Conor McGregor could be a major star for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. | Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa/UFC/Getty
Conor McGregor played beautiful music for his expectant audience.
The “Notorious” Irishman blasted through “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner Diego Brandao in the UFC Fight Night “McGregor vs. Brandao” main event, as he punched his way to a first-round finish on Saturday at The O2 in Dublin. A former two-division Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder, McGregor has become one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most popular international stars.
Brandao offered little challenge. McGregor countered an attempted takedown and avoided various submission bids before slicing through the Brazilian with his fists, forcing him to the ground with a straight left and finishing him off with a burst of unanswered rights.
In wake of UFC Fight Night “McGregor vs. Brandao,” here are six matchups that ought to be considered:
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier: On an 11-fight tear, McGregor has captured the imagination of the masses with his unique blend of skill and charisma. The 26-year-old SBG Ireland representative dazzled in his return from reconstructive knee surgery, as he needed a little more than four minutes to do his work. Now 3-0 inside the UFC’s Octagon, McGregor seems poised to draw a date with a top 10 opponent and continue his climb on the featherweight ladder. Poirier has already given his public blessing on a hypothetical matchup between the two. The 25-year-old American Top Team representative last competed at “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” Finale in April, when he stopped Akira Corassani on second-round punches.
Ian McCall vs. John Lineker: McCall desires another crack at UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, and he took an important step towards another rematch with “Mighty Mouse” by securing a unanimous decision over Brad Pickett. Since wading through a three-fight winless streak, “Uncle Creepy” has put together back-to-back wins against Pickett and Iliarde Santos, eliminating any doubt as to whether or not he belongs among the elite at 125 pounds. Lineker has won 18 of his past 20 bouts, including a second-round technical knockout against Alptekin Ozkilic at UFC Fight Night “Cerrone vs. Miller” on July 16. More importantly, the brick-fisted Brazilian put his issues with the scale behind him -- at least for one fight -- and made weight without incident.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story: A Renzo Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a karate base, Nelson has become a person of interest in the welterweight division. The 25-year-old Icelandic export has won 13 fights in a row, the last four of them in the UFC. However, questions remain about Nelson’s lack of prototypical size as a welterweight, leading some to ponder whether or not he should downshift to 155 pounds. Story could test the limits of his size and strength. Having recently relocated to the MMA Lab in Arizona, he submitted Leonardo Mafra Texeira with a second-round arm-triangle choke on July 16 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Brad Pickett vs. Zach Makovsky-Jussier da Silva loser: Pickett lacked the necessary answers to deal with the quickness and variety that McCall brought to the table. The 35-year-old Brit has alternated between wins and losses in each of his past five appearances, with defeats to McCall, Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland overshadowing victories against Neil Seery and Mike Easton. A former Bellator MMA champion, Makovsky will square off with da Silva at UFC Fight Night “Bader vs. St. Preux” on Aug. 16 in Maine.
Ilir Latifi vs. Gian Villante: Latifi looks more and more like a keeper at 205 pounds. The 30-year-old Swede won for the fifth time in six outings, as he knocked out newcomer Chris Dempsey 2:07 into the first round of their preliminary clash and continued to emerge from the shadow of longtime training partner Alexander Gustafsson. Latifi has rebounded from his April 2013 loss to former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi with consecutive first-round finishes against Dempsey and Cyrille Diabate. Villante, a onetime Ring of Combat titleholder, took a split decision over Sean O’Connell at a UFC Fight Night event on June 28.
Diego Brandao vs. Akira Corassani: Brandao must return to the drawing board following a second straight underwhelming performance. The talented but enigmatic Brazilian was no match for McGregor and the raucous crowd backing him in Dublin, as he succumbed to punches 4:05 into the first round of their main event. The setback comes on the heels of a knockout defeat to Poirier in December and raises legitimate questions about his viability in an improving division. Corassani saw his modest three-fight winning streak grind to a halt against Poirier at “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” Finale three months ago.