McGregor, who became the promotion’s first-ever simultaneous two-division champion in 2016, hasn’t been in action since last July. In a disappointing 2021 for the Dublin native competitively, he suffered back-to-back losses to Dustin Poirier. While the first saw him knocked out for the first time, the second was to be a lot more damaging.
In the UFC 264 main event, the two rivals’ trilogy ended in disastrous fashion for MMA’s biggest superstar, with a gruesome broken leg towards the end of the first round marking a third setback in his last four outings.
Now almost a year on, McGregor appears far along his road to recovery. Having consistently updated fans on his journey across social media, the former champ-champ has been back in training in recent weeks, and has been stepping up talk of his comeback, including discourse surrounding an opponent.
But while the 33-year-old has appeared optimistic about making the walk again later this year, Ariel Helwani has put a dampener on that expectation.
During a recent episode of The MMA Hour, Helwani answered questions from fans, one of which suggested that McGregor should be the opponent for Nate Diaz‘s final contracted UFC fight. In response, the Canadian revealed he’s heard that the Irishman is unlikely to be back inside the Octagon until early 2023.
“Last I heard, by the way, Conor could come back February, March or so. It doesn’t look like he’s coming back in 2022,” said Helwani. “So now, here you have a guy who hasn’t fought since (July) of last year. He’s (Diaz) gonna wait a year-and-a-half for a dude that, obviously he knows he’ll make money fighting him, but does he really wanna sit around in the prime of his life when he’s as popular can be, for this fight?
“What if Conor is coming back, stumbles, and gets hurt again? There’s a million different things that could happen. There’s no guarantee that he’s coming back tomorrow, next month, the month after that, and the last I heard was early 2023. There’s no rush here, as there shouldn’t be a rush because he’s coming back from such a gruesome and serious injury.”
Should McGregor remain sidelined until the first quarter of 2023, it stands to reason that the boat on a trilogy with Diaz may have sailed, especially given the Stockton native’s push to secure the last bout on his active deal as soon as possible.
With that said, the Irishman will be keeping an eye on the welterweight and lightweight scene to see who captures his eye. Michael Chandler has made his desire to throw down with McGregor known, as has top lightweight Charles Oliveira.
Elsewhere, perhaps a fourth meeting with “The Diamond” is due after their anticlimactic trilogy clash. Or, maybe the Irishman will opt to face Poirier’s ATT teammate Jorge Masvidal in what “Gamebred” has described as the “biggest fight” of McGregor’s life.
Who should Conor McGregor face when he returns to the UFC?