Conor McGregor’s rise to the top of the UFC has been explosive and unprecedented. In an organization that had historically put their physically bigger fighters on the marquee and ignored the smaller ones, the 145-pound McGregor originally seemed unlikely to make a mark, even after the UFC unveiled their new featherweight division after acquiring Elite XC and their roster of smaller, quicker fighters. But then McGregor opened his mouth.
With a strong Irish accent and the ability to weave trash talk into poetry like a modern day Muhammad Ali, McGregor took the UFC by storm. He won fight after fight, often correctly predicting the round and method, earning the nickname “Mystic Mac.” He fought (and talked) his way into some of the biggest fights in UFC history, in terms of PPV buys. He dethroned Jose Aldo at featherweight, taking just 13 seconds to knock out a man who hadn’t lost in a decade. Then he made history by knocking out Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title, becoming the first fighter to hold two UFC belts concurrently.
The UFC may have taken away his featherweight title, but that’s not likely to stop McGregor’s momentum. It doesn’t seem like there is anyone in the UFC who can challenge him, save for that fluke loss to Nate Diaz (we say fluke because Diaz was a last minute replacement and the fight was at 170-pounds, a weight limit that was brand new to McGregor at the time). So we started thinking — which great UFC fighters of the past could have matched up against McGregor and come out with their hands raised? We’re talking about fighters at the absolute prime of their careers, since some of these names are still competing well into their middle (and late) 30s. So strap into your time machine and let’s travel back to visit these ten fighters from the past who we think could topple McGregor. For the sake of some sort of realism, we are sticking with fighters who primarily fought at welterweight or lower.
10. Diego Sanchez
For one brief exciting moment in his career, Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez looked like a man possessed. Sanchez started his professional MMA career going 17-0, which included wins that saw him crowned the Season One champion of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. He would lose two close decisions before rattling off four straight wins in 2008 and 2009 to earn a shot at B.J. Penn and the lightweight title. Marching to the octagon with his trademark “Yes!” chants, Sanchez would come up short and has never actually held a UFC title.
But let’s pretend that the Sanchez from 2009 could be brought back to face present day McGregor for the lightweight title. It would be a wild stand-up affair, which would be nothing new for Sanchez, who is the owner of seven Fight of the Night bonuses in his UFC career. Sanchez also had a remarkable chin, meaning that he could probably walk through that famous McGregor left hand to get his hands on the Irishman. It would be close, which is why Sanchez kicks off our list rather than tops it, but we think Nightmare could pull out a victory.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson