Conor McGregor has a long list of potential opponents to choose from for his next fight, but his coach has his eye on two contenders, who he considers “second-best” in the divisions his fighter currently reigns over.
John Kavanagh, who has helped McGregor immensely in his rise to becoming the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight champion, Kavanagh is hoping McGregor remains in the lightweight division and finishes up his trilogy with Nate Diaz.
Despite the impressive win streaks of No. 1 contender Tony Ferguson and undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kavanagh believes Diaz is the toughest puzzle to figure out in the entire division.
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“I think the second-best 155-pounder is Nate Diaz,” Kavanagh told MMAFighting. “I think Nate would beat either Tony or Khabib. I think he really turned a corner with the Michael Johnson fight — I thought we saw a new version of him — and I think he looked fantastic in both the Conor fights.
“I understand Khabib is the number one contender and it’s probably going to be him, if that’s how the company works. But for me … the Nate fight would interest me greater. If it’s Tony, it’s Khabib — great. They’re two fantastic fighters. A lot to learn in the preparation for them and both would be extremely interesting fights for me to watch. But I do think Nate would — not comfortably — but would be quite a bit better than either of them.”
Diaz and McGregor threw down in two classic fights in 2016, with Diaz taking the first fight at UFC 196 by way of submission and McGregor earning a majority decision in the second fight.
Plenty of fans clamored for an immediate completion of the trilogy after their bout at UFC 202, but instead, McGregor fought Alvarez for the lightweight title. And now that he’s got his second UFC belt, the stakes for the third fight between him and Diaz are that much higher, not to mention, Kavanagh believes Diaz is simply flat-out better than the two guys ranked ahead of him.
“Nate provides the most interesting set of problems,” Kavanagh said. “Khabib is a great fighter, I really enjoy his fights, watching them and learning from them. I just thought in the opening two or three minutes of the Johnson fight we saw what would happen if he was to fight Conor. He got tagged quite a bit. I just think the power and accuracy Conor brings … I’m sure Eddie had a great plan but 60 seconds in he was scrambled and I don’t think it would go massively different if he was to face him.
“I don’t think Nate gets nearly enough credit for how good he is. And I just think with his jiu-jitsu — incredible guard, incredible guillotine, incredible triangles — if the likes of Khabib or Tony was to shoot on him, because they would be getting lit up on the feet, I think he would finish them.”
If “Notorious” does return to featherweight, which Kavanagh says is definitely possibly despite rumors of the weight cut being too tough, there’s one rematch his coach has his eyes on … and it’s not with interim champion Jose Aldo.
“The second-best 145-pounder is Max Holloway,” Kavanagh said. “That’s my opinion.”
Holloway has reeled off nine straight victories, including wins over Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas.
His last loss came against McGregor back in 2013 in the then-21-year-old’s fifth fight in the UFC. The loss dropped Holloway’s UFC record to 3-3 at the time, but since then he’s improved leaps and bounds and has caught the eye of McGregor’s coach.
Holloway has a scheduled matchup with Anthony Pettis at UFC 206 next month, so he’ll need to beat the former champion and then likely interim champion Jose Aldo if he wants another shot at McGregor.