Ought to Gaethje get the combat? Sure. It is marketable. Conor McGregor vs. The Most Entertaining Fighter in MMA? The UFC can promote any McGregor combat, however that is a pleasant narrative. To not point out, Gaethje’s been moderately outspoken currently on what sort of human being he thinks McGregor is. You already know, Dustin Poirier simply threw out McGregor’s identify as nicely, and for me, both choice (McGregor vs. Poirier 2, or McGregor vs. Gaethje) is a pleasant combat. However it positive does not seem like McGregor is preventing earlier than the top of the yr. And as we nicely know, there are not any ensures on when he is coming again.
If it did occur?
Gaethje would have the identical factor going for him towards McGregor that he does towards all of his opponents, and that is stress. Shut your eyes and movie a McGregor combat. The place is he? He is within the heart of the cage. He isn’t on his again foot, circling the perimeter. Gaethje forces his opponents to just do that together with his fixed stress. Now, the downside in that model is he usually takes some injury as he implements it … and you’ll’t afford to take many photographs from McGregor. I do not care that Nate Diaz was capable of take McGregor’s greatest photographs. You do not need to make a behavior of it. On paper, I might are inclined to favor McGregor on this matchup.
Marc Raimondi, ESPN employees author
It definitely places Gaethje on the record of being McGregor’s subsequent opponent, and possibly even close to the highest. In McGregor’s latest interview with our personal Ariel Helwani, he mentioned that he was in talks with the UFC to combat Gaethje again in July at Madison Sq. Backyard earlier than McGregor broke his hand in coaching. After all, Gaethje mentioned that was the primary he ever heard of such a possible reserving, so take all of that for what it is price. If Nurmagomedov faces Ferguson, Gaethje makes as a lot sense as anybody for McGregor subsequent. Ought to it’s McGregor vs. Gaethje? It might absolutely be a ton of enjoyable and no followers would complain about it. Will it’s the combat? There are too many variables to say for sure.
If it did occur?
It might be very fascinating to see. On paper, Gaethje’s model could be a bonus for McGregor. Gaethje comes ahead, pressures and throws first, whereas McGregor is an especially correct and highly effective counterpuncher. Bear in mind McGregor’s 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo? That is not a precise comparability, but when there’s one factor McGregor is nice at, it is timing and distance. Gaethje will attempt to shut that distance in a rush and hold McGregor on his heels. Now, Gaethje goes to eat some photographs. That is simply the best way he does issues. He sacrifices protection at instances to get into positions the place he can let his arms go. An enormous query right here is whether or not or not Gaethje can survive McGregor’s monstrous left hand, the one which has befallen many an opponent. Diaz was capable of survive these photographs, although he took a licking early. McGregor tends to tire within the center rounds and he did midway by the second within the first Diaz combat. Gaethje has cardio for days, not in contrast to Diaz. The opposite issue at play: Is that this the identical McGregor, the identical man who smoked Alvarez and Aldo and confirmed coronary heart gutting out the second Diaz combat? If it isn’t that very same man, then getting right into a cage with Gaethje looks as if a harmful proposition. Gaethje will take a look at McGregor’s chin and can.
The most important variable in figuring out Conor McGregor’s subsequent opponent is whether or not Tony Ferguson, proper, challenges for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title. The combat’s been scheduled earlier than, however it hasn’t but materialized. AP Photograph/John Locher
Jeff Wagenheim, ESPN editor
You already know the time period “addition by subtraction”? Properly, this reserving could be the equally useful mirror picture of that. By including Gaethje to McGregor’s dance card, the UFC could be subtracting Conor from the dialog round Nurmagomedov’s subsequent title protection. And albeit, that’s what’s most essential right here.
McGregor absolutely would like a Khabib rematch over a combat with Gaethje or anybody else, not simply due to the belt that’d be on the road however much more so as a result of he isn’t one to just accept defeat and stroll away. Conor is the GOAT with regards to self-belief. Regardless of being thrashed by the light-weight champ final October, he desires nothing greater than one other shot, I am satisfied, simply as he did after being choked out by Diaz three years in the past. Here is hoping he will get that probability at redemption, not simply because he is a money cow for the pay-per-view enterprise. Let him earn it within the Octagon. A win over an all-action, high-pressure fighter like Gaethje would go a great distance towards getting McGregor there. So, yeah, let’s ebook the combat.
If it did occur?
It is dependent upon who steps off the personal jet from Dublin. Is it the identical hungry Irishman who fought his approach to the highest by regularly setting the bar increased and better, but in some way by no means out of attain? Is it the identical man who crumbled the legendary Aldo in seconds and have become a two-division champion by making then-champ Eddie Alvarez seem like a Contender Collection also-ran? That model of Conor McGregor might very nicely dismantle Gaethje with breathtaking effectivity. However does that man exist anymore?
“Precision beats energy,” Conor used to say, “and timing beats velocity.” These weren’t simply phrases. That was McGregor’s inward-focused scouting report on what made him particular throughout his rise. However does it nonetheless apply to him after three years principally away from MMA and together with his rising whiskey enterprise on his thoughts? It is inconceivable to find out a lot from the Nurmagomedov combat — McGregor received smashed, however everybody will get smashed by Khabib. Are Conor’s impeccable precision and timing rusted over? That they had higher not be, as a result of the all-out assault of Gaethje could be an unforgiving take a look at.