lslam Makhachev, protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov, believed to be Conor McGregor’s next opponent

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Former UFC light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier believes that Conor McGregor should face current lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in his comeback fight.

McGregor has not fought since suffering a broken leg in a loss to Dustin Poirier in July 2021, but he returned to the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (Usada) testing pool on Sunday 8 October. A controversial saga between the UFC and Usada has led to the end of their working relationship, however, meaning the 35-year-old McGregor could seemingly return as early as January.

The Irishman still looks set to fight Michael Chandler in his comeback fight, after the two were coaches on Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter this summer, although their potential fight has suffered a number of delays since it was originally announced in February.

However, former fighter and current UFC commentator Cormier believes that McGregor should sidestep his scheduled bout with the American and instead take on Makhachev, the protege of long-time rival Khabib Nurmagomedov and the reigning champion at 155lbs.

“I think Islam should fight Conor McGregor next,” Cormier said on ESPN. “You have to listen: It’s the biggest money fight the UFC could make. And why not? You have Islam Makhachev, who looks to be a guy that’s going to be a dominant champion. In order to have that dominant champion go to the next level of superstardom, you need a guy that can elevate him. The guy that can elevate him to that level is Conor McGregor.

“Because look at what beating Conor McGregor did for Dustin Poirier, look at what it did for Khabib Nurmagomedov. And we’re not even talking about all the other levels at which this just makes sense. You have Islam fighting Conor after the issues Conor has had with Khabib and everything else.

“You have Islam fighting Conor, the biggest star in mixed martial arts coming back to the UFC. It makes sense. It makes all the sense in the world.”

(AFP via Getty Images)

Makhachev retained his lightweight strap last weekend at UFC 294 with a stunning first-round head-kick knockout against Alexander Volkanovski. The Russian was expected to rematch Charles Oliveira but instead faced the Australian featherweight champion after Oliveira suffered a severe cut over his eye 11 days before the event.

Makhachev had already beaten Volkanovski on points in February, with his latest statement victory certifying him as one of the sport’s current pound-for-pound bests. Cormier, though, believes a fight against McGregor would help elevate the 32-year-old’s stardom even further.

“This is why it’s a no-lose situation: If Islam wins, now you have another Khabib Nurmagomedov in terms of star power,” he added.

“And if Conor wins and beats the unbeatable Islam Makhachev, it doesn’t mess anything up because now you got your biggest star back in the pole position as champion.”

Khabib submitted McGregor in 2018 to retain the lightweight title and settle a bitter feud between the pair. After the fight, the Russian leapt out of the Octagon to attack McGregor’s teammates.

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