It's been nearly one full year since Conor McGregor appeared in the UFC's Octagon -- and to say mixed martial arts fans are anxious about his return would be an understatement.
McGregor (21-3) hasn't fought since he knocked out Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight championship in November 2016. The 29-year-old took time off this year for the birth of his son, Conor Jr. -- and of course, that lucrative boxing match against Floyd Mayweather.
Expectations are that his next fight will be back in the UFC -- possibly at UFC 219 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas. If McGregor's return doesn't happen in December, early 2018 sounds good as well.
Who will he fight? Top options include newly crowned interim champion Tony Ferguson, and two-time rival Nate Diaz. There's also been speculation around the legendary former champion Georges St-Pierre, who fights Michael Bisping next month.
ESPN already provided its top choice for McGregor's next fight, but what have the major players involved been saying since McGregor's boxing match?
Here are the tea leaves you'll need to read, when attempting to predict McGregor's next fight.
Aug. 26: Conor McGregor loses to Floyd Mayweather via 10th-round TKO
Aug. 26: Conor McGregor, Mayweather-McGregor postfight news conference
"I can't tell you exactly what's next, but something is next ... Fighting is what I do and what I enjoy. I get itchy if I don't have a fight ... I'm certainly open to all options. I have many contenders in the mixed martial arts game. I have a trilogy bout with Nate Diaz that is sitting there. I have options. We'll see what's next. I'm here to fight."
Aug. 26: Dana White, Mayweather-McGregor postfight news conference
"We're not talking about fighting tonight. He put on a great performance and we're not talking about fighting. You know how he is. When he's ready, he'll let me know."
Aug. 27: Nate Diaz, via Instagram
Sept. 5: Nate Diaz, via Instagram
Sept. 6: John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor's coach, The42.ie
"I've said for a long time that the Nate Diaz trilogy fight at lightweight is what I'd personally like to see next. That still needs to be put to bed ... Tony is a solid fighter, but he doesn't have the kind of appeal that would get your blood racing ... I find it hard to envisage another fight in 2017. Then again, knowing Conor, I could get a text message tonight telling me otherwise."
Sept. 26: John Kavanagh, Original Penguin public appearance (via MMAFighting.com)
"Dec. 30 is definitely not happening ... I can also tell you that his manager rang me this morning, saying that him and Conor had been in meetings all day. Obviously, tomorrow is when we would start to consider the date. If it was my choice, and I must stress this is only my choice and that doesn't mean it's going to happen, it would be Nate Diaz in March ... I have it in my head that it would be a Paddy's Day card in New York, Nate Diaz III. I think that would be absolutely amazing. That's what I would wish for."
Sept. 28: Tony Ferguson, UFC 216 prefight conference call
"The next fight for Conor should be whoever wins this interim title. That b---- needs to defend or vacate that belt. As far as him trying to fight Nate ... that's the bulls--- rankings and everything else the UFC stands for just [going] out the window ... You have an interim belt for one reason: So you can unify the thing."
Sept. 29: Conor McGregor, Evening with Conor McGregor (via MMAFighting.com)
"There's an interim belt on the line right now, that's an option. Of course, the Nate Diaz trilogy fight is there. Maybe one of these boxing guys ... maybe Malignaggi would come over and do an MMA bout ... or Floyd, maybe I could entice Floyd back ... [Georges St-Pierre] is another money fight, even though he's been retired. I don't know. I think he's going to get a-- whupped by [Michael Bisping, on Nov. 4]."
Oct. 6: Georges St-Pierre, ESPN interview
GSP not targeting bout with McGregor
Georges St-Pierre explains his presence at Conor McGregor's fight at UFC 196 in March 2016 and says he isn't challenging fighters in lower weight classes.
"Everything is possible, but everybody is targeting Conor McGregor because of money. I don't challenge guys that compete in lower weight divisions. For me, I don't do that. I'm going up to fight Michael Bisping now. I'm looking up. He's an amazing fighter, it would be an amazing honor, but I don't know. I don't know what to say. If the fans want it and he wants it, maybe it will happen."
