Conor McGregor wants to be the UFC featherweight champion before 2014 is over. But is a fight with Jose Aldo even realistic with Chad Mendes remaining the No. 1 contender? Probably not.
How much should the UFC push McGregor? Would a top-five opponent be too much, too soon? Below, we look at who should be the Irishman’s next opponent after his first-round knockout of Diego Brandao on Saturday in Dublin.
Yes, Conor McGregor is ready for a contender.
Could the UFC and McGregor scripted things any better? It was an exciting first round against Diego Brandao, one that eventually ended with Brandao prone on the canvas and McGregor celebrating with an Irish flag in front of 9,000 screaming fans in Dublin. It was an awesome scene and it won’t be forgotten for a long time.
Who’s next: Dustin Poirier
McGregor was the story of the weekend and the Irish fans are going to be savoring his win at the O2 for a long while. But everyone else is fickle. We want to know what’s next for the budding superstar. It has to be Poirier. The two have heat and the fight would be important for both in the featherweight division. Is it too soon for McGregor? No, he’s good enough to beat Poirier and become a legit contender.
Saturday night wasn’t about Diego Brandao, but it could have been.
Brandao said he was happy with his performance in the post-fight press conference and congratulated Conor McGregor for calling his shot and knocking him out in the first round. That was kind of odd, especially from Brandao, who is a fiery competitor. Maybe he really was in over his head in Dublin like many thought.
Who’s next: Akira Corassani
This fight was never about Brandao. But he did have the chance to make things interesting. The Brazilian did for a few minutes at the most, before getting hit with that straight left. Brandao wasn’t a contender even before fighting McGregor. What he can be is entertaining and there’s still potential there. Corassani, his fellow TUF 14 alum, is the same kind of guy. Put them together in Corassani’s home country of Sweden.
Once Gunnar Nelson gets an opponent in this position, the fight is essentially over.
Nelson basically looked like he was asleep throughout the entire first round, then turned things on in the second. As soon as he made a move to take Zak Cummings to the ground, Cummings was cooked. Nelson is a scary proposition for anyone on the ground and is now a second-tier contender for the UFC’s welterweight title.
Who’s next: Demian Maia-Mike Pyle winner
The welterweight division in the UFC is the most loaded in the organization and Nelson has some of the most potential in the weight class. With that said, his stand-up game is still very much untested against above-average strikers. That should not change yet, because his jiu-jitsu is so good, it should continue to be showcased. A matchup with the Maia or Pyle — hopefully Maia — would do just that.
Ian McCall could be nearing a title shot at 125.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say McCall is one of the most underrated flyweights in the world. Rarely is he spoken about in the same conversation as Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson. But he’s right there and Saturday’s win over Brad Pickett served as a reminder. McCall is elite at 125 and approaching a title shot.
Who’s next: John Lineker
Johnson is tied up right now with Chris Cariaso in August. It’s unclear if Johnson will defend the title again this year. If he does, we would not be opposed to giving McCall the next shot, since many people felt he beat Johnson in the UFC’s inaugural flyweight tournament. A more likely scenario would be Johnson taking time off after August. A McCall-Lineker title eliminator would make sense in that case.
Ilir Latifi absolutely smoked Chris Dempsey.
He was made into kind of a running gag when he took a main-event bout with Gegard Mousasi last year on less than a week’s notice. No one is laughing anymore about Latifi, a legitimate top-15 guy in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. The powerful Swede rolled over Chris Dempsey easily Saturday night and has big fights coming.
Who’s next: Robert Drysdale
The light heavyweight division is in dire need of new contenders. Latifi isn’t quite there yet, but he could be with one or two more victories. Drysdale just made his UFC debut at the TUF Finale two weeks ago and looked great. The winner of this fight would cement a spot in the top 15 and earn a significant fight next. Seeing Latifi’s raw power against Drysdale’s incredible ground technique would be fun.