A few days ago, ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor again said he thinks he could beat Jose Aldo for the Featherweight title if he was handed a title shot with a win in his next fight.
While Fighter’s Only seem to think that McGregor would be a strong candidate for a title shot with just one more win, I think Conor could have a slightly longer journey, seeing as he sits outside the top ten in the UFC (ranked #13 at 145lbs in the promotion by Fight Matrix) and there are six fighters coming off wins sitting in front of him at the moment.
So pushing my celtic favouritism to one side, what is a reasonable path to the title for Conor?
Fight One: The Comeback
McGregor seems destined to at the very least co-headline the upcoming UFC Fight Night in Dublin on July 19th and given that he’s called out the majority of the featherweight division (amongst others) at some point, there are no shortage of prospective opponents.
Arguably the tastiest realistic fight is a chance to end the war of words with American Cole Miller (21-8) after he called McGregor out over Twitter.
While not the biggest name at 145lbs, Miller is a recognisable UFC veteran with sixteen UFC bouts under his belt since his debut in 2007 and he currently sits on as good a run of form as he’s enjoyed inside the Octagon.
Miller provides a test of McGregor’s movement, takedown defence and possibly his jiujitsu if the American Top Team fighter can take the fight where he wants it to be.
The winner would be on a 3-0 UFC streak and surely ranked in the top ten of the division.
Fight Two: Proving Ground
Should McGregor defeat Miller, he’d be looking for a step up in competition as soon as possible, perhaps looking at a quick turnaround for a fight in September or October.
In my eyes, McGregor needs to defeat a grinder to be taken as a serious title challenger as an exciting prospect has so often hit the rocks of the legion of dour grapplers who are the gatekeepers of the upper ranks in the UFC.
I’ve often suggested Darren Elkins (17-4) as an ideal test, but for name value I think the winner of the Clay Guida (30-14) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (33-7-2) match scheduled for April in Abu Dhabi would be an excellent choice.
Both men are noted grapplers, with their wins tending to come from grinding displays of grappling, often securing submission victories along the way. A win over such an opponent would assure the doubters of Conor’s all around game.
If Kawajiri beats Guida (which I think he might, Guida has been on a poor run of late) I could see the match with Conor taking place at the Fight Night in Tokyo on September 20th.
Fight Three: The Eliminator
If he overcomes these obstacles, Conor would be on a 4-0 streak in the Octagon (12-0 in total) and a clear and present title challenger. Even so, I think one more match against an already-accepted title contender would really put him over the top.
Given that we’re talking about early 2015 at best for this match, it’s impossible to say who else would be in the almost-there-but-not-quite category, but here is a few ideas.
It’s likely that Jose Aldo’s next challenger will either be Chad Mendes or Cub Swanson, so these fighters should not be considered as contenders next year (they’ll either have had their shot or be the champion) even as much as I’d LOVE to see Conor vs. Cub for the sheer spectacle of it all.
There is however a pool of talent at 145lbs who are not in immediate title contention but could be with one more win and depending on results in the meantime, Frankie Edgar, Jeremy Stephens, Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirer and even the likes of Dennis Bermudez, Jimy Hettes, Akira Corassani, Robbie Peralta or Tom Niinimaki could be in line.
Whoever of these is on the best streak at the time would be an ideal final test for Conor, preferably as a featured match on a major American PPV (gotta impress that core market) and if he came through, few could doubt his title credentials.
As to whether he would beat Aldo (or whoever snares the belt in the interim, should such an unthinkable thing happen) it’s hard to say at such a remove.
Few reasonable observers would deny that Conor has the skills, athleticism and work ethic to go all the way and even if his mouth has written cheques that his record is yet to cash, he is as exciting a prospect as exists in MMA at the moment.
You gotta beat the man to be the man, and while Conor’s boundless confidence is likely to baulk at any obstacle, I think this is fair plan for how it could pan out.
Now, let’s wait and see how it all plays out…