The world seemingly waits for Conor McGregor to make his next move. His next move in mixed martial arts, that is.
He’s done the boxing thing, he’s had his money fight, and now, back in his natural habitat, the next question is this: Will Conor McGregor fight Tony Ferguson, the UFC’s new interim lightweight champion, or will he instead pursue a rubber-match with Nate Diaz, the last man to beat him inside an Octagon?
His decision will have a far-reaching impact, of course. More than just decide a UFC lightweight champion’s schedule, it will say everything about the value of UFC titles in this day and age. It will also say a lot about the Irishman’s power within the organization.
Dan Hardy, a former UFC welterweight title challenger and now an astute UFC co-commentator, is adamant McGregor must do the right thing. He must fight Tony Ferguson and put the lightweight division back on track.
“I think he has to defend, there’s no other way around it,” ‘The Outlaw’ said to Fighters Only editor Michael Owens. “As I put in my tweet, which upset loads of people with Conor McGregor profile pictures, he’s got to vacate. He can’t fight Diaz for the belt. You’ve got to unify the belts. He has to fight Tony Ferguson.
“I’ve got no problem with him fighting Nate Diaz again after that because I think we’re going to need a bit of time. I think (Khabib) Nurmagomedov probably has to fight the winner of (Eddie) Alvarez vs. (Justin) Gaethje in order to see him on the scales again at ’55. Edson Barboza’s floating around there and Kevin Lee called out Khabib, too. That makes sense, if Kevin Lee fights Khabib and Conor fights the winner.”
Right now it would appear McGregor is holding up a queue. He’s dilly-dallying. He’s flexing his muscles. He’s doing precisely what he did at featherweight. And Hardy, a man who worked his way to the number one contender spot at 170lbs the old-fashioned way, before losing a championship fight to Georges St-Pierre in 2010, is calling for some order.
“There’s a bit of a clusterf**k at the top at the moment because there’s a lot of guys who could jump up and get a title shot,” said Hardy. “But Nate Diaz, who is towards the bottom of that stack, is the fight most people want to see, and I think that’s the fight we’ll get.
“I don’t know whether Conor will fight Ferguson for the belt or not first, but I hope he does. For his legacy and reputation, particularly in the mixed martial arts world, he has to fight Tony Ferguson. He certainly can’t be carrying around two belts and not defend them. I think he knows that. He’s smart enough to realise his credibility is based on what other people think of him. I think less people would buy the Nate Diaz fight if he didn’t fight Ferguson first because it would devalue him as a brand.”
Watch this space.