One of the enduring images of UFC 200 came when the UFC's longtime photographer, Josh Hedges, snapped a photograph of Conor McGregor midway through the rematch between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar. It is an incredible shot, the lion of the featherweight division standing tall from the crowd, his gaze raptly fixed on the two legends vying for the next shot at his UFC title.
On Monday, McGregor explained the reason for his looming presence during the bout, and also admitted he left that night unimpressed by the performance which ultimately won Aldo the interim UFC featherweight belt.
"That's my division. My belt. And these [guys] have been talking all kinds of stuff, so I just wanted to stand up and let them know, I'm here. Let me see what the f*ck yous have. Let me see what both of you have," McGregor said Monday on The MMA Hour. "And at the end of the fight, I'm seeing.
"Frankie can't touch him and Aldo's dancing around, playing it safe, and I'm saying fight. F*cking fight. You want this? You want this fight again? Take it. Win it. You can't play it safe like that. Where's my excitement in that? You're running away and you're just out-slapping him and that's it. I want to see you come and try and get that fight and really want that fight. I didn't see that. I saw the same thing I've been seeing. I saw that if we signed to fight again, he's gone running again. That's what I saw. So I just stood up like, I'm here, let's see what the f*ck the two of yous have."
McGregor, 28, is currently scheduled to meet Nate Diaz in a welterweight non-title bout at UFC 202. The fight is a rematch of the pair's infamous first meeting, which Diaz won via rear-naked choke on less than two weeks' notice at UFC 196, and will mark McGregor's second consecutive fight staged two divisions above the 145-pound ranks where McGregor reigns as UFC champion.
That fact has not been received favorably by many fighters within the featherweight division, several of whom have voiced displeasure with McGregor clogging up the title picture by taking fights outside of a weight class already filled with viable contenders.
McGregor himself has been reticent to commit to a return to featherweight since knocking out Aldo in 13 seconds to capture the UFC title in Dec. 2015, although he hasn't closed the door on the idea either.
"It ain't an easy cut, but I have a nutritionist (George Lockhart) now onboard, and that Aldo cut was the best cut I ever had," McGregor said. "The IV was banned, we weren't allowed to use an IV to rehydrate. I made championship weight and I rehydrated fully. I was brand new. So the weight is there for me to make. Look, it's got to be right. I've got to be intrigued by it. I can't be intrigued by a guy who's been running, and still, I still see a runner in my eyes when I look at Jose.
"I still see a guy who I'll go through the whole sh*t again and then nine days out, ‘hey Conor, we've got a middleweight here, do you want to fight a middleweight?' Okay, then f*ck I'll fight a middleweight. It's got to appeal to me, so it's got to be right. Like I said, I've got this guy (Diaz) to take care of, but I'm still the featherweight world champion, and after this fight we'll sit down and I'm sure they'll attempt to make it right, make it sweet for me."
McGregor will certainly have options at his disposal if things play out in his favor at UFC 202.
With a win over Diaz, McGregor would have access to virtually everyone from featherweight all the way to welterweight. No name would be too farfetched, from UFC legend Georges St-Pierre to UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. And in the case of the latter, Alvarez even went out of his way to call out McGregor after seizing the belt in July, though his victory over Rafael dos Anjos did little to impress the Irishman.
"Right now there's a new champion, he's a bum as well," McGregor said of Alvarez. "He's a novice. He's a novice on his feet, swinging shots, overhands. He just is a wrestler with an overhand as well. They're novices where I come from and that's the truth of it, so we'll see about him. We'll see.
"Like I said, there's a lot of options. They're all begging for it. They're all begging in their own unique way, but make no mistake, it's begging. They are all begging for this. They're all begging for what Nate got. They look at Nate, who went from 20-and-20 to now he's talking big money, so they're all on their hands and knees begging for this. So like I said, I'll have this fight [at UFC 202], I'll sit down with Mr. (Dana) White and the new owners ... and then we'll figure it out from there."
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