McGregor may leave division before defending title

Conor McGregor poses on the scale during the weigh-in for UFC 194. (John Locher/AP)

Conor McGregor is the undisputed UFC featherweight champion after knocking out Jose Aldo at UFC 194, but believe it or not there’s a chance he could leave the 145-pound division before he even defends his title.

At Saturday’s post-fight press conference, UFC senior vice president of public relations Dave Sholler relayed a message from UFC president Dana White (who didn’t attend the press conference) regarding two possibilities for what could be next for McGregor.

White’s message, according to Sholler, was that one scenario would see McGregor defend his featherweight title against top contender Frankie Edgar. The other scenario would be for McGregor to potentially vacate his brand new belt and get a lightweight title shot against the winner of Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone which takes place Dec. 19.

In an interview with UFC host/reporter Megan Olivi, White explained that John Kavanagh, McGregor’s head trainer, said he didn’t want to see McGregor make the weight cut to 145 pounds ever again.

McGregor has never missed weight, but often looks gaunt at weigh-