Simon Head: What’s next for Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov?

We watched the hearing and heard their punishments. So, what happens next in the Conor and Khabib saga? Simon Head has the answers…

Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov could both be free to fight in Nevada once again from April 6 after being fined and suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Tuesday night.

Nurmagomedov was fined a whopping $500,000 and suspended for nine months for jumping the cage and kicking off the mass brawl that erupted after his UFC 229 win over McGregor last year.

McGregor, meanwhile, was fined $50,000 and banned for six months.

That means Khabib can return on July 6, but he can shave up to three months off that suspension by swiftly shooting an anti-bullying public service announcement for the Commission. If he does, he’ll be free to return on the same day as McGregor, April 6.

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Are they happy?

McGregor’s team seems happy enough, but Khabib apparently is less than impressed.

His two teammates who sucker-punched McGregor during the incident, were both banned for a year, and that, combined with the disparity in fines between the Russian and the Irishman, has turned off the UFC lightweight champion from competing in Nevada again.

Does this mean we’re getting an instant rematch?

Don’t rule it out. Nurmagomedov observes the Muslim month of Ramadan, which runs from May 5 to June 4, which effectively rules him out of competition for a month while he fasts.

But if Khabib records his PSA video for the Commission and is therefore free to fight from April 6, that opens up a potential window for the UFC to book the pair in a rematch at UFC 236 on April 13.

After all, the back-story wouldn’t exactly be a tough sell…

Aren’t there better options?

Absolutely. Former interim champion Tony Ferguson and in-form contender Dustin Poirier have both done more than enough to deserve a shot at “The Eagle” and his UFC lightweight title.

Considering the one-sided nature of Khabib’s win over McGregor, rebooking Conor and Khabib instead of giving Ferguson or Poirier a deserved shot would be a slap in the face for those who want to see the best fight the best.

Who deserves the next shot?

For me, it seems pretty clear who Khabib should fight next. Tony Ferguson was the interim champ before blowing out his knee on the FOX Sports set before UFC 223.

That was the fourth time the UFC had tried to match “El Cucuy” in a bout with Khabib, and injury or illness scuppered the UFC on each and every occasion.

But at this point there’s really no excuse for not making Khabib vs Ferguson as the next UFC lightweight title match.

Ferguson is the clear number-one contender, while the UFC would be well served to move Khabib on from the McGregor rivalry (at least, for now).

It’s a fight that the MMA world has wanted to see for years now, and it has never been bigger than it will be if the UFC announces it in 2019.

What’s Conor’s next move?

Conor’s star power means he always has options, but recently the perfect opponent has broken from the pack – Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

He’s a huge fan favourite, he’s a genuine legend and he’s the sort of fighter who will put on a hell of a show without the need for Conor to go down the trash talking route.

Indeed, the last man to trash talk Cerrone – Alexander Hernandez – got his backside handed to him, so maybe the buddy-buddy interactions between Conor and Cowboy on social media might not be a terrible idea anyway.

The UFC likes to put world title fights in their pay-per-view main events, but with Conor they have the luxury of not needing to, and the prospect of Conor versus Cowboy at the top of a pay-per-view card seems to make a lot of sense.

It would be the perfect main event for International Fight Week in Las Vegas in July. But if the UFC really wanted to push the boat out, Conor versus Cowboy at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, has a certain synergy to it.

And if Khabib isn’t going to fight until later in the year, the UFC could even make it an interim title fight, with the winner set to face the winner of a potential Khabib-Ferguson fight in a future unification bout.

The “Blessed” option

UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway is the X factor in all of this. He could easily step straight in and face Khabib for the lightweight title, or he could jump straight into a huge rematch with the McGregor, who is the last man to defeat him inside the octagon.

Holloway recently paid a trip to Dublin and visited the Jameson distillery as he took a thinly-veiled – and rather original – dig at McGregor and his own whiskey brand.

UFC president Dana White is keen on seeing the Hawaiian moving up to join the fray at lightweight, the imminent arrival of Holloway at 155lbs opens up a whole load of options.

A McGregor-Holloway matchup at 155lbs would be a dream fight, but if the UFC and McGregor opt to go down the “Cowboy” Cerrone route, the next best option for the UFC would be to put Max in with Poirier in another rematch.

“The Diamond” submitted Holloway on the Hawaiian’s UFC debut back in 2012, but both men are markedly different fighters now. A rematch between the pair would be a perfect ESPN main event and would almost certainly deliver a Fight of the Year contender.

Matches to make…

The UFC lightweight division is the most exciting in mixed martial arts, but it needs a kickstart in 2019. Here’s a list of matchups to make at 155lbs in the coming months:

Conor McGregor vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson
Dustin Poirier vs Max Holloway 2
Al Iaquinta vs Nate Diaz
Kevin Lee vs Gregor Gillespie
Edson Barboza vs Justin Gaethje (already booked for March 30)
Anthony Pettis vs Dan Hooker

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What do you think?