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    With Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, Conor McGregor can conquer UFC’s lightweight division again

    With Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, Conor McGregor can conquer UFC’s lightweight division again… but will the Dagestani be able to resist his own comeback if that happens?

    • Dustin Poirier is the perfect test to see if Conor McGregor is still an elite fighter
    • Lessons learned from Khabib Nurmagomedov will serve him well going into fight
    • McGregor matches up well with the rest of the lightweight title contenders
    • Nurmagomedov could be lured out of retirement if McGregor reclaims the title 

    If Khabib Nurmagomedov remains retired, a win over Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on January 23 could see former double champion Conor McGregor poised to reclaim the lightweight belt.

    Following his loss to bitter rival Nurmagomedov in October 2018, McGregor’s antics outside the Octagon led to concern that he would never compete again. Yet, an explosive showing against Donald Cerrone in a welterweight bout in January has largely restored faith in the knockout artist.

    ‘The Notorious’ will have to stick to the regimented schedule he put in place following his loss to Nurmagomedov if he wants to get back to the top of the bracket because the challenges that lie ahead should prove far more difficult than the 40-second demolition of ‘Cowboy’.

    Conor McGregor celebrates his comeback win over Donald Cerrone in Las Vegas in January

    LESSONS LEARNED

    The Irishman’s commitment to the Nurmagomedov bout was questioned when he drank whiskey at the final press conference ahead of the bout and he would later admit that he had not prepared adequately for the title clash.

    ‘[I was] not living the life that I should be living, and that’s it. I’m not going back there… I’ve made mistakes,’ McGregor told ESPN.

    The Cerrone camp saw a strict training regime put in place and the addition of his teenage boxing coach, Irish Olympian Phil Sutcliffe, which produced a far better result at the T-Mobile Arena.

    A motivated McGregor is a dangerous McGregor and the Irishman is currently at a training camp in Portugal ahead of the Poirier bout. Following Poirier’s resurgence at lightweight, the SBG front-runner knows that their second clash on January 23 could be a very different contest.

    McGregor says he has learned lessons from his October 2018 defeat by Khabib (pictured)

    McGregor says he has learned lessons from his October 2018 defeat by Khabib (pictured)

    A DIFFERENT DIAMOND

    Six years ago, Poirier seemed overawed by the spotlight McGregor brought to the contest. Due to the international fanfare surrounding McGregor after a dazzling Dublin display, it felt like the American was on enemy soil when he faced off with him for the final time at a weigh-in at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    The first-round loss triggered a move to lightweight in which Poirier has now tallied 10 wins and two losses. He has claimed some impressive scalps along the way including former UFC champions Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway. He also stopped the man many thought would provide Nurmagomedov his toughest challenge in a title fight, Justin Gaethje.

    Poirier’s stock has elevated considerably due to his clinching of the interim title against Holloway in 2019. And although he dropped the belt when he faced Nurmagomedov for the unified title, having been a headliner for several big UFC cards, he will be far more prepared for the media circus that comes along with a McGregor bout.

    McGregor punches Dustin Poirier in their first match up back in September 2014

    McGregor punches Dustin Poirier in their first match up back in September 2014

    FAVOURABLE MATCH-UPS

    UFC president Dana White is adamant that the lightweight title will not be up for grabs when McGregor and Poirier lock horns in January. But if McGregor can have his hand raised, he will look favourably on the rest of the contenders in the division.

    It was Nurmagomedov’s wrestling prowess that shut McGregor’s game down at UFC 229. At his best, the Irishman’s striking ability is unrivalled in the division and the vast majority of the remaining contenders predominantly prefer to keep fights standing.

    When Nurmagomedov announced his retirement last month, his fallen opponent Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Poirier, newly signed former Bellator champion Michael Chandler and McGregor were identified as most likely to challenge for the Russian’s vacated belt.

    Tony Ferguson (L) and Justin Gaethje (R) are among the contenders for the lightweight crown

    Tony Ferguson (L) and Justin Gaethje (R) are among the contenders for the lightweight crown

    Ferguson is currently campaigning for a contender bout with Chandler. If the fight were made, the winner of the bout facing off against the victor of McGregor vs Poirier would make sense as the next lightweight title fight. Alternatively, Gaethje could also be in the mix considering he stepped up on short notice and finished Ferguson to earn a shot at Nurmagomedov.

    Fans would likely push Ferguson or Gaethje to the top of their wish lists in terms of McGregor’s future opponents due to the public war of words they have engaged in and the Dubliner will inevitably be confident that he could stop both.

    Despite his eyes being firmly fixed on the title, McGregor will have one man’s name on his lips should he claim his first lightweight win since his showcase against Eddie Alvarez in 2016.

    CALLING FOR KHABIB

    Dana White and Nurmagomedov’s manager, MMA powerbroker Ali Abdelaziz, have hinted that the undefeated lightweight king could return to round off his perfect record to 30-0.

    ‘The Eagle’ has been adamant that he would not rematch McGregor under any circumstances. A legacy clash with another consensus great Georges St Pierre is his favoured option should he return, but both White and McGregor have underlined their interest in making the rematch happen.

    Khabib Nurmagomedov is pictured arriving back in Dagestan after beating Justin Gaethje

    Khabib Nurmagomedov is pictured arriving back in Dagestan after beating Justin Gaethje

    If McGregor can repeat his 2014 stoppage of Poirier on January 23, calls for a second meeting between the bitter rivals will become deafening for the recently retired Russian.

    The Irishman’s legacy will be further set in stone should he manage to reclaim the lightweight title, but taking back his loss to ‘The Eagle’ is undeniably one of his main objectives before he calls time on his storied career.

    Without a rematch against Nurmagomedov, a shadow will be cast over him holding the belt again having never rectified the much-publicised loss to his bitter rival at the promotion’s record-breaking pay-per-view, UFC 229.

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