Former UFC champion Conor McGregor tweeted on Friday that his next fight will be against boxing’s only eight-division world champion, Manny Pacquiao. McGregor, who announced his retirement (again) over Twitter in June, yet stayed in the USADA testing pool, has only fought in the UFC twice in the past four years, a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018, and a KO victory over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January.
McGregor said ahead of his bout this January that he wanted to fight three times in 2020. MMA fans were thrilled to have its biggest star back, and after beating Cerrone it seemed like a quick turnaround was indeed possible. But that turnaround never came, and now eight months later McGregor seems ready to head into the boxing ring once again.
A bout against Pacquiao would be McGregor’s second professional boxing bout. In 2017, McGregor lost to Floyd Mayweather by TKO in the 10th round of a fight that generated more than $600 million in total revenue.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), 41, a Senator in his home of the Philippines and a current welterweight champion, defeated the previously undefeated Keith Thurman in July 2019 by split decision. Pacquiao was hoping to unify titles with the other champions in the division, but has also been open to a fight against McGregor. In February Pacquiao signed a management deal with Paradigm Sports Management, the company that manages McGregor.
If McGregor and Pacquiao do end up fighting, McGregor would be the sixth common opponent between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, joining Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley
Should McGregor head back to boxing? Is that the right fight for perhaps the biggest star in all of combat sports? Can he pull the upset against one of the best boxers in history?
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani and Jeff Wagenheim weigh in on what may be ahead for McGregor this year.
Real or not: McGregor will fight Pacquiao nextConor McGregor, right, lost a 10-round TKO to Floyd Mayweather, left, in a boxing match in 2017. Stephen McCarthy/Getty Images
Helwani: On this Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, I’ll say yes because McGregor’s manager Audie Attar, who also represents Manny Pacquiao, told me the talks are very real and the UFC is on board with the idea. The latter detail is crucial because it would be much easier for McGregor and his team to get this done with the UFC’s blessing — since he is under contract with them — than if they tried to do it on their own. Also, the fact that Attar reps Pacquiao helps immensely, too.
The UFC returns to “Fight Island” with UFC 253, which is scheduled to feature two championship bouts. In the main event, Israel Adesanya will defend his middleweight title against Paulo Costa. Also, Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will fight for the vacant light heavyweight championship.
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UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa
• Saturday, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
• 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN+ PPV
It’s important to note that Attar said it isn’t a done deal just yet, but he feels confident the superfight will happen by either the end of the year or early 2021. I think the UFC wants McGregor to fight the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje. That fight happens on Oct. 24. If he is willing to squeeze in the Pacquiao fight in December or January before fighting the winner of that lightweight title fight in the spring, I think this could happen.
Heck, no one thought the Mayweather fight would happen, right?
Ultimately, does it happen? Hard to say for sure right now. It’s still developing. But if we want an answer right here and now, I’ll say sure, if only because it seems like all parties involved are interested, which means there aren’t any serious road blocks.
Real or not: McGregor will get the winner of Gaethje-KhabibKhabib Nurmagomedov, right, defeated Conor McGregor by submission at UFC 229 in 2018. Hans Gutknecht/Getty Images)
Raimondi: It doesn’t seem very likely. At this point, I’d say it won’t happen. There are too many variables — including the global pandemic — to say for certain, but right now it doesn’t seem to be in the offing. Especially not if Pacquiao is truly next for McGregor. Even Nurmagomedov has expressed interest in going in a different direction if he beats Gaethje. He has never truly been all that on board with a rematch against McGregor. Nurmagomedov would much rather fight someone like Georges St-Pierre if he beats Gaethje and is going for a perfect 30-0 record. Meanwhile, McGregor is sticking hard to being retired from MMA and is seeking a big-money boxing match. It doesn’t seem like the stars are aligning here at all.
Now, that doesn’t mean this won’t happen. There is still one major thing that could trump everything: money. Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor 2 is one of the biggest fights — perhaps the biggest — that the UFC could put on right now. It’s also the fight that UFC president Dana White has said he want the most. That bout surely could happen in the future — I’d even say it most likely will at some point. But is McGregor next for the Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje winner? At this moment, I’d say that’s extremely doubtful.
Real or not: McGregor vs. Pacquiao is a good thingAt 41, welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao, right, is still at the top of his game. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Okamoto: Depends on what you mean by “good,” and also … good for whom?
Bottom line, I’m not against it. Why not? A “Conor McGregor season” in 2020 would have been something to behold. And even though I think McGregor’s request to fight Diego Sanchez was downright bizarre, his enthusiasm to fight multiple times in 2020 should have turned into a promoter and fight fan’s dream. But, as we all know far too well, 2020 didn’t care about any or our plans.
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So, now what for McGregor? Should he fight the winner of October’s lightweight fight between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje? That’d be great, but honestly, at this point, I don’t really want McGregor to become a UFC champion again. Right? He’s too unpredictable. If he were to win a title, he could tie up the division again for months — years even!
I badly, badly want to see McGregor fight but I don’t think it’s wrong to call him for what he is: He’s a superfight. He doesn’t need to fight for a UFC championship. Who cares about that? I want to see him fight Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz for the third time, more than I want to see him fight for a lightweight title. And you know what? Considering where everything’s at … no, I wouldn’t mind watching him fight Manny Pacquiao in December. Not at all.
Real or not: McGregor can beat PacquiaoConor McGregor, right, has some success in the first few rounds against Floyd Mayweather, left. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Wagenheim: Sure. Why not? It’s 2020, and anything that we think cannot possibly happen will happen.
It would defy everything we know about combat sports, though, to favor a martial artist with only one professional boxing match to his name over an eight-division world champion considered among the greatest boxers of all time. Even at age 41, and not having fought in over a year, Pacquiao should be able to toy with McGregor until he sees fit to knock him out.
Now, before you call me a Conor hater, I will add that the mismatch would be way worse if conducted in mixed martial arts. Pacquiao would be helpless and hopeless in a fight that went to the canvas (see: Toney, James), while McGregor does have a strong command of standup fighting. But even setting aside the fact that MMA staples such as kicks and elbows and knees aren’t allowed inside a boxing ring, the Irishman simply doesn’t have the hands to compete with the best boxers of this generation. That’s no insult to McGregor.
But winning and losing isn’t really the essence of this whole enterprise, is it? There’s a whole lot of money to be made by McGregor, by Pacquiao and by all those around them — including the UFC, which has McGregor under contract. People will watch. People will care. That there will be more words written and opinions spouted about this potential bout over the next month than there will be about the Oct. 17 Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr. lightweight unification boxing bout or the following week’s Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje UFC lightweight title fight — and there will be, just wait — tells you what sells in combat sports in 2020.
Beyond the bare-faced commerce, though, I actually like that McGregor is always looking to test himself. In the leadup to his 2017 meeting with Mayweather, a lot of people I spoke to — boxing fans, MMA fans, general sports fans — felt like the whole spectacle was just a con job. And it’s true, the promoters knew better than to believe, as they proclaimed, that Conor vs. Floyd was a legitimate matchup. But McGregor believed. I have zero doubt that he felt, deep inside, that he was going to knock out Mayweather. It is that unflagging self-belief that has fueled him to the greatest heights of MMA.
No, I do not believe McGregor can beat Pacquiao. But McGregor believes, and there’s something intoxicating in seeing that inner spirit resurface. And, hey, this is the twisted year of 2020. So here Conor goes again, sticking his chin out to test himself at a high level. And making a few bucks doing it.