THE TITLE PICTURE in the UFC’s lightweight division is shrouded in confusion, yet the last man to hold the belt before the reigning champion may have provided the most plausible explanation regarding the current state of affairs.
Despite having not competed in mixed martial arts for nearly 15 months, Conor McGregor remains at the top of the standings in the 155-pound weight class. McGregor’s last outing saw him win the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.
Interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson is due to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223. The confusion stems from Dana White’s recent statement at a press conference in Boston that the winner of that fight will be crowned undisputed lightweight champion.
However, the UFC president simultaneously refused to confirm if McGregor has subsequently been stripped of the belt that Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are seemingly fighting for.
Speaking to Ariel Helwani on the latest episode of The MMA Hour, Eddie Alvarez offered an interesting theory — which admittedly had been brought to his attention elsewhere — to perhaps explain the slightly contradictory nature of the UFC’s handling of the situation.
According to the former champion, the UFC won’t officially strip McGregor until after both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have officially made weight on the eve of their upcoming fight. That’s due to this particular match-up’s history of falling through.
Previous bookings were scratched in December 2015 (due to a rib injury to Nurmagomedov), April 2016 (because of a lung issue Ferguson was dealing with) and March 2017 (as Nurmagomedov was hospitalised while cutting weight).
“What’s going on is that this fight is 0-3,” said Alvarez, referring to the three previous occasions that a clash between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov has failed to materialise. “They’re not going to strip Conor of a belt and then have a vacant title for a fight that’s 0-3.
“They have not been able to make this fight. Every time they book it, they’re not able to make the fight. Either Khabib gets hurt, Tony gets hurt or someone gets hurt. I think what the UFC is thinking — and this is just a theory, an opinion from my point of view — is that this fight is not going to happen.
“There’s a very unlikely chance that it’s going to happen, so they’re not going to strip the champion, then have this fight fall through and then not have a champion. I think on the day of the weigh-ins, they’re going to strip him [McGregor], it’s going to make real big news, and then they’re going to have a title fight. And that’s also going to make big news. So it’s going to make for a lot of publicity in one day.”
We might have to wait for over nine weeks before finding out if there’s substance to that theory. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are scheduled to meet at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn on Saturday, 7 April.