Mixed martial artist Conor McGregor (19-3, 17 KOs) took his first loss in UFC far better than anyone could have anticipated, and the Irishmen is already fixing his gaze towards his next bout. There is still no word about who he will fight, but two options are on the table after his difficult loss on Saturday night at UFC 196 in Las Vegas.
The loquacious featherweight champion showed incredible sportsmanship after welterweight Nate Diaz choked him out in the second round. It was a curious gamble by McGregor to fight Diaz at a much higher weight.
"I took the chance in going up to 170," McGregor said afterwards. "I was inefficient with my energy. I'm humbled in victory and defeat. He took the fight on short notice and done the job. He was efficient. I was not. These things happen. I'll learn, and I'll grow. I'll face it like a man."
Indeed, McGregor put more on the line than Diaz. He took the ambitious leap up two weight classes from his normal 145 pounds, and the wager didn’t pay off as he lost for the first time since 2010 and just the third time in his career, while fighting in Ireland's Cage Warriors.
At the post-fight press conference, McGregor already showed he had recalibrated his next moves and will likely turn back to the featherweight division he dominated for six knockouts in his first seven UFC bouts.
The most likely opponents, as mentioned by McGregor himself, are former featherweight champion and No. 1 contender Jose Aldo Jr. (25-2, 14 KOs) and No. 2 ranked Frankie Edgar (20-4, 6 KOs).
But McGregor’s old ways quickly flashed again when he specifically mentioned both contenders, particularly throwing shade at Aldo, whom he knocked out in 13 seconds for the division crown in December. He also maintained his status as a fighter for the people, while responding to Aldo’s shot across the bow on Twitter after Diaz claimed victory.
"It's kind of hard not to give Jose his shot because he was 10 years undefeated," McGregor said. "But he pulls out a lot, he doesn't show up a lot. Frankie, at least he gets in there and competes."
"I'll keep my ear to the ground and see who the fans want. Whatever the fans want is the fight that makes sense."
Assuming UFC 200 in July as the target date, both Aldo and Edgar can make cases for a shot at the crown.
Aldo, a 29-year-old from Brazil, certainly has the resume and the motivation to bully for a rematch with McGregor. He owned the featherweight division for 10 years until McGregor came along, pulling off knockouts and going deeper into fights and earning decisions.
But UFC president Dana White hopes to make UFC 200 as big an event as the league has ever had and might find it difficult to sell a rematch when the first go-round ended so quickly.
Over the last three years, Edgar has fought back from perhaps the most trying time of his career for five straight victories, but the 34-year-old also has his drawbacks.
Edgar certainly earned his spot in the division rankings by knocking out Chad Mendes in the first round one night before McGregor first wore his crown and he submitted No. 6 Cub Swanson in 2014.
He was also at first offered to fight McGregor in place of injured Rafael dos Anjos. However, a torn groin forced Edgar to turn down the bout on short notice while he was still recovering and given his age this could be his last shot at the title. White may hesitate to put an older underdog up against McGregor and go with the safer pick of a younger bout and rematch with Aldo.