History is about to repeat itself.
With Dana White announcing Wednesday that Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov are set to meet at UFC 223 in April, it’s only a matter of time before the UFC strips Conor McGregor of his lightweight title.
McGregor has been the promotion’s 155-pound champion since November 2016 when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. McGregor chose to pursue a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. instead of defending his title so the UFC decided to introduce an interim lightweight belt—Ferguson submitted Kevin Lee to win it this past October.
Following Sunday’s Fight Night event in St. Louis, UFC president Dana White spoke about McGregor’s status on the FOX Sports post-fight show and suggested the promotion would strip McGregor of his belt.
“Conor has said he’s thinking about coming back in September,” White explained. “If he comes back in September that’s almost two years [since he last fought in the UFC]. That can’t happen. It’s not fair to anybody else. … The belt would have to move on. If and when Conor comes back he would get the first crack at the title.”
This isn’t the first time the UFC has been in a situation like this with McGregor. The Irish superstar won the UFC featherweight title with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in December 2015. McGregor never defended that belt, instead choosing to take a run at the lightweight title and become the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight champion. However, when a title fight with then-champ Rafael dos Anjos fell apart, McGregor took on Nate Diaz in back-to-back fights contested at welterweight before finally competing at lightweight and stopping Alvarez, who took the belt from dos Anjos while the McGregor prepared for the second Diaz bout.
McGregor was stripped of his featherweight title two weeks after beating Alvarez.
Russia’s TASS.ru was first to report the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov matchup Tuesday. The outlet also indicated the UFC will officially announce the matchup Saturday night during the UFC 220 broadcast and that the two men will fight for the undisputed UFC lightweight title, meaning McGregor will be stripped—unless he voluntarily vacates the belt in the meantime.
“He can’t hold the title, can’t hold up the whole division,” White told Boston sports radio show Toucher & Rich Wednesday morning. “There’s a lot of guys that I have to deal with every day that aren’t worth the aggravation. This kid is worth the aggravation. I have so much respect for him, what he’s accomplished and what he’s done. If he wants to ride off into the sunset with his money for the rest of his life I don’t blame him and if he wants to come back and fight we’ll get him back in, he just can’t hold the division hostage.”
Although McGregor is on record saying he plans on fighting again, White has held reservations about McGregor’s desire to compete.
“I said going into the Mayweather fight, ‘We’ll see if this kid ever fights again after this type of a payday.’ Conor’s made well over $100 million fighting in less than five years. Pretty amazing,” White said. “Fighting is one of those businesses that are really tough to get out of bed and get punched in the face every day when you got $100 million in the bank.”
McGregor is the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history, so a fight with either Ferguson or Nurmagomedov would be huge business for the UFC—especially one with the undefeated Nurmagomedov whose popularity continues to soar with every dominant showing in the Octagon.
“People right now would love to see Conor McGregor vs. Khabib the Russian. That would be a massive fight,” White added. “I could do that fight in the United States and it’s big. If I did that fight in Russia, there isn’t a stadium in the country big enough for that fight.
“Everybody has been waiting to see a fight with him and Conor. People believe that this guy will maul Conor McGregor but that’s what people always believe about Conor. Conor McGregor is an incredible fighter who does not get the credit he deserves because he talks so much. People think he’s all talk.”
If McGregor does end up being stripped of his title he’ll be the first fighter in UFC history to be stripped of a title twice for refusing to defend it. Germaine de Randamie is the only other fighter that had a belt taken away for refusal to defend. She was stripped of the inaugural women’s featherweight title last year after refusing to fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
Jon Jones is currently the lone fighter to have been stripped of a title on more than one occasion. Jones has technically been stripped a the light-heavyweight belt thrice (one was an interim belt) but his were due to legal troubles and failed drug tests, not refusal to defend.