The first setback of Conor McGregor’s UFC career hasn’t lowered his long-term expectations.
While the second-round submission loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196 was a undoubtedly a bump in the road, the reigning featherweight king still wants to hold titles in multiple divisions before his career ends. And had Rafael dos Anjos not pulled out of his lightweight title defense against the Irishman, McGregor believes he would already be two-thirds of the way there.
Instead, he fought Diaz at 170 pounds on March 5 and faded in the second round against a larger opponent, eventually succumbing to a rear-naked choke after his power punches didn’t have their desired effect.
“I’m grateful that it happened the way it happened. But if dos Anjos hadn’t of p---ied out of that last fight, the shots I hit Nate with in the first eight, nine minutes of that contest would’ve KO’ed dos Anjos and that is it,” McGregor told media during a session at his gym on Friday. “I’d be sitting up here with a belt here and a belt there.
“Some things happen for a reason and this one happened for a reason. It forced me to re-evaluate before things got too sloppy. I’m happy it happened, but most certainly, I still envision two and possibly three belts on my shoulder.”
When McGregor will return to 145 pounds to defend the title he won in December remains very much in question. The SBG Ireland standout won’t commit to anything beyond his rematch with Diaz at UFC 202 on Saturday.
“They’re praying I don’t come back. Tell me one time I missed weight. I made championship weight when I wasn’t supposed to make championship weight, when they’re wasn’t a championship on the line,” McGregor said. “I’ve beaten everybody in the division.”
In his absence, the promotion created an interim strap, which Aldo claimed with a five-round verdict over Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Had Edgar prevailed, McGregor might have had more incentive to defend his title in a more timely fashion.
“If Frankie would have won that last fight after all the s—t he was talking and his team was talking it would have been set in stone: I’m going back there to shut that man up,” McGregor said. “But he got slapped around that fight. He couldn’t do nothing against I guy I KO’ed in one shot. I’ve just got to see what happens after this fight. I am the featherweight world champion. The guy I KO’ed in 13 seconds is holding the interim; what does that tell you? I am leaps and bounds ahead of that featherweight division.”
When pressed, McGregor sounded like a man who wouldn’t be content to simply vacate the 145-pound championship. But then again, if he beats Diaz at UFC 202, there could be other interesting options on the table.
“I am the world champion. Of course I will defend it at some point in the future. But we’ll see what happens after this fight,” he said.