The UFC’s Conor McGregor has certainly created a lot of waves within his own sport and recently ruffled feathers with a seemingly unprovoked verbal assault on professional wrestling. The wrestling community, while certainly no stranger to a little trash talk from time to time, responded immediately, with several stars taking their remarks to Twitter and social media, while others like former WWE champion Kurt Angle going into greater detail in response. While in the ensuing days, McGregor seemed to backpedal on painting the entire industry with broad strokes – exempting legendary figures like Ric Flair and Vince McMahon from his broad remarks, his comment that wrestlers are "messed up p*****s if you ask me," inspired a strong reaction from those currently active for professional wrestling’s largest organization.
But what if Conor McGregor was planting a seed to ensure his future earnings when his UFC career is done? What are the matches that we’d most like to see if Conor McGregor was to be signed to the WWE roster right now? While typically, spots weren’t open for a 5’9”, 170-pounder in the company which traditionally was known for showcasing the heavyweights, a smaller, more dynamic roster has emerged and that could be an opening for McGregor down the line.
15 Chris Jericho
One of the first wrestlers out of the gate to respond to Conor McGregor via Twitter was 26-year ring veteran Chris Jericho. Originally from Winnipeg, Jericho worked his way through the independent scene to make it to the WWE, which included adapting to the physical and diverse styles of wrestling in Japan, Mexico, and Germany before finally becoming a household name in North America. Of McGregor, Jericho fired back to say “Sorry pal no disrespect to u, but my fights are legit, unlike the fixed fights u have in UFC. I’ll embarrass u.” Without question, Jericho has proven to be one of the most versatile wrestlers of his generation and his track record against a variety of foes speaks for itself. Given his pride in his craft and his interest to defend his industry at all costs, you can expect that a Jericho–McGregor showdown would make the abrasive Irish battler as believer.
14 Samoa Joe
There was something very quietly fulfilling about the nature in which Samoa Joe responded to the remarks by Conor McGregor that long time wrestlers and retired stars could take pride in. When you think back to the heyday of the WWE, they seldom even acknowledged the achievements of their own wrestlers outside of the WWE brand, let alone what might be taking place in other sports avenues. When asked about McGregor’s comments, the stoic Samoa Joe simply stated: "I think Conor McGregor is a promoter and I'm not here to promote any of his fights. If he were here in WWE, that would be a different story, but until that happens I don't feel like I need to address it." However, should McGregor find himself in the WWE, we can think of few other wrestlers for him to address his remarks to directly than Samoa Joe, a superstar that has emerged as one of the dark horses of the industry to achieve his own success.
13 Enzo Amore
Readers might question the inclusion of the relative upstart Enzo Amore on this list, but his placement is considered because of the nature of wrestling itself. A natural showman and flamboyant personality that would seem to epitomize the realm of “sports entertainment,” Amore seems perched to become one of the biggest stars of the coming generation. Pat Patterson once said: “When it comes to a gimmick – you first need to start with the foundation of a good wrestler, then give him a character that the people will respond to.” What that means is this: At his foundation, Amore is a talented wrestler first, showman second. That doesn’t seem to be too far off how one might describe McGregor – who has generated more noise than most any of his peers in a short period of time, despite suffering one of his most visible losses during that time.
12 Austin Aries
Perhaps if Austin Aries’ passions had been ignited as a youngster by UFC instead of professional wrestling, he would have already met McGregor in action on his own turf. In the case of Aries, standing 5’9” and tipping the scales at around 200 pounds, his success in professional wrestling can be attributed to pure resilience – breaking down the door of opportunity whenever he stood before it. Aries has reigned as a Ring of Honor World champion, a TNA World champion and is now one of an eclectic cast which is electrifying the wrestling scene in the United States as part of the WWE’s NXT brand. Physically, the tale of the tape would match these two competitors fairly evenly, and with each passionately representing their own discipline, this would be one hell of a showdown.
