As the entire sports world waits out the COVID-19 pandemic, many fans and fighters have started looking ahead at possible matchups that will be booked when things return to normal, hopefully in the summer. Former two-division champion Conor McGregor is no exception.
The Irishman was looking forward to a busy 2020 after a successful Octagon return last January 18, 2020. After more than one year of being in the sidelines, the Notorious One scored a 40-second first-round knockout of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246. But McGregor’s plan to fight three times this year might not materialize due to the current coronavirus outbreak that has halted almost all sporting events around the world. However, everyone is talking about his next fight as early as now.
Owen Roddy, the Irishman’s longtime striking coach, suggested that McGregor face former WSOF lightweight champion Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje as his ward’s next opponent. In an interview with Ariel Helwani, Roddy said:
“There is a lot of talk of Gaethje. I mean, he’s an exciting fighter, Gaethje. I would like to see it, I’m sure you’d like to see it, and I’m sure the rest of the world would like to see that. So yeah, potentially that, but to be honest, anyone. I know Conor is raring to go and everyone will be raring to go by the time July comes around. So fingers crossed that come to pass.”
Roddy is correct on this one. A McGregor vs Gaethje bout would be a barn burner that everyone wants to see. And according to the betting gods, the Irishman is a slight favorite over Gaethje, should that fight be booked. According to Betonline.ag as of 03/26/20, McGregor is a -175 betting favorite while Gaethje came back as a +150 underdog.
Let’s take an early look at this potentially explosive matchup:
I can still remember when the young Conor McGregor confidently declared that the Irish are coming not to take part but to take over the UFC. It sounded outlandish back then but after knocking out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to win the UFC featherweight title at UFC 194 in 2015, his world came true one by one. McGregor would suffer his first UFC loss to Nate Diaz one fight later but redeemed himself by beating Diaz in a rematch. Then at UFC 205, he knocked out Eddie Alvarez to become the first fighter in history to hold two world titles simultaneously.
He left the UFC, boxed against prizefighting legend Floyd Mayeather Jr. and earned a hefty ransom. Enjoying his spoils McGregor was out of the Octagon for nearly two years when he challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 229. Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the 4th round in about that ended in a brawl. After serving a suspension following the altercation, he returned to fight Cerrone last January 2020.
McGregor is the biggest Pay-per-view star in UFC history and is its most recognizable superstar. The UFC was certainly glad to see him back at UFC 246 and they were most definitely looking forward to him having a busy 2020 after the company’s financial numbers significantly dropped while he was away. The coronavirus pandemic has added more issues for the UFC and there is no doubt McGregor will be one of the first fighters in their plans when the action returns.
Justin Gaethje is the former WSOF lightweight champion who joined the UFC with an impressive 17-0 record. He defended his WSOF belt five times before relinquishing it to join the UFC in 2017. After an explosive debut where he knocked out Michael Johnson, Gaethje suffered back to back knockout losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. He has regrouped and has stormed back with three consecutive first-round knockout wins over James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone.
Gaethje was Division I All-American at the University of North Colorado and was also a two-time Arizona State champion while at Stafford High School. He started his MMA career in 2011 fighting for ROF and Rage in the Cage in Colorado and Arizona, respectively before heading to the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in 2013 where he made his mark as a vicious finisher.
Known as the Highlight for his fan-friendly and aggressive stand-up fighting style, Gaethje is currently the 4th ranked lightweight in the UFC rankings. He has fought six times under the UFC banner and he has received a total of seven post-fight bonuses, including Four Fight of The Night awards.
What Does the Match-Up Look Like?
The UFC doesn’t need to spend much to promote this fight. McGregor and Gaethje have been going at it on social media. Always a firebrand, the Highlight has been calling out McGregor even before the latter’s bout with Cerrone. Most recently he said he would smash McGregor. The Irishman wittily replied that he had already smashed the two fighters who knocked out Gaethje.
— Conor McGregor News (@ConormcGregor5) August 9, 2017
When we talk about Conor McGregor, we’re talking about the deadliest left hand straight in the lightweight division. As he used to say: “Precision beats power, timing beats speed”. McGregor has one of the best stand-up games in the business. Not only does he have excellent counter-punching skills, but his left hand is also one of the most powerful in the division.
As for Justin Gaethje, he’s a guy who doesn’t leave fights in the hands of judges. The Highlight is quick, aggressive, and powerful. Despite his impressive wrestling background, he doesn’t shoot for takedowns and prefers to stand toe to toe with his opponents and slug it out. Although he’s been knocked out twice in the UFC, he is still considered as one of the toughest and most durable fighters in the division.
How Will the Fight Play Out?
I don’t think that we’re going to see either of these fighters go for the takedown at any stage during the fight. McGregor and Gaethje believe that they have what it takes to knock the other one out. I think we’re going to see plenty of action with Gaethje trying to push the pace early and McGregor looking to time his opponent. McGregor is a tough guy so we’ll probably see a lot of toe to toe action here.
All of McGregor’s four losses have been by submission. That says how good he is on his feet and how he isn’t as well-equipped on the ground. Luckily for him, Gaethje also doesn’t like to fight on the mat and even if he has a very good wrestling background, I don’t think he will try to take the fight to the ground. Gaethje has 18 knockouts in 21 wins while McGregor has scored a knockout in 19 out of his 22 wins.
Both men love to fight on their feet. They have explosive firepower and both of them have real knockout power.
I think this goes down to who has the better technical skills and between McGregor and Gaethje, it’s the former who is more skilled. Gaethje is a brute and an absolute savage but he doesn’t have McGregor’s ability to read opponents and break down opponents. The Highlight knows only one way to fight and that is to move forward.
I am not saying that this is going to be a one-sided fight in favor of Conor McGregor. No question, Justin Gaethje has a real shot at knocking out the Notorious. However, given how smart Conor McGregor fights, I think Gaethje will need to allow himself to get hit to land his big punches. Those openings should be more than enough for McGregor to win this fight.
Gaethje’s best chance would be early because we’ve seen McGregor start slow in some of his fights. If the Highlight can catch McGregor with a big punch in the first minute or so, then McGregor might think twice about trading punches with Gaethje. However, if he continues to use his head as his main defense, this fight isn’t going more than two rounds.
McGregor is an accurate and powerful striker. He should be able to break down Gaethje using his movement and laser jabs. If he doesn’t catch Gaethje in Round One, the Irishman will begin to frustrate his opponent in the second round. Gaethje then begins to take chances and McGregor will catch him with a left hand.
Prediction: Conor McGregor