Oct. 6: Dana White, ESPN interview
White calls McGregor-Ferguson 'the only fight to make'
UFC president Dana White says there's never been talk about Nate Diaz fighting Conor McGregor for the third time and that McGregor "has never turned down a fight."
"That's what I want, is for Conor to defend the title. There's this talk about him and Georges St-Pierre -- it's completely false. There has never been one conversation about Conor and 'GSP.'.... I'm still not a fan of [a Diaz trilogy fight]. Conor needs to defend the title. That's what I want."
Oct. 7: Tony Ferguson submits Kevin Lee at UFC 216, wins interim lightweight title
Oct. 7: Tony Ferguson, ESPN interview
Ferguson says fight with McGregor is about 'pride'
UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson says that Conor McGregor needs to accept a title unification bout with him out of pride and that Ferguson would be ready to fight at the end of the year if the date worked.
"Check. Straight up, this is chess, man. You've got nowhere to go. You're in check. So, you need to defend. Don't vacate the thing. This isn't about the money fight, what it's about is pride. You don't want to see me holding your real belt, buddy ... I know Conor. Conor is a gamer. And as much s--- as I talk and everything else, it would be the most impressive, game fight in the world."
Oct. 7: Dana White, UFC 216 postfight news conference
"With Conor, this Floyd thing popped up, and the thing interim belts are good for is you don't glob up the division. Tony deserved it ... Now we have an interim champion and there's no question now who gets the shot at Conor. It's pretty definitive. You can have all these questions about, 'Oh, Khabib (Nurmagomedov) should get it. Kevin Lee should get it ...' There ain't no questions now. Tony Ferguson won [the interim title] in a great fight, fair and square. It's pretty simple."
Oct. 10: Owen Roddy, Conor McGregor's striking coach, Submission Radio
"I honestly think people would rather see Conor [versus] Diaz. I just think it's a more exciting fight for everybody -- the trilogy, the first two fights back-and-forth between the guys. Who wouldn't want to see Diaz III? The Ferguson fight is an interesting one as well. He's an exciting fighter. Either or. I'll just be happy to get Conor back in the UFC, fighting in the cage, doing what we do best."
Oct. 11: Audie Attar, Conor McGregor's agent, Player Care Conference (via Sky Sports)
"We'll see, there are a lot of options. You had the interim lightweight title [fight] between Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson last weekend in Las Vegas. Tony came out victorious. I represent Tony, so I was really happy for Tony to accomplish that. You have the trilogy fight with Nate Diaz. You even have boxers like Manny Pacquiao knocking on the door.
"I've said this in many interviews: Conor has earned the right [to choose] and the numbers don't lie. He is weighing his options. He is looking at all the different options and opportunities that are there for him, but there is no question that he wants to come back and compete."
Oct. 13: Conor McGregor, via Instagram
Oct. 14: Paulie Malignaggi, Fight Hype interview
"I know [boxing advisor] Al Haymon is talking with Dana White. I know they're speaking. If they want the fight, they'll make it ... Once I spoke to team Haymon and they told me they wanted to make the fight, I knew the only way it wouldn't happen is if this guy has absolutely no balls. This fight will pay him more, this fight will get him more exposure, this fight is bigger than any fight he has. There is no Mayweather fight anymore."
Oct. 19: Owen Roddy, Talking Brawls podcast
"[Ferguson] is what Dana White is saying and because Ferguson is picking at Conor and stuff like that, it's starting to look like the more logical fight. But who knows? It's an exciting fight, isn't it? He definitely brings problems, and people are asking for it. That's the most important thing.
"Obviously, money talks at the end of the day. Whatever makes the most money is what people would go for. But because people are asking for it and posting about it, that's starting to gain the momentum that's needed to get that big fight. It's starting to build. It'll be a good fight. It'll definitely be a good fight."
Oct. 20: Nate Diaz, via Twitter
- Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) October 20, 2017