Despite having two active fighters at the top of the division, both on winning streaks, the UFC’s 155-pound class has lacked clarity regarding the championship picture for some time now.
Even though Tony Ferguson is the interim champion and Khabib Nurmagomedov is set to put his unbeaten streak on the line when he faces him at UFC 223, there has been a lot of confusion about which belt will be contested for.
Conor McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez by second round KO to claim the title in late 2016. But that was the last time the Irish superstar competed in an MMA bout. He took his star power to boxing, turning in a losing effort against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a massive cross-promotional boxing bout that was the first of its kind.
The payday he got from that clash (aptly dubbed “The Money Fight”) may give him more incentive to stay on the sidelines. And his drawing power may have made UFC management think twice about stripping him of the belt.
But with the two best active lightweights in the world set to do battle on April 7, the challenger claims they’ll be facing off for the undisputed title, rather than the interim title.
Nurmagomedov said: “I have a contract, like, real belt. What are they gonna do? They only have one real belt. They have the interim belt, and they have the real belt.”
UFC president Dana White has yet to give a definitive answer about which title will be on the line. But it has been reported that McGregor isn’t planning on returning until later this year. With the champion healthy, it doesn’t make sense for the interim belt to be defended, but White and UFC management may be waiting until the two combatants are in the cage ready to compete before they officially announce the undisputed title is on the line.
The fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson is one of the most alluring bouts in the division, but in the past, it’s seemed impossible to put together successfully. The two were first set to face off three years ago, but Nurmagomedov suffered an injury. An attempt to remake the fight the following year fell through when Ferguson was injured.
The third attempt wasn’t successful, either, as Nurmagomedov was sent to the hospital following a bad weight cut and never made it to the UFC 209 headliner.
Nurmagomedov is currently undefeated, most recently defeating Edson Barboza in a lopsided decision that took his record to 25-0. Ferguson is on a ten-fight win streak of his own, and his strong background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (particularly his bottom game) could pose problems for Nurmagomedov, who is known for overwhelming fighters with his smothering top control.
Whoever wins the bout would likely be next for McGregor when he returns. McGregor is so popular he likely wouldn’t need the title to be a draw – but the main event of UFC 223 needs to be for the real belt if the UFC wants an active champion.