It’s Time for McGregor to Focus on Building Lightweight Legacy

Ty O'Keefe / November 29, 2016 - 12:02pm

MMA_ConorMcGregor

 

Firmly positioned at the peak of the UFC pyramid following his historic, knockout victory over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, Conor McGregor has now reached a level of Octagon success that most mixed martial artists don’t even dare to dream of.

As a result, McGregor has become the favourite target of fellow fighters looking to cash-in on the Irishman’s rise, and talk of a potential “superfight” against boxing’s big-money machine Floyd Mayweather, pro wrestling appearances, and even a few minor movie roles, are just some of the opportunities that have been attached to the heavy-handed champion during the last year.

But with a long list of lucrative options on the table and the birth of his first child expected in May, McGregor has reached a critical point in both his career and his personal life, and the decisions he makes during the next six months regarding his UFC career, as well as other opportunities outside of the Octagon, will help to determine the direction of the sport’s top featherweight, lightweight and possibly even welterweight divisions.

While it’s the weight class McGregor’s known for conquering, the Irishman’s time in the featherweight division has officially come to an end after the UFC announced that he ”relinquished” the promotion’s 145-pound crown over the weekend. Obviously, the decision was made to add significance to the upcoming main event matchup between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis that will now be contested for the interim featherweight title at UFC 206 after an injury to light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier robbed the promotion of Toronto’s originally scheduled headliner.

Ultimately, the weight cut from his normal, ”walking around” weight of 175-185 pounds, to the featherweight max of 145 pounds, may be the biggest reason that McGregor chose to permanently swim in the UFC’s lightweight waters. And in May, Gunnar Nelson—one of the Irishman’s main training partners, offered some valuable insight on the matter while speaking to The MMA Hour.

”It’s really just up to him, whatever he wants to do,” said Nelson. ”I think that 145 is…I know he can go back down and defend his title, no problem. But I just think he doesn’t want to do that cut again. It’s a nasty one, and I agree with him. I understand that. So I think maybe I would like to see him going to the 155 [pound division] before going all the way up to the welterweight [division].”

Minus McGregor, the UFC’s featherweight division will now revert to its former ruler as Jose Aldo’s interim belt has been magically transformed into the real thing thanks to a paper promotion. But the Irishman’s influence will forever be felt by his flawless featherweight record and the unforgettable victory that’s made Aldo’s title of ”undisputed featherweight champion” an outright lie.

If there’s one thing that McGregor haters can argue about his status as the UFC’s lightweight champion it’s the fact that, unlike his path to the 145-pound crown, the Irishman didn’t win his way through the lightweight division before becoming its king. Instead, his popularity with fight fans and pull within the promotion allowed him to leap over every single lightweight contender of consequence in order to fight for the title in his divisional debut.

But it’s the unknown that now offers McGregor a future far more intriguing in the lightweight division. With Alvarez convincingly conquered, the newly-crowned lightweight king can now face other legitimate challenges from foes such as top-ranked contender Khabib Nurmagomedov–an undefeated threat to the Irishman’s throne, or second-ranked Tony Ferguson–a once-overlooked lightweight who’s won nine straight including a victory over former 155-pound champ Rafael dos Anjos on November 5th.

As a lightweight, it will also be a lot easier for McGregor to occasionally pursue his welterweight aspirations—something we know he’ll be doing in the future. And following UFC 205, top welterweight contender Stephen ”Wonderboy” Thompson spoke about the double-edged sword that comes attached to a meeting with McGregor during an interview on The Fight Society podcast.

”Are you kidding? Heck yeah. Anybody who fights McGregor is going to have a good payday,” said Thompson. ”He’s one of the best guys in the UFC. He’s got two belts. You’re out there to fight the best guys, but it’s kind of a lose-lose situation. You go out there and defeat Conor and everybody will be like ‘you should have beat him. What else did you think would happen?”’

Although recent rumours regarding McGregor’s potential participation in a WWE event such as next April’s WrestleMania 33 have been spreading like wildfire, fight fans anxious to see him in an all-out ”brawl” against ”wrestlers” twice his size should temper their expectations. If he’s not planning to defend his lightweight title until May, there wouldn’t be much time for McGregor to recover if disaster strikes and he’s somehow injured while ”competing” in the squared-circle. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the WWE and UFC won’t devise a way for McGregor to deliver some sort of scripted spin-kick to the gigantic head of Brock Lesnar in the future.

So what does the future hold for the sport’s most polarizing personality? Not even the man himself would offer an answer to that question. But after taking Octagon addicts on a four-fight odyssey through the UFC’s featherweight, welterweight, and lightweight divisions during the past year, don’t be surprised if McGregor chooses to focus solely on his new surroundings in an attempt to defend his lightweight title against an onslaught of threats from within one of the UFC’s deepest divisions.