Three men, two title belts, one division – though the UFC lightweight division finally has a major main event, a third man is making things more complicated.
UFC 223 will feature the biggest fight the 155-pound division has seen in years. Unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov will take on Tony Ferguson, the interim champ who is on a ten-fight win streak. The fight makes sense, as it pits the division’s two most accomplished active competitors.
But the man with the official championship hasn’t been in the UFC for over a year. And after making a big payout from his boxing match with Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, McGregor has been biding his time and enjoying his newfound fortune.
Though the UFC enjoyed the boost in business from the cross-promotional event, they’ve also got active fighters who are ready to fight for the lightweight championship. McGregor’s unwillingness to come back brings up an obvious question – should he be stripped of the title?
There have been instances before when an interim title has been defended, but this occurs when the official champion is injured. Given that McGregor is healthy but not defending the title, many have called for UFC president Dana White to make the official announcement.
The fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov would mean a lot more if it was for the undisputed championship. The signs point to White holding out for another appearance from McGregor – but the Irishman’s star-power means he wouldn’t need the title to be a draw. Ferguson, who has said he is bothered by the title situation, wonders if White wants to promote him.
“Straight up. I’m the (expletive) champ and we don’t know if we’re fighting for the real belt or not. What the (expletive) is that? Dana White is telling us one thing on one [side] of the curtain and on the other side he’s saying, ‘No, Conor McGregor is the champion. Go and do your homework.’ And I love Dana, man, but I’m like, ‘What the (expletive) dude? Am I not the champ or am I the champ? Do you want to hype me up or do you not want to hype me up for this fight?’”
In late 2017, Ferguson secured the interim title from Kevin Lee. Nurmagomedov also returned in late 2017, making weight easily with the help of a new nutritionist. That questionable aspect of his game now refined, he extended his perfect record to 25-0 at the expense of Edson Barboza. The one-sided three-round showing immediately put him into title contention.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson will take place on April 7, but the promoting has already begun. It is hard to deny the deal would be sweetened by adding ‘for the undisputed title’ to the advertisements. But White has made no official announcement, despite mentioning that McGregor couldn’t hold up the division for two years.
If he returns in the fall as he had reportedly planned, he’d be doing just that. That is unless Ferguson is promoted to undisputed champion based on his active record.