Conor McGregor didn’t have his hand raised by the referee at the end of his 154-pound boxing matchup with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but he sure came out of the evening at T-Mobile Arena a winner.
McGregor went onto Mayweather’s turf without a single professional boxing match and fought an undefeated superstar in his 50th professional fight. By all rights, the UFC lightweight champion shouldn’t have been able to make a fight out of it, but he did, starting strong and then lasting into the 10th round before Mayweather finally put him away.
So what’s next for the Irish star who lost the bout, but won in every other way? We take a look at five options, listed from worst to first:
Paulie Malignaggi — The retired former two-weight class champion became part of Mayweather-McGregor fight lore as a training partner of McGregor gone awry. Malignaggi left McGregor’s camp after UFC president Dana White leaked footage of McGregor knocking Malignaggi to the mat during a sparring session. Since then, Malignaggi has done everything in his power to keep their dispute going, angling for one last big payday. While McGregor can keep the idea of another boxing match in his back pocket as a bargaining chip, the simple fact of the matter is that McGregor is a bigger star than ever before, he’s always searching for the next big thing, and Malignaggi is no Mayweather in terms of star power. Verdict: Sorry, Paulie.
Max Holloway — We’re still less than two years removed from the moment when McGregor rocked the MMA world by knocking out Jose Aldo Jr., who had held the lineal featherweight title for six years, in 13 seconds flat. McGregor was stripped of/relinquished (depending on whose story you believe) the UFC’s 145-pound belt after winning the lightweight belt from Eddie Alvarez last November. If McGregor’s looking for a challenge, he might not get a style matchup better than the white-hot Holloway, who has emerged from the void McGregor left behind and put his own stamp on featherweight. Holloway’s last loss came to McGregor four years ago this month in Boston, the only UFC featherweight opponent who took McGregor the distance. Since then, Holloway has matured at a rapid clip, winning 11 in a row, including an interim title win over former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis last summer and a TKO of Aldo to regain the title at UFC 212. Verdict: McGregor, who looked emaciated the last couple times he had to cut to 145 pounds, isn’t likely to subject himself to that weight cut again if he doesn’t have to.
A Mayweather rematch — When something hits big in combat sports, there’s always a temptation to run it back. Mayweather vs. McGregor was a wild success, with reports of pay-per-view systems crashing in California and Florida in the last-minute crush of orders. And it was also a far more entertaining fight than anyone had any right to expect. A bout that was derided by tiresome boxing curmudgeons as a modern-day equivalent of Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River turned out to have far more drama than most Mayweather fights. McGregor landed more punches (111) on Mayweather in nine-plus rounds than Manny Pacquiao (81) did in 12 and nearly as many as Canelo Alvarez (117) in 12. But sometimes, the moment is best left alone. Mayweather is 40 and looked it, relying on veteran guile to overcome his inexperienced foe. He gets to leave at 50-0 and left the fans with a thrilling fight. Why risk it? Verdict: Only if Floyd runs into more tax trouble.
The winner of Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee — McGregor has a habit of winning championships and moving on to the next thing, leaving an interim champion to be crowned in his wake. Such is the case at lightweight, where Ferguson and Lee will square off in a five-rounder at UFC 216, which will go down in the first week of October, 11 months after McGregor starched Alvarez. The dynamic Ferguson has won nine straight and 15 of 16. Lee, nicknamed “The Motown Phenom,” has won five straight, is just coming into his own and has the charisma to connect as a breakthrough star. (We’re leaving the other top contender at 155, Khabib Nurmagomedov, off this list; as talented as he is, Nurmagomedov has a history of injuries and weight issues and the UFC is not going to trust him to headline a McGregor show at this point). The winner of this comes out with more momentum and a version of the belt McGregor currently holds. Verdict: Not a bad option at all, but not McGregor’s first, either.
Nate Diaz — Last but not least comes the obvious answer, the trilogy fight to settle the UFC’s greatest-ever rivalry. With both matches last year at welterweight, Diaz, a last-minute substitute for Raphael dos Anjos, submitted McGregor in the second round at UFC 196 for his only career UFC loss. Then McGregor took a thrilling rematch by majority decision after two rounds. These two fights were two of the biggest money-makers in UFC history, and that was before McGregor’s turn in the spotlight with Mayweather launched him even further into the stratosphere. Diaz, for his part, is sitting on his giant paycheck from the bout and has resisted every other fight offer the UFC has thrown his way. McGregor now has the power to leverage more money out of the UFC, but the UFC has no other fight that’s going to do nearly as much business. Verdict: Somehow, some way, this fight has to be made.
Related coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Mayweather picks up big TKO win over McGregor
• McGregor unhappy with stoppage: ‘Let the man put me down!’
• Sports world reacts to Mayweather’s 50th career win
• Why was T-Mobile Arena so empty for Mayweather-McGregor bout?