One of the biggest questions when 2023 began was whether or not Conor McGregor will make his return to action after suffering a broken leg in his most recent fight.
While there are hurdles that have to be cleared, including six months of drug testing under the UFC’s anti-doping policy, McGregor’s longtime head coach John Kavanagh fully expects the Irish superstar to compete again before the year is over.
“I’d be willing to bet my house on it,” Kavanagh said on The MMA Hour. “I was actually just chatting with him yesterday or the day before and then [his manager] Audie [Attar] was in town.
“Yeah, I think there’s some interesting negotiations going along now. I absolutely can’t say anything beyond that, but I’m very, very confident that we’ll see Conor back in the octagon this year.”
McGregor has endured a very tumultuous few years since stepping away from mixed martial arts to focus on a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather back in 2017.
In that time, the now 34-year-old ex-UFC champion has gone just 1-3 in his past four fights and taken multiple year-long absences from the cage. His past two losses came against Dustin Poirier, with the second fight ending after McGregor snapped his leg late in the opening round, which not only ended his night but forced him to undergo surgery and endure another long layoff to recover.
Of course, McGregor remains the biggest draw in the sport, which means his return will garner a lot of attention no matter who he ends up fighting.
Numerous potential opponents have volunteered to welcome McGregor back to the octagon when he’s ready to compete again, but Kavanagh insists that there’s one major requirement where he’s concerned with the next fight.
“I’m asked this so often and I have to be honest when I say I really don’t mind,” Kavanagh explained. “What matters to me is that, let’s say I’m seeing Conor this week and we’re chatting and he says a few names and I see a name particularly gets the eyes open, particularly gets his pacing up and down the living room and showing me what he’s going to do and what he’s not going to do. That would be absolutely the most important thing for me, is that it’s a name that’s going to excite him.
“Because for Conor, for training for this next fight, he’s definitely got to find something that’s massively motivating to him to get him out of the silk pants and into the sweaty gym. What’s it going to be? A couple million more? Is that really going to motivate him? I don’t think so. He has a couple championship belts. Is that it? I don’t think so. So I think it’s more going to be a particular opponent, a particular skill set and how it matches up against him.”
When narrowing down specific possibilities, Kavanagh says in his mind there are certainly opponents that would make the most sense for McGregor’s return.
He doesn’t necessarily have a preference, but McGregor’s attitude towards any particular fight will likely make the difference when it comes down to putting pen to paper on a deal.
“You’ve got the great Nate Diaz is obviously in there,” Kavanagh said. “Justin Gaethje would be a very interesting matchup, somebody he hasn’t fought before. The [Dustin] Poirier fight, we’ve done that so many times at this stage and it’s just a weird one. Michael Chandler, a great fighter, a great athlete. They’re all brilliant. They’re all going to bring something different to the contest.
“What I would be looking for would be the one name that gets Conor moving. Gets him off his stool, gets him moving around and gets him excited. Some of the names I’ve heard him mention it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’d fight him,’ but if I see that level of lack of interest, I’d be nervous that won’t get him through 12 weeks of being in a very tough environment where if it’s a name that is exciting then training is fun and training is easy.”