Thursday 22 March 2018

Power struggle between McGregor and the UFC looms as the Notorious decides his next move

McGregor celebrating after his victory. Photo: Joshua Dahl/Sportsfile
McGregor celebrating after his victory. Photo: Joshua Dahl/Sportsfile

Tom Rooney

It appears inevitable that Conor McGregor and the UFC will soon be locked in yet another power struggle as the Dubliner vies to take complete control of his professional future.

It has not been 72 hours since McGregor recorded the most significant victory of his career by beating Nate Diaz via majority decision in the main event of UFC 202 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, but the questions asking what he’ll do next have dominated the discourse following events over the weekend.

Of course, the bout, contested over five blood soaked rounds, was a rematch after Diaz submitted McGregor via a second round rear-naked choke at UFC 196 in March.

Stepping in for then lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos on just 10 days’ notice, Diaz shocked the combat sports world by handing McGregor his first promotional loss since he took the UFC by storm in April of 2013.

In his previous fight at UFC 194 last December, McGregor dethroned Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds and became only the second ever featherweight champion.

A victory over Dos Anjos, who suffered a broken foot, would have seen McGregor become the first fighter in company history to concurrently hold two titles, but Diaz duly strangled that narrative.

A bloodied Diaz prepares to defend himself. Photo: Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Having agreed to face opponents drafted in on short notice for high profile bouts, the UFC acquiesced when McGregor demanded he be granted a shot at revenge and, quite cavalierly, stipulated that the showdown be contested at welterweight (170lbs).

The contest was initially scheduled for the main event of UFC 200 last month but, when McGregor refused to attend a promotional event for the showcase, it was pulled from the card.

Indeed, McGregor nigh on broke the internet after tweeting his intention to retire and a very public standoff between him and his paymasters ensued.

Eventually, a compromise was found, and the sequel between McGregor and Diaz was rescheduled for last weekend, and the pair didn’t disappoint by putting on a barn-burner for the ages.

In the lead up to the fight which, had McGregor lost, would have hampered his profile and future earnings significantly, Dana White declared that he must next face Aldo, the now interim featherweight champion, or be relinquish the title- a line the Bostonian has reiterated since the Crumlin man took his vengeance.

However, at the post fight press conference, McGregor said he was not particularly interested in pursuing that option, while expressing a scepticism that UFC would follow through on relieving him of the belt.

He also informed a ravenous press corps that ‘sh** was about to hit the fan’.

It’s no secret that the 28-year-old has difficulties making the 145lbs limit for featherweight, though he has never failed to do so, and with his prime fighting years approaching, he'll  likely make the lightweight division (155lbs) his home.

Eddie Alvarez, having unseated Dos Anjos, is the current lightweight kingpin and a bout between him and the ‘Notorious’ would garner almost universal approval.

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John Kavanagh. Photo: Sportsfile

At present, there is no clear cut number one contender, and McGregor’s antics against Diaz, a former title challenger, affords him more than enough leverage to jump the queue and face the Philadelphian.

It’s quite possible that, despite statements to the contrary, the UFC would allow their biggest draw hold on to his featherweight strap to facilitate his quest of lording over two weight classes concurrently.

Should McGregor prevail against Alvarez then it would him allow him cede the featherweight crown with the lightweight equivalent securely around his waist.

This option is certainly the one McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, favours most. He admitted that a bout with Frankie Edgar intrigued him, but after the American lost to Aldo in their interim title bout at UFC 200, he feels that there is no legitimate reason for his student to remain at featherweight.

"Unfortunately those guys didn't keep up their end of the bargain," Kavanagh told Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour.

"They (Edgar and his team) had to go out there and prove they deserved it, prove that they had improved and go out there and beat Aldo and they didn't. The fight was even more one-sided than their first contest. I guess Aldo had learned from the last time."

Instead, the 39-year-old would like to see his prized pupil win the lightweight crown and then defend it in a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz at Croke Park.

"I think it would be nice for him to be the champion, get the belt at 55 and then defend it against Nate. I think that would be a pretty amazing fight. Maybe in Croke Park in Dublin. I'd push for that. How cool would that be?

"For me personally, I will be pushing for 55 (lightweight). That's just my big brother opinion. I'd like to see him at 55."

Last month WME-IMG bought the UFC for $4bn, so McGregor is no longer dealing directly with Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, with whom he enjoyed a fruitful relationship, though White will remain as company president for at least the next five years.

UFC President Dana White (C) separates Nate Diaz (L) and UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor as they face off

White is notoriously irascible but also renowned for breaking promises made publicly when more lucrative options arise.

As of now, he is standing firm on his position that McGregor must face Aldo again or hand back the Brazilian the belt he held for five years.

“Conor has to defend his title or make a decision to give it up – or whatever he wants to do,” he told ESPN.” I’ve got to sit down and see what’s next. If I were Conor, I’d defend my title,”

In reality, McGregor, given the pay-per-view buys he generates, looks to be holding all the cards. The win over Diaz has unquestionably fortified his position.

For now, he must pass an examination from an orthopaedic doctor, or face six months on the sidelines with the ankle and foot damage he sustained over the weekend.

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