McGregor down – but not out...
Irish champion expected to headline again in July at featherweight after humbling Diaz defeat
Conor McGregor is still in line to top the bill at the UFC's high summer spectacular, in spite of the Dubliner being stunned by Nate Diaz in Las Vegas in the early hours of yesterday morning.
McGregor's star, which had gone only one way on his blistering trail to the top of mixed martial arts, plummeted back to the desert floor when a brutal second-round salvo left the Notorious helpless to defend a brilliantly executed rear naked chokehold by the Californian. McGregor tapped out and, once he caught his breath back, was left to figure out where to go from here.
A first career outing at welterweight is likely to be the last for the foreseeable future after it ended disastrously for the transcendent leading man of the octagon.
UFC chief Dana White confirmed, after the Garden Arena had eventually quietened and come to terms with what had transpired, that had McGregor won, he would have fought Robbie Lawler for the welterweight crown at the UFC 200 mega-show.
The attendance of the sport's exiled icon Georges St-Pierre on the night had also raised the spectre of the new golden boy meeting the old one.
McGregor is still highly likely to headline the highlight of International Fight Week - a pay-per-view card at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in July. But he will almost certainly be doing so back at featherweight, his dreams of becoming the first fighter to claim two world titles simultaneously very much going on the back burner as he instead looks to reignite things.
A rematch with Jose Aldo Jr, the Brazilian who had served as the UFC's only ever featherweight champion, prior to being stunned with a 13-second KO in December, looks the most probable next step. But in the wake of this humbling, McGregor, just as startled as the vanquished Brazilian had been three months ago, wasn't ready to fully commit to any option.
'It's hard to not give Aldo another go," he said. "He was 10 years undefeated, but he pulls out a lot, he doesn't show up a lot. Frankie [Edgar, the other leading contender] at least gets in there and competes. I don't know [who the opponent should be]. I'll keep my ear to the ground and see who the fans want to see the most, what do the fans want to see. But then I'll sit and wait patiently for the lightweight belt to be contested."
McGregor had originally been due to fight for that lightweight belt here at UFC 196, but champion Rafael Dos Anjos broke a foot in training and pulled out.
The Notorious must have wondered how different the night might have been if fate hadn't intervened. Before Diaz had opted to fight the UFC's leading man, Aldo had turned it down.
The Brazilian icon, like his countryman Dos Anjos, was quick to take to social media in the wake of the shuddering end to the fight to gloat at McGregor's demise. "See you at #UFC200," Aldo tweeted. "Your fairy tale is over. You got nowhere to run now. Time to [sic] a rematch, pussy."
The message had already reached McGregor by the time he arrived at the post-fight press conference.
"He had an opportunity to show up here and he didn't. He could be sitting where Nate is sitting right now," he responded.
"He was the first choice. He said any time, any place, anywhere and it wasn't any time, any place, anywhere. Now another man gets a victory over me and he celebrates it. That's a sign of a loser. That's the sign of a runner-up. That's not the sign of a champion.
"I know there's a lot of people celebrating this in the featherweight division. At the end of the day, I am the featherweight world champion. I feel it is right to go back down and remind them of what I achieved and what I did to that division.
"But I am not forgetting about the 155lb division, I am certainly not forgetting about the 170lb division. I believe maybe Nate will fight Dos Anjos now. I think after I defend myself and climb myself back up, I will get the shot at the lightweight belt again. Maybe me and Nate can do it again."