Time to focus on Conor McGregor’s UFC return

Conor McGregor sits in his corner between rounds in a super welterweight boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The biggest, quite possibly most lucrative fight in the history of combat sports is over. Promising for months that he would shock the world, Conor McGregor failed to live up to his lofty goals of becoming the first man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside of a boxing ring. Though he surprised many with the sort of aptitude he displayed for the better part of 10 rounds, he was defeated by technical knockout in his first outing as a professional boxer.

Whether or not that will the be first of several expeditions inside of the squared circle remains to be seen, but for the time being it’s wise we return our focus toward the very sport that made McGregor a household name over the past four years.

One of the very first questions McGregor was asked following his nine-figure foray with Mayweather was whether or not he had plans on returning to the UFC. Fortunately for fight fans of the mixed martial arts variety, the Irishman’s run inside the eight-sided cage is far from over.

For now, anyway.

McGregor has vowed to make his return to the UFC, likely extending that hiatus to a total of 13 months by the time his comeback takes place if loose plans for December come to fruition. It originally appeared as though McGregor would have a logical matchup waiting for him shortly after his bout with Mayweather, as Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee — a bout between two of the best fighters in McGregor’s division — are set to fight for the interim championship in “The Notorious'” absence.

Though the interim champion would have the strongest case available to land a McGregor-sized payday, there’s somehow no guarantee that this will be the case, company president Dana white admitted in the week leading up to Mayweather-McGregor. It would be the best option from a legitimacy standpoint, seeing as interim titles are created to ultimately become unified in a showdown with the actual kingpin of the division.

It wouldn’t be the most lucrative option, though — far from it. And unfortunately for those accustomed to the oft-followed protocols of the fight game, it’s difficult to imagine that McGregor will be accepting anything but the most lucrative option available from here on out.

That’s bad news for Ferguson and Lee.

It’s good news for Nate Diaz, though.

Diaz propelled himself to becoming a relative household name in 2016, most notably for becoming the first man to defeat McGregor inside the Octagon at UFC 196 in March of that year. It was a stunning turn of events for McGregor, who’d just won the featherweight title and would have been fighting for the lightweight crown had then-champion Rafael dos Anjos not pulled out last-minute with a foot injury.

That victory, and the sort of money that surrounded it in spite of its last-minute qualities, prompted the UFC to accept McGregor’s request for a rematch several months later. It proved to be, at worst, the second biggest pay-per-view in the history of the company. What’s more, McGregor managed to even the score with Diaz in a remarkably entertaining five-round fight, all but paving the way for a highly anticipated trilogy bout at some point in the future.

It would seem we’re nearing that point, with McGregor’s manager Audie Attar telling MMAjunkie that his client is most interested in a third go-round with the Stockton, Calif., fighter for his return bout to the UFC. Though it’s not expected to bring McGregor the sort of riches he’s bound to get in the months after a massive fight against Mayweather, it’s seen as the one that will bring him closest to that mark.

McGregor-Diaz III is the biggest fight the UFC can make presently. If it has any hopes of hosting any more fights of similar magnitude in the future, the company has some serious work to do.

McGregor’s pro career has largely been built on the climb, storming his way toward both the featherweight and lightweight titles. Every single fight of his career felt bigger than the last, including his brief stint in the ring. There will be an inevitable dip in excitement come time for his UFC return, Diaz trilogy or not, but we’ll experience an even greater plunge once he’s tasked with fighting Ferguson, Lee, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje, Edson Barboza or any one of the other logical contenders in the class.

It’s unlikely that any one of those names will ever become as recognizable as Diaz’s, but considering the UFC is currently in desperate need of McGregor’s services at the moment, it’d be wise to recognize what lengths the company needs to go to ensure the remainder of its last superstar’s stay is worth his while.

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