11 Kevin Owens
Something tells us that upon his arrival in the WWE, McGregor would be looking for an opponent that he might mistakenly identify as an easy stepping stone. Perhaps someone who seems to defy the stereo-typical look of a WWE wrestler, and therefore support his flippant dismissal of pro wrestlers as a whole. In selecting Kevin Owens, one of the WWE’s emerging stars who’s not likely to compete without wearing a t-shirt to mask his unique body shape any time soon, McGregor would be making a significant mistake. Kevin Owens’ success in the WWE has defied even industry insiders who have claimed that he’s not “Vince’s kind of guy.” However, if Kevin Owens vs. Conor McGregor was to generate significant enough interest to drive pay per view buy rates, we’re pretty confident toe say that is exactly “Vince’s kind of guy.” Owens is deceptively agile, dangerously versatile, and able to absorb a lot of punishment.
Cesaro is a star that has seemed to be on the verge of breaking free from the middle of the card to main events a few times, but it hasn’t come together. When you combine his athletic background with success in multiple sports internationally, his incredible ability between the ropes as a wrestler and his training philosophy as one of the growing number of wrestlers that claims to have always been 100% natural, Cesaro is a perfect fit for a McGregor opponent. On many levels, Cesaro and his track record directly contradict all of the digs that Conor has made about wrestlers individually and the roster as a whole. The “Swiss Superman” who has wowed audiences and silences critics since his arrival in the WWE could use the McGregor match to launch himself to headline status immediately. The gentlemanly manner in which Cesaro speaks would also serve as a stark contrast to the roguish, vulgar tone that McGregor uses to generate his notoriety.
9 Jack Swagger
There is a size disparity in this showdown, yes, but when you’re talking about wrestlers that have migrated to professional wrestling after a successful amateur mat career, Jack Swagger is one of the current WWE stars that can’t be excluded from the list. Swagger was a dual sport athlete in College, competing in both football and wrestling. When he devoted his focus to the grappling game, he set a record for most pins in a single season. Making the jump to pro wrestling, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise and ample visibility over a 10-year WWE career so far. Swagger vs. McGregor would be an interesting showdown, and while some are disputing that fans might not buy into a clash between competitors so vastly disparate in dimensions, we’d like to draw your attention to the Big Show–Mayweather clash at WrestleMania not that long ago.
8 Viktor of the Ascension
While wrestling fans have been waiting for The Ascension to make good on the initial hype that surrounded their main roster debut, many fans may have forgotten about the individual backgrounds of each team member. Viktor is an alumnus of the infamous Hart dungeon in Calgary, Canada and trained alongside a variety of aspiring stars including some that were imported from other sports like professional football. After spending eight years with Stampede Wrestling and doing some international tours, he has spent almost more time than anyone in the WWE’s developmental purgatory while awaiting an opportunity on the sport’s biggest stage. While The Ascension is trying to find their stride, a showdown with McGregor might awaken both the fans and the WWE management to the talent that is capable of more than he has yet shown in the McMahon camp. On the flip side, a loss to an incoming McGregor wouldn’t be overly detrimental to his current standing either.
7 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is one of those wrestlers who excelled for so long on the independent scene without a sniff of interest from the WWE; many might have thought that he would never make the transition. However, while wrestling as the masked El Generico on the independent scene, Zayn showed his ruggedness by accepting most every challenge possible – in some of the most hardcore stipulation matches imaginable – carving out his legacy with show-stopping performances against a variety of foes. A Zayn-McGregor match would be a true test for both athletes as each jockeyed to ensure that they well represented their own discipline. While McGregor’s criticism may have been largely focused on the more visible marquee stars in the organization, he may not have considered those who have yet to headline WrestleMania that would be stepping up to knock on Vince’s door for the opportunity in this clash. Zayn could be one.
6 Randy Orton
When Randy Orton first debuted, he was coined as a “blue-chipper,” a future main eventer who was born with the business in his blood. Certainly, Orton’s roots as a third generation wrestler may have helped him to open the door to a career in professional wrestling, but it has been through his own hard work that he has emerged as one of the top stars of his generation and arguably has eclipsed the success of his father and grandfather before him. What we have seen from "the Apex Predator" is a versatile performer that can readily adapt to a variety of opponents, including UFC-tested athletes like Brock Lesnar. Orton is a wrestler’s wrestler and one that ring legends such as Harley Race and Ted DiBiase point to as one who carries on the traditions of the sport. Let’s not forget that one of wrestling’s grandest traditions is to make even the harshest skeptics – in the ring, or in the bar room – a believer as well.
5 Finn Balor
What is most intriguing about the prospect of a Finn Balor-Conor McGregor match is that you have two fighters of similar stature and both are fellow countrymen from Ireland. While Balor has steadily ascended through the ranks of professional wrestling, his notoriety has come exclusively from his performances in the ring, not from his remarks on the microphone. McGregor, while perhaps equally talented as an athlete, is best known for his boisterous efforts in front of a microphone and on social media to generate his momentum. This distinct contrast of philosophies would make this contest most intriguing. Cosmetically, we have to admit, there are some similarities as well between the "Demon King" and the "Notorious" one that plays well into the visual marketing of this fight as well. Which competitor would have the "Luck ‘o the Irish" to claim a victory in this one, is anyone’s guess.
4 A.J. Styles
If it wasn’t for A.J. Styles’ phenomenal ability to deliver no matter what the situation calls for, we might not be able to forgive his soccer mom haircut. But we can see how McGregor might fixate on Styles’ unfortunate coif in the pre-match hype leading up to a pay per view head to head. A.J. Styles has made a career out of defying the odds, he has never allowed the sport to paint him into a single category. He has excelled as a cruiserweight, he has achieved success in tag team action, and he has ascended to World title glory as well. Whether domestically or internationally, Styles has cemented his sport legacy on his own terms and that would factor in heavily to his decision to accept a match with McGregor. Let’s not forget the controversy not that long ago surrounding some of Styles’ more high risk maneuvers injuring opponents – matched with a foe that was outside the brotherhood of professional wrestling, would those moves hold greater significance in the contest?
3 Dean Ambrose
The current WWE champion and leader of the lunatic fringe would seem to be an ideal target for Conor McGregor to prove his stance against professional wrestlers. After all who better than the champion, the wrestler whose title implies that he is the best of the best, to prove one’s point? While Ambrose often presents as low key in his jeans and tank top in the ring, we can’t forget that he has taken it to the limit against Brock Lesnar in the past. But perhaps more importantly, where Ambrose’s reputation for toughness was first earned came prior to his national spotlight. While competing in Combat Zone Wrestling and other independent organizations, his willingness to take matches to the extreme created a strong following and given the task of welcoming Conor McGregor to professional wrestling, we don’t know from what era of his own career he might draw inspiration for such an occasion.
2 Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler’s name has come up specifically in response to Conor McGregor’s comments, and Ziggler was identified by Ric Flair as the man that would change McGregor’s views on professional wrestlers. In his youth, Ziggler competed as an amateur in both high school and College. At Kent State University, Dolph set a record for the most career wins on the mat in the team’s history with 121 wins. Dolph himself was much more diplomatic in his response to McGregor, and when asked simply said: “Whether it’s a joke or not, you act serious, then we take it seriously. So even if he’s really good at what he does – which I’m sure he is – I’m also really good at what I do. I just happen to do it and get punched in the face a lot less for real.” Ziggler–McGregor could be one of those matches that proves the compatibility of professional wrestling and MMA in a manner that pays off at the box office. While Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker tipped their toe in this pool, whether there is a future for similar bouts has mixed opinions.
1 John Cena
How could we possibly consider a list of WWE foes for Conor McGregor without considering the man who was targeted with the most direct jab? McGregor called Cena “a big fat, 40-year old failed Mr. Olympia mother***ker”. Conor’s attack on Cena is a bit reminiscent of jail yard behavior, as the new fish, challenge the guy at the top of the heap and establish your reputation from the onset. While Kurt Angle dismissed Cena’s chances should a match like this occur in the Octagon, one can’t dismiss Cena’s longevity and his ability to create his own unique spot in professional wrestling history. Cena vs. McGregor: Could it have the same box office appeal at Cena–The Rock? No doubt, both competitors could be counted on to talk the people into the arenas and while the match might fall short of the hype, it’s certain that the media and fans of both sports would be paying keen attention.