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John Kavanagh names preferred foes for Conor McGregor’s return: Nate Diaz trilogy ‘gives me nightmares’

The fate of the lightweight title will be decided this weekend when UFC champion Charles Oliveira defends his belt against top-ranked challenger Dustin Poirier at UFC 269.

But another former UFC lightweight champion will have a close eye on the matchup as well, especially considering his recent history with Poirier. That man? Conor McGregor.

McGregor is still sidelined while recovering from the broken leg he suffered in his trilogy bout against Poirier in July, however the former two-division king has been a vocal observer of the lightweight title chase on social media throughout his absence, and remains on track for a return to action sometime in 2022. When asked for a preference of opponents for McGregor’s potential comeback bout on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, the Irishman’s longtime head coach John Kavanagh had a few familiar names at the ready.

“I’ll be honest, the Nate Diaz trilogy is very, very tempting,” Kavanagh revealed on The MMA Hour. “It’s a fight that gives me nightmares. The man doesn’t stop coming forward, whether it’s three rounds or five rounds, but it’s an intriguing fight. So that one is definitely very interesting. But also the Tony Ferguson one — it never happened. It was talked about a lot. And Tony still has, I believe, a lot to offer the game. He’s a very unorthodox striker, grappler. I think the buildup would be fun for the fans. So any of those kind of legacy guys.”

McGregor (22-6) obviously has done big business with Diaz in the past. Their two clashes at UFC 196 and UFC 202 were monumentally massive affairs back in 2016, with the latter even ranking as the most purchased MMA pay-per-view of all-time until it was surpassed by UFC 229. With McGregor’s status as the most bankable star in MMA history and Diaz’s status as a cult icon and perennial fan favorite, a trilogy match between them would likely be a lucrative proposition for all involved, even despite both fighters being on losing streaks.

Ferguson, too, is a name that McGregor has been connected to in the past. “El Cucuy” captured an interim UFC lightweight title in 2017 and was ostensibly supposed to challenge McGregor in a title unification match, however the bout never came together.

Either way, Kavanagh indicated that he expects McGregor to eye the lightweight ranks for his return.

”Look, that division is killer,” Kavanagh said. “Your Dan Hooker’s in there. The Islam [Makhachev] fight would be amazing as well, for obvious reasons. And we have whoever is going to win this belt coming up this Saturday. So, look, any of those names. I’m just excited to see Conor back healthy, training.”

It’d be an understatement to say that McGregor’s plans in recent years haven’t exactly gone as the fighter and his team have hoped. After intentions for a busy 2020 campaign fell apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Notorious” returned in 2021 only to suffer back-to-back losses to Poirier seven years after his knockout win over the American at UFC 178.

The damage McGregor suffered with his grisly leg break in July was the type of injury that could’ve easily spelled the end of his career. McGregor is, by far, the highest-earning UFC fighter in history, and Kavanagh admitted that he was unsure how an athlete with McGregor’s level of wealth and fame would handle such adversity.

But the SBG Ireland coach said Monday that he’s been encouraged by how McGregor has responded. He ensured that McGregor’s competitive fire remains as fiercely lit as ever.

“I wondered what would happen after this injury,” Kavanagh said. “It’s a long road back to recovery. The boy, it’s not a secret, he’s got a couple of quid in the bank. He could obviously go off and live on an island and play on his yacht for the rest of his life. But I have not seen one percent drop in his incredible drive and desire and passion and interest in the sport. I’ve said it to you many times, I’ve said it to everybody, that if you can get rid of money problems, you really find out what it is you’re passionate about, because you’ll only do something you really enjoy. He’s still in the gym, all day, every day.

“We’re still chatting about fighting techniques, all day, every day. He’s still talking about getting that belt again, all day, every day. What can you conclude from this? He loves fighting. He loves mixed martial arts. He loves competition. So let’s get back healthy, let’s get back training, and let’s go on a run in ‘22, and I’m sure there’s some people there with steam coming out of their ears that he’s coming back for that belt, but I’m sorry to upset you — he’s coming back there for that belt, so give me your best shot on Twitter.”

Poll

Who should Conor McGregor fight in his UFC return?

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  • 44%
    Nate Diaz
    (1221 votes)
  • 42%
    Tony Ferguson
    (1168 votes)
  • 13%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (372 votes)
2761 votes total Vote Now