After UFC 202 there’s a lot to say about UFC superstar Conor McGregor. He sought redemption after his March UFC 196 loss to Nate Diaz and boy did he get it. At 202, the usually animated McGregor came in calm and collected. Conserving his energy to last an impressive five rounds, he skillfully employed leg kicks and counter lefts to defeat the durable southpaw Diaz.
McGregor wanted the rematch at the original weight they fought at, welterweight (170lbs), and that’s what UFC gave him. It was a hard battle against the bigger Diaz, but McGregor fought a smart fight, implementing a combination of aggressive striking and evasive footwork, to win their 25-minute battle in a close 48-47 majority decision. McGregor won rounds 1,2, and 4, with Diaz winning 3 and 5. Diaz had a comeback towards the end of round 2, pressing forward, but McGregor had scored two knockdowns early in the round to edge him out.
Conor McGregor is still the featherweight (145lbs) championship after destroying Jose Aldo in 13 seconds back in December, but at the post-fight press conference he said that a rematch with Aldo doesn’t interest him so much. Could this mean a move up in weight to lightweight (155lbs)?
Here are some intriguing potential match-ups with Conor McGregor at a variety of weights.
Conor McGregor vs. “Cowboy” Cerrone
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is the perennial journeyman turned title contender. He even beat Brazilian “Cowboy” to secure his place as the the all-time best “Cowboy” in the UFC. He is primarily known as a dangerous Muay Thai striker (7KOs/TKOs), but has 16 Submissions under his belt.
Well-rounded, and a known finisher, Donald Cerrone poses huge problems to McGregor at either lightweight (155lbs) or welterweight (170lbs). They are similar sizes, 73-inch reach for Cerrone to 74-inch reach for McGregor, and both have vicious punches. But while I think McGregor is still improving, I think “Cowboy” is at his peak. Cerrone also has the experience edge with 38 fights to McGregor’s 23 fight.
Cerrone differs from Nate Diaz in one area in particular—he knows how to take people down. We saw in the Chad Mendes fight that this is McGregor’s kyrpotnite. This is a close one, but I think if Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone can use his wrestling, he will win a decision.
Conor McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar
Before Frankie Edgar lost his rematch and the interim featherweight (145lbs) championship to Jose Aldo, he seemed to be featherweight’s best hope for beating McGregor. He also has an excellent wrestling pedigree, wrestling from high school to college and qualifying for nationals all four years.
He’s got a great record, with a notable win over the last guy to seriously take McGregor down, Chad Mendes. But Frankie didn’t impress me in his fight against Aldo. He was super predictable and seemed to have basic footwork that was easily countered by Aldo. Perhaps Edgar’s age (34) and fighting mileage (25 fights with some wars at a higher weight class) are finally showing. The 28-year-old Conor (23 fights), by contrast, is a much more creative fighter, implementing many spinning and explosive Tae Kwon Do techniques.
This might be controversial but, due to size and unorthodox striking, I would give this fight to the more risk-inclined fighter, Conor McGregor.
Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez
I was originally going to do Conor McGregor vs. Rafael dos Anjos, but now RDA has fallen from championship status to the strikes of Eddie Alvarez. I was never super impressed with Alvarez, so I watched a couple of his fights before writing this article to refresh my memory about his style.
The first thing I noticed about Eddie Alvarez in the Anthony Pettis fight is that he’s pretty fast. Fast doesn’t necessarily mean slick though, and it’s not so much that Alvarez’s takedowns looked good, it’s that Anthony Pettis’ takedown defense looked bad. He seemed to confuse Pettis with his awkward hand movement and then shoot in easily, even though the takedowns were telegraphed. I don’t think McGregor would fall for this obvious trap.
McGregor is also fast and has great fluidity in his movement. Eddie Alvarez was fast in his Donald Cerrone fight too, but he still lost. Alvarez leaves his head down often when throwing and Cerrone took advantage of this. He also scored most of his dirty boxing shots in the clinch, while Conor avoids the clinch like the plague.
I believe that if Conor McGregor can continue to improve his kicking game, add some knees, and stick to a gameplan for his opponent, it will give him the edge over Eddie Alvarez in a five round fight.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3 at Lightweight (155lbs)
There are a couple improvements Diaz needs to make to beat the new, improved McGregor. First, he needs to check those leg kicks consistently. His weakened leg was arguably what led to the two knockdowns that scored McGregor that fateful second round. Second, he needs to have an answer to those left hands of Conor, whether it be countering or sliding out of the way.
The thing about Diaz is his style never changes much between fighters. He still fights long and lean, and he still rarely checks leg kicks. In my opinion, this is why he will never be champion material. He doesn’t gameplan for specific fighters effectively and can’t adapt on the fly well enough.
Unless he somehow can integrate a blitzing double-leg takedown into his game, the third fight will go very similarly to the second fight. Nate Diaz had a size advantage in their second fight, but this advantage will go away if he cuts more weight. I think that Conor McGregor will still beat up a smaller, and therefore less effective, Nate Diaz at lightweight.
Conor McGregor vs. George St-Pierre
This would be the superfight of all superfights (except maybe Anderson Silva vs. GSP). But I think this is an obvious fight. We all know Conor is a top-tier striker and probably has decent jiu-jitsu, but he has never shown amazing counter-wrestling. We saw 145-pound wrestler Chad Mendes take him down with ease. Wrestling is key for transitions and this is one area where GSP shines.
GSP’s blast double leg takedown is second to none:
I think the combination of being a bigger fighter and having the best wrestling for MMA would score George St-Pierre an easy victory over Conor McGregor.