Coach Rafael Cordeiro is helping Beneil Dariush prepare for a potential No. 1 contender bout with Charles Oliveira at UFC 288 on May 6. And while the legendary MMA coach admits Conor McGregor is still a key player in the division despite not owning a lightweight win since November 2016, Cordeiro expects only rough nights for “The Notorious” if he ever decides to return to 155 pounds against any of the current top-ranked fighters.
“There’s Arman [Tsarukyan], a super tough kid. There’s [Mateusz] Gamrot, [Dustin] Poirier, [Justin] Gaethje. A lot of people. [Rafael] Fiziev, super tough guy,” Cordeiro said on Wednesday’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca. “Those are names that, f***, I’d much rather watch them fight than Conor. And everybody fights [McGregor] now for what he represents. He’s lost that challenge thing, ‘I wanna fight Conor because he’s tough and knocks everybody out.’ No, it has gotten to a point where people couldn’t care less for that. ‘I wanna fight this guy because he generates good money.’ That’s what they worry about.
“People worry more about those top-15 guys than Conor now, to tell you the truth. These top-15 guys today, they’d all swallow Conor. Nothing against Conor, but, unfortunately, the time away, the leg surgery, the [lack of] motivation, the money, the drinking, looking swollen of booze — he’s living life like crazy, so you lose the interest a little bit. He’s doing The Ultimate Fighter now, the Conor show, but where’s the guy in the mountains, training quietly? That’s the champion. When you have media ahead of everything else you automatically lose a bit of the hunger, I think.”
With decades of experience coaching major Brazilian starts at Chute Boxe prior to opening his own Kings MMA team in California, and even preparing Mike Tyson for his return to boxing in 2022, Cordeiro said “a champion must feel uncomfortable,” otherwise he could lose his desire to compete, especially if he’s living in luxury. In McGregor’s case, he said, it could be too late to bring it back in a UFC championship level.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Cordeiro said. “Conor didn’t got to where he is today overnight. It was growing, but unfortunately he didn’t have people around him to say, ‘Talk less, don’t say this.’ It’s important because otherwise you lose the notion of things and it becomes trash talk. When you have to talk more than fight, you have a problem because whatever you’re doing inside the octagon isn’t worth much anymore.
“The thing is not to let it get to this point, because once you have the virus ... that’s complicated, it involves the whole team and drama. ‘Why is he getting special treatment?’ You can’t do that. Every student must have the same treatment, otherwise it’s now an athlete and a star. It’s martial arts first in the gym and you must be there to help.”
McGregor is expected to face Michael Chandler later this year in a 170-pound contest, but could very well earn a shot at the lightweight belt with a win.
Cordeiro feels it’s a likely scenario, even though he doesn’t see Chandler as a “measuring stick” to determine whether or not the Irish star would deserve the opportunity.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “We know Conor sells, he books his own fights, and all he needs is one win. Getting this win over Chandler will lead to something else. Maybe it’s against ‘Benny,’ maybe it’s Charles. He will have to fight someone that takes him to the title.”
In the end, having said all that, Cordeiro favors McGregor to beat Chandler later this year.
“[Chandler] puts on a show but he’s a kill-or-be-killed guy, you know what I mean?” Cordeiro said. “Not disrespecting him, but with so many good people [ranked] behind him with potential to break him … this fight is more of a warm-up fight for Conor.”
“I think Conor knocks him out, to tell you the truth,” he continued. “They’ll box, Chandler has those heavy hands but that’s only one punch, and he fights with his hands low and goes to a brawl — and if you go to a brawl with Conor, he’ll counter. I think Conor beats Chandler and then there’s a spot open for maybe ‘Benny’ and Charles to see who gets the next title shot, if that’s what [McGregor] wants.”
Facing McGregor will probably be a very profitable opportunity for Chandler, but Cordeiro feels it could come with a price career-wise.
“People don’t want to know if he’s winning or losing, they know it’s going to be a brawl and the fight of the night,” Cordeiro said of Chandler. “For how long can he do that, though? It’s cool, pay him and he’ll put on a show, but then you’re a circus attraction. They put you there for a show and don’t care if you win or lose. But as a fighter, is that going to take you to the belt, if you accept all kinds of fights? You have to be smarter in this game, and Conor is very smart. He’ll do fights that take him to the belt.”