The Muhammad Ali of MMA names 3 fighters who can be the next Conor McGregor

Royce GracieMarkus Boesch / Getty ImagesRoyce Gracie (middle) won the first ever UFC tournament in 1993.

As the prospect of a Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor fight draws closer, there is concern the latter may never return to UFC.

UFC president Dana White said McGregor may not be motivated to return to the cage if he makes $US75 million (£58 million) from a boxing rules showdown with Mayweather.

McGregor is the most famous mixed martial artist in the world, so who could take his crown?

We spoke to a man, who knows what it’s like to be at the peak of the sport, about who will be UFC’s next superstar.

That man is Royce Gracie, once dubbed the Muhammad Ali of MMA. Here are his top picks:

Aaron Pico (20 years old) — USA — Featherweight

Aaron PicoJamie Squire / Getty ImagesAaron Pico is yet to make his professional MMA debut.

Gracie, famed for winning the first ever UFC tournament in 1993, said the 20-year-old Aaron Pico “is a great talent” and would “absolutely” include the young Californian on a list of top prospects.

Pico has been a stand-out freestyle wrestler for over three years and, since signing a long-term contract with UFC’s biggest promotional rival Bellator, he has picked up the tricks of the boxing trade from Freddie Roach (who nurtured Manny Pacquiao) and has developed his jiu-jitsu game with Eddie Bravo.

When you mix the components of youth, potential, and hand-to-hand combat together you usually only get one thing: A terrifying athlete who smiles while choking you. A true baby-faced assassin.

Gracie added: “[Pico] cannot be considered the best prospect in the sport because he hasn’t even had his mixed martial arts debut.

“But he steps into the cage for the first time at Bellator 180 on June 24 at Madison Square Garden in New York City so I’m really interested in seeing how he performs.”

A.J McKee (22 years old) — USA — Featherweight

AJ McKeeBellator MMA / YouTubeA.J McKee is undefeated in eight professional MMA bouts.

Gracie also highlighted featherweight wrecking ball A.J McKee. The 22-year-old may not receive the standard of coaching that Pico stands to benefit from but still has an undeniable aptitude for spectacular wins.

McKee has a wrestling/jiu-jitsu base fighting style and is unbeaten in eight professional MMA contests to date. He has already fought twice in 2017, winning a decision over Brandon Phillips in January and a head kick knockout over Dominic Mazzotta in April.

“McKee has very good skills,” Gracie said. “I think he is an exceptional fighter.”

Michael Page (30-years-old) — UK — Welterweight

Michael Venom PageBellator / YouTubeLondon fighter Michael Venom Page.

Michael ‘Venom’ Page, though, is one of the most exciting fighters, period. The Londoner showboats in a similar style to Brazil great Anderson Silva and is on the cusp of a Bellator welterweight world title shot.

MVP is a powerful and scary striker. He has an unconventional sport karate / kickboxing fighting style and fractured past opponent Evangelitos Santos’s skull in a flying knee knockout win last year. The injury was so horrific it prompted combat sports expert Joe Rogan to call it the “worst MMA injury [he] had ever seen.

“We cannot forget Michael Page when it comes to the very best of the best prospects,” Gracie told Business Insider. “He should have fought at Bellator 179 in London [in May] but he was injured. He’s a very good fighter, very exciting, and though he may be 30-years-old, he will be around for a long time.”

Check out how extraordinary ‘Venom’ Page is in the highlight reel below.

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