With UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor set to take on Floyd Mayweather in a boxing contest on August 26th, the Mixed Martial Arts division ‘The Notorious’ reigns over, has been in dire need of some clarity. Unfortunately, it appears it just got muddier.
Ever since defeating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to become the champion, the Irishman has not defended the title once. That bout with Eddie took place in November 2016 - nine months ago, all while lightweight divisional contenders have been trying to solidify their place in the crowded rankings.
As any pundit, insider or a party someway, somehow connected to McGregor, and you will get a different message about his future in MMA, today, tomorrow, heck, even yesterday. It’s as if it changes like the weather in the North East. One day we hear he will never return to MMA. The next, he is aiming for a return in December. Then, sometime in 2018 - if we’re lucky.
While the most powerful fighter in the sport today has every right to do whatever he wishes with his career, there are others who must sit and wait for him to decide. Some of those include UFC President Dana White and top contenders like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee.
In a surprising twist to this lightweight saga, White announced that Ferguson and Lee will contend for the UFC Interim Lightweight Title, likely in October at UFC 216.
This sent some shockwaves in the industry as according to many, the number one contender was Nurmagomedov, a label he was supposed to confirm in a contender eliminator bout vs. Ferguson in March. It never took place, as ‘The Eagle of Dagestan’ succumbed to the rigors of making weight just hours before he was to step onto the scale. It was the third time these two 155 lbs studs were to compete, and once again, the fight did not take place.
Once again, Ferguson was left without an opponent, with many sliding him up the lightweight rankings, without even competing. This also opened the door for for others to potentially step up to replace Khabib, and fight ‘El Cucuy’ instead. And with Kevin Lee defeating Michael Chiesa in controversial fashion in June, his call out of Ferguson was not only answered by his adversary, but also by the powers that be.
But hang on a second …
When White confirmed the lightweight interim title bout, he also stated that Nurmagomedov wasn’t ready and that he recently had surgery. One look at a recent Instagram post by Kabib and a variety of short form acronyms will cross your mind, most of which are not for the kids ears to hear.
Do I fault the UFC for putting on an interim title fight? Kind of, but I’m not bitter over it. By the time Conor returns to the octagon (and that’s if he returns), it will likely be over a year from the date he won the title. Cue the MMA World’s number one hit (broken) record, but that’s simply too long for the division to be on hold. I get it. Fine. Fair enough.
But I am scratching my head and wondering if this is partially a smoke and mirror show?
Conor has already mentioned Khabib as a potential opponent, although quickly backtracking and stating that he will cross that bridge when the time comes. To my understanding, Conor has no issues fighting Nurmagomedov, but if given the choice, he will go with whatever the biggest money fight will materialize between he, and the likes of Nurmagomedov, Ferguson and Lee.
McGregor holds the cards here. The UFC does not. He determines who he will fight next. Not the winner of Ferguson / Lee. They can fight and determine the interim champ, but it’s the guy that will bring in the biggest draw that McGregor will fight next, should he choose to return to MMA and not rematch Mayweather.
There is power in the people and if we use social media as a barometer, Nurmagomedov has a bigger following than Ferguson and Lee combined. Yes, add their totals up and Khabib still has more. On instagram alone, Khabib has 2.5 million followers. Ferguson has 215K while Lee has just over 80K.
The Mayweather / McGregor fight was put together because the fans wanted it. And if McGregor lets history dictate where the money comes from, his next bout in the octagon will be vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov and not the next UFC Lightweight Interim Champion.