Conor McGregor fully expected a repeat of his 2014 first-round win over Dustin Poirier when the two did battle once again in the main event of UFC 257 on Saturday. However, he did not expect to be neutralized by the American's fantastic gameplan of crippling leg kicks, which led to the Irish star suffering his first KO loss in Round 2.
McGregor has lost before, and he took this one particularly well. However, it may have spoiled the biggest paydays for his next outing.
Here's a look at the main candidates for McGregor's next opponent and where they likely stand after an unexpected defeat.
MANNY PACQUIAO BOXING MATCH
McGregor said prior to UFC 257 that talks were ongoing, and a second big-money boxing crossover, this time against the legendary former eight-weight world champion, was likely. Pacquiao went on to confirm this, stating the McGregor spectacle was his top priority.
However, a KO loss to Poirier was the worst possible thing that could have happened on Fight Island regarding this plan.
Sure, "Pac-Man" wouldn't be able to dish out leg kicks in a boxing contest, so it's easy to differentiate between the two environments. But it isn't the sort of momentum that will see such a high-profile contest over the finish line. And with Pacquiao set to go full-time in politics next year, there isn't enough time to salvage things.
KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV REMATCH
Nurmagomedov, who defeated McGregor in a heated grudge fight in 2018, hinted that he'd be watching the Poirier fight to see if something would impress him enough to cave to Dana White's repeated attempts to talk him back for one final bout. Now, it's clear that he was not impressed with Conor at all.
Khabib tweeted a scathing criticism of McGregor's preparations, while White admitted that his hopes of a rematch between the two rivals is now going to be impossible to get done.
DUSTIN POIRIER TRILOGY
On the other hand, another fight with Poirier is right there if they want it.
"The Diamond," himself said post-match that he'd love for him and McGregor to decide their series with a third fight. They have now each swiftly despatched of the other, leaving the defeated fighter rueing their performance and decisions.
The first two options would have been far more lucrative for McGregor, but they probably aren't even on the table anymore. His status as a top-tier superstar may be over. Still, he remains a big draw and a great talent, so there is nonetheless a market for another refreshingly-respectful battle with Poirier.
And with the UFC more likely than ever to give up on a Khabib return, they could finally vacate the lightweight title and put it up for grabs, like it arguably should have been at UFC 257. Or, a fight for the vacant belt could include...
The new arrival to the promotion announced his championship intentions in the chief support bout, finishing off Dan Hooker in two minutes and 30 seconds. If Chandler were to secure a fight with McGregor and win, he would immediately stand a chance of tempting Khabib back for one more title fight, or he could battle Poirier for the vacated title. And, of course, McGregor would rehab his image a great deal if he were able to come out on top.
NATE DIAZ TRILOGY
In the same vein as a Poirier trilogy, McGregor could easily go back to having great fights against great rivals. His unexpected pair of welterweight clashes with Diaz in 2016 has had fans craving a rubber match ever since. And if he is done with the very tip-top of the food chain, McGregor would still draw a great deal taking on one (or both) of the trilogies available.
Of course, one other serious option would be for McGregor to call it quits — for real this time.
Why exactly did he lose so emphatically to Poirier? Was Khabib right about his choice of training and sparring? Was his own observation that he hasn't fought with enough regularity a fair shout? Has bouncing back and forth between different weight classes hindered his ability?
Or is it merely that the huge paydays of headlining the first Madison Square Garden show, boxing Floyd Mayweather and facing Khabib have made it hard for him to motivate himself for "regular" UFC duties?
However, if that urge is dwindling, McGregor may as well relax, enjoy time with his family and continue to grow his business interests with plenty of money in the bank already.