It looks as though Conor McGregor may be pulled from what was expected to be the first defense of his lightweight title next month against Tony Ferguson
For many fans, it was a case of “I’ll believe it when I see it”.
McGregor achieved an extraordinary feat of becoming the first fighter in the history of the promotion to simultaneously hold titles in two separate weight classes at UFC 205 in 2016. The Irishman cemented his name in the record books in doing so in a historic night in conjunction with the UFC’s first event at Madison Square Garden and New York City.
Since then, McGregor has been absent from mixed martial arts competition. The brightest star in the promotion announced ‘time off’ in order to welcome his first child into the world, yet had been training behind closed doors for the money-spinning, glorified exhibition bout with boxing icon Floyd Mayweather Jr. It was McGregor’s greatest achievement to date – no, he did not beat the ring legend – the true accomplishment was landing the fight in the first place.
McGregor, a shrewd businessman and exceptional athlete, made a ton of money in the bout and indicated that he would return to his unfinished business in the UFC. Fans of the 29-year-old rejoiced at the news that the UFC lightweight champion would be soon back in the octagon. Fans of the sport (and not necessarily McGregor) were happy to hear that the stacked lightweight division which has stagnated in the Dubliner’s absence would once again have order restored somewhat with his return.
Many naysayers and critics of the Irishman were encouraged even further when UFC President Dana White announced that he was pushing for McGregor to defend his title against interim-champion Tony Ferguson. It all seemed to finally be paying off and despite a lack of confirmation, many were looking forward to what appeared to be an inevitable bout between Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson.
This would be the first title defense of McGregor’s career. Not his UFC career, his professional career in MMA, which has seen him collect the Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight titles, the UFC interim-featherweight title and the promotion’s featherweight and lightweight titles. Never before has one title been defended.
Some argued that, in his absence and on account of his foray into boxing, McGregor just did not have the opportunity to defend his strap and that there would be no more excuses or stunts which would get in the way of his maiden defense upon his return. Afterall, McGregor held the 145-pound strap from December 2015 to the following November. He fought a total of three times in the year, twice at welterweight against Nate Diaz and his lightweight title-winning bout against Alvarez, holding the division up in the process.
UFC President Dana White would eventually strip McGregor of the 145-pound title once he had his hands firmly on the lightweight strap:
“Look, I let Conor fight [Nate] Diaz and then I let him fight Diaz again,” White said about McGregor’s bouts at welterweight against Diaz. Then there was the whole 155-pound thing I let him do. But at the end of the day, him doing that tied up the division for a year. There’s a logjam there and a lot of guys were angry.”
The right move, in the circumstances, but what other choice did he have. Would McGregor still have his hands on the featherweight title if he lost to Alvarez that night? Would McGregor’s image and brand be as big without a title? Would the bout with Mayweather have sold as many pay-per-views if “The Notorious” was not a UFC champion? It worked for McGregor and stability was brought back to the division. The 145-pound pool currently boasts an excellent, committed and great example of a champion in Max Holloway who has lived up to his word in saying that he would ‘fight anyone’. Following Frankie Edgar’s withdrawal from their bout at UFC 218 next month, Holloway signed without hesitation to grant Jose Aldo a rematch.
McGregor was essentially given his own shot at the 155-pound title despite having never fought in the division and skipped a queue made up of some of the most talented and hardest working athletes in the sport. The UFC gave him the green light due to his star power and ability to sell fights. They allowed him to pursue the Mayweather bout and enjoyed a share of the proceeds as a result.
The promotion then seemingly drew the line and pushed McGregor to defend his title against Ferguson, yet, today we have learned that he has been pulled from the card given his behavior at Bellator 187 on Friday night. McGregor jumped into the cage which may have influenced the course of the fight, threatened a referee and then slapped a commissioner in what can only be described as a mindlessly careless act and one which does not make sense. Some have suggested that McGregor intentionally caused a scene and acted up in order to avoid fighting Ferguson and while that may be a little hard to argue in favor of, at best he displayed a lack of concern which should worry the promotion.
The fact is, McGregor once again has (be it intentionally or by sheer carelessness) managed to avoid defending a title. Such reckless and outrageous behavior was clearly absent in the lead up to his bout with Floyd Mayweather – one which he so evidently desired. McGregor has gone on record stating that the Ferguson fight did not interest him and that he was waiting for the UFC to ‘entice him’ with a stake in the promotion. If there is anything in this to warrant debate is a matter of opinion.
The true elephant in the room here is that having been known as a UFC champion for almost two years, McGregor has never defended either the featherweight or lightweight titles he has claimed. By all accounts, we may not see the Irishman in action (with no guarantee that he will defend his title) until 2018, which is inexcusable. A true champion must defend a title, it is as simple as that. What other fighter in the history of the promotion has been afforded such grace?
Regardless of his wealth, celebrity status or the fun and excitement he brings to the promotion, there are fighters and fans out there who still see this as a sport and need some proof right now that it is just that. Is it time for the UFC to bite the bullet in promoting a meritocracy and strip McGregor of his title?
We will soon find out…