Connor McGregor lost his bout with the defending UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, on October 6th by submission in the fourth round.
Prior to this fight, McGregor’s floor seemed infinite. Sure, he had lost to Nate Diaz and Floyd Mayweather in the past, but where McGregor truly excelled was in the featherweight and lightweight division where he could strip enormous amounts of weight and use his length and striking ability to stay dangerous for all five rounds. McGregor was a transformative figure in the MMA world. Simply put, he did things differently. He is known for keeping his hands down low, a practice worrisome to most fighters on their feet but a commodity for someone as fluid as Connor. He is also known for constantly switching his stance from southpaw to orthodox, even though he clearly favors his left hand. While his peers haven’t readily adopted his radical fighting style, it has had the effect of confusing even the most posed fighters, an innovation that had people excited about MMA again.
I worry this innovation will likely be put to a halt by wrestlers and grapplers the likes of Khabib. McGregor has announced over social media that he would like a rematch, but I think it would be unwise to fight another wrestler likes Khabib. I think from an entertainment standpoint, having a trilogy fight with Diaz could be lucrative and fun for audiences, but I think McGregor would stand a real chance of losing that fight since I never thought that matchup was favorable for McGregor in the first place. With Khabib cementing his position as the definitive lightweight champion, I think McGregor should drop down to featherweight and try to regain his champion status there. If there is ever a rematch between McGregor and Khabib, it should occur at that weight class. With the mystique of McGregor’s invincibility being pried away from him match by match, it’s a shame that such careful, calculated restraint must be practiced when selecting McGregor’s next opponent. Rhonda Rousey’s story is one that should try to be avoided, and although I personally believe McGregor has a winning mindset compared to Rousey’s, it is hard not to draw any parallels to their careers at this point.
If McGregor is ever to holster two championship belts again, he will surely have to drastically improve his ground game. I fear Khabib’s victory marks an unfavorable transition in the MMA landscape where wrestlers dominate and neutralize the strikers. Part of the appeal in boxing is the fact that audiences naturally gravitate towards the art of punching, and although I personally find the restrictive rules of boxing too limiting, I would hate for striking to lose its place in mixed martial arts. If there’s anyone equipped to handle the moving dynamics of UCF’s fighting landscape, it is McGregor, which is why I will be rooting for him whoever he fights next.