LAS VEGAS -- Following the first loss of his UFC career -- a submission defeat to Nate Diaz at 170 pounds -- Conor McGregor is headed back to the featherweight division to defend his title, most likely on July 9 at UFC 200.
There are two potential opponents for him to face. Jose Aldo (25-2) was the longest reigning champion in featherweight history until McGregor knocked him out in 13 seconds in December. Frankie Edgar (20-4-1) is a former lightweight champion, riding a five-fight win streak at 145 pounds.
Edgar, 34, said he's optimistic he'll get the fight -- but it likely comes down to one thing.
"If he's got balls, he'll pick me," Edgar told ESPN.com. "It's easier to go in there and fight a guy you know you handled, you know you beat. But if he wants to come back after that loss to Nate and prove the doubters wrong, silence these rumblings about his ground game? He'll fight me. If he beats me, no one can say anything. That would almost erase the loss to Nate."
McGregor (19-3) has not indicated which matchup he prefers. Nor has the UFC. The defending featherweight champion seemed to lean toward a rematch against Aldo during the UFC 196 post-fight media conference, but said he's worried about Aldo's history of pulling out of fights.
"Frankie, at least he gets in there and competes," McGregor said.
Edgar has been waiting on the sidelines since his first-round knockout victory over Chad Mendes on Dec. 11. He said he has been frustrated by not only the time off, but also some of the praise McGregor has received for wanting to leave his weight class and challenge heavier opponents. Edgar did that for years -- to the point that UFC president Dana White publicly called for him to move down and face smaller opponents.
"Dana is trying to pad this kid, talking about him moving up two weight classes" Edgar said. "He fought a 155-pounder and decided not to cut weight. That's all that was. I've seen people ask me on social media, 'You think you can hang with him at 145 when he's fighting at 170?' I was the 155-pound champion while Nate was in that division. It's just nonsense.
"All of this, 'Oh, he's so courageous for trying to win a title outside of his natural weight class.' That's already been done -- by me -- and no one seems to talk about it."
Edgar worked as a television analyst last weekend and had an opportunity to speak to White immediately after UFC 196. During a Fox post-fight show, Edgar asked White directly if he'd fight McGregor next. White was non-committal, replying, "We'll see how this shakes out."
In December, when Edgar knocked out Mendes in devastating fashion, White said at a post-fight media conference that performance would get Edgar "whatever he wants." Edgar said what has happened since has obviously been frustrating.
"The response I got from Dana after UFC 196 was the same response I've been getting since the Mendes fight," Edgar said. "I just don't see how I'm not the clear choice. He told me, 'You get what you want' back in December. Well, I didn't get what I wanted. Now, McGregor is coming back to 145 and you're telling me I'm not getting what I want again? I think that's bulls---."
Fighting out of Toms River, New Jersey, Edgar is currently dealing with a groin injury but guaranteed he would be ready by UFC 200 on July 9. Aldo, who trains out of Nova Uniao in Rio de Janeiro, immediately called out McGregor on social media following his loss. On Monday, McGregor's coach John Kavanagh told MMAFighting.com his first choice is an Aldo rematch but is open to either option.