Every so often a prospect debuts in the UFC and subsequently sets the Internet on fire after wowing the MMA world with his or her performance. We’ve seen this happen time and time again, and whether it was the raw potential shown by Jon Jones in his win over Andre Gusmao or the extremely violent technical striking from Edson Barboza, fans wasted little time in anointing these fighters as the future of their respective divisions. For the first few months of 2013, such a prospect eluded UFC fans. But following a complete annihilation of Marcus Brimage at UFC on Fuel TV 9, it’s clear that Irish prospect Conor McGregor is the newest flavor of the month.

After winning both the featherweight and lightweight titles while fighting in the Cage Warriors promotion, McGregor had MMA fans cautiously optimistic heading into his UFC debut earlier this month. When “Notorious” came out and finished Brimage in spectacular fashion in just over a minute, McGregor’s hype train officially took off.

It wasn’t just that McGregor finished a tough featherweight like Brimage in just over a minute, it was the way he did it that made McGregor one of the most talked-about fighters of the last month. It was clear leading up to the fight that Brimage felt disrespected by being named the underdog for the third consecutive fight, and when “The Bama Beast” came out swinging against McGregor, a lot of other fighters may have been overwhelmed by Octagon jitters.

But not McGregor.

Instead, the prospect remained composed, waited for his opportunity to strike and soon landed an epic counter uppercut that put Brimage away. The technical beauty of the strike, along with the overall impressiveness of McGregor’s debut, earned “Notorious” a fair amount of praise after the fight, including a ringing endorsement from UFC President Dana White.

White made it clear that McGregor had earned himself a spot on the card when the UFC makes its return to Boston in August, but McGregor, soon after the fight, made it clear he didn’t want to wait that long. When lightweight Joe Proctor was forced from the UFC 159 card in late April, McGregor was quick to volunteer to step in and fight former TUF finalist Al Iaquinta on short notice. Although McGregor had already clarified that he was willing to compete at both 145 and 155 pounds inside the Octagon, he made his point when he campaigned to fight Iaquinta for his second fight in less than a month. Now, we’re forced to consider how McGregor’s rise up the UFC ladder will work if he’s competing in two separate weight classes simultaneously.

We’ve seen fighters move between weight classes in the UFC before, but no fighter (outside of maybe Dan Henderson) has been able to bounce around in weight on a fight-by-fight basis successfully. When B.J. Penn, Diego Sanchez and others have had success in different weight classes, they’ve done it by going on extended runs at one particular weight and then making a change for another stretch of fights. What McGregor is attempting to do is much more difficult, and if the UFC gives “Notorious” his wish, McGregor is actually going to have a lot more trouble getting to the top of the sport than if he would remain in one spot.

Even if McGregor goes on a six-fight winning streak with three wins in both divisions over the next two years, he’s still going to be a few fights away from getting a UFC title shot in either division. Unless McGregor makes a commitment and starts to build a resume in a specific UFC weight class, his road to a title is going to be longer than it needs to be. And although he may feel like he is equally good in both weight classes, odds are he has a greater chance to be successful at one or the other and needs to fight in the division that contains the most opportunities for him.

McGregor is obviously talented no matter where he fights, but if he wants to get on the fast track for a UFC belt, he’s better off continuing to work his way up the featherweight ladder. The lightweight division has a ton of potentially exciting fights for McGregor, but his frame is better suited for the featherweight division, and his lack of a wrestling background could hurt him if he starts fighting the upper echelon of fighters at 155. McGregor would be at a bit of a physical disadvantage against some of the monstrous fighters that compete at lightweight, and it makes far more sense for him to stick around at featherweight.

“Notorious” isn’t going to completely avoid great wrestlers at 145, and if he gets to the top of the division he’s going to have to deal with the likes of Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar. But his path to the top 10 is much clearer at featherweight.

It would be a lot of fun watching McGregor try to earn his stripes in two separate divisions, especially if he started winning fights in both weight classes. But it’s not the best career move for McGregor, and it’s not the best way for the UFC to help him live up to the hype that surrounds him. Competing in multiple divisions at the highest level in modern MMA is at odds with trying to become a champion at this point, and if Conor McGregor’s ultimate goal is to become a champion, then he would be better off remaining in one place.

Photo: Conor McGregor (Dolly Crew/Cage Warriors)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.