Fighting futures: What's next for Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor?
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor could both be free to fight in the UFC again from as early as April 6. But who will the two rival lightweight stars face next? RT Sport looks at the best options for everyone involved.
NURMAGOMEDOV'S BEST OPTION: A TITLE FIGHT AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
Amid all the controversy and fallout following Nurmagomedov's UFC 229 win over McGregor, it's easy to forget that "The Eagle" actually retained his UFC lightweight world title and remains champion at 155lbs. So his path seems, on paper, at least, to be a more straightforward one.
The obvious next step would be to face Tony Ferguson. He is the highest-ranked contender, he is a former interim champion who never lost his belt in the cage and a man who has yet to receive the title shot he earned by winning that interim belt. In addition, it would finally mean we get to see them fight after FOUR separate attempts to match the pair fell through due to injury and illness.
Ferguson would seem to be the best option, but Nurmagomedov may have others to choose from.
With UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway looking to move up to 155lbs, a champion-versus-champion matchup between the pair may be a possibility.
Nurmagomedov also has options regarding when he returns. His ban currently has him suspended until July 6, meaning he likely wouldn't fight until the fall, but if he was keen on fighting before Ramadan, he has the option of shooting an anti-bullying public service announcement video for the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
If he decides he wants no part of the Nevada PSA video, he can simply opt to sit out most of the year and come back later in 2019, perhaps in November when the UFC is likely to return to Madison Square Garden.
He has said that he isn't interested in fighting in Vegas any time soon, so perhaps New York in November is an option, where he could fight the winner of a title eliminator bout held earlier in the year.
That could see him face McGregor in a colossal rematch, or perhaps see him finally face Ferguson in the title fight many fans would love to see.
MCGREGOR'S BEST OPTION: DONALD "COWBOY" CERRONE AT COWBOYS STADIUM
It would seem to make sense to get McGregor back into the mix as quickly as possible, and while the UFC's ultimate aim may be to see the Irishman face Nurmagomedov in a rematch, that bout may not happen until the end of the year, if at all.
So that means other options are likely to come into play. A rematch with UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway would deliver a blockbuster non-title fight for a UFC pay-per-view card, while a title eliminator with Tony Ferguson would provide a clear number-one contender to face Khabib in November. Another option - and another rematch - could see McGregor face in-form contender Dustin Poirier.
But perhaps the leading option at the time of writing is a crowd-pleasing match-up between McGregor and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.Also on rt.com Waiting for Conor: Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone hints at McGregor clash
The pair have had some amicable exchanges on social media since Cerrone respectfully called for a bout with the Irishman and, given McGregor's current situation following his loss to Nurmagomedov, the bout appears to make a lot of sense to both sides.
And with McGregor already enjoying a good relationship with Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys who knows? Perhaps we could see Conor versus "Cowboy" at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
THE UFC'S BEST OPTION: A MCGREGOR VS FERGUSON TITLE ELIMINATOR
The biggest fight for the UFC is undoubtedly a rematch between Khabib and Conor, while the most relevant fight for the lightweight title picture is a Nurmagomedov-Ferguson battle.
With that in mind, having McGregor face Ferguson in a big-time title eliminator in the summer would provide them with a huge pay-per-view main event, perhaps even with an interim lightweight title on the line.
It would then propel the winner into a huge lightweight title unification match with Nurmagomedov at Madison Square Garden in November.
If it's McGregor, it's the big-box-office rematch the UFC would absolutely love. But if it's a Ferguson who has just beaten McGregor, then the UFC will have a lightweight title superfight on their hands between the undisputed best two lightweights on the planet.
With McGregor, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson, plus the potential arrival of Max Holloway and the likes of Dustin Poirier and Al Iaquinta right on the verge of the title picture, 2019 looks set to be an incredible year for the UFC lightweight division.
However it pans out, the fans will surely be the winners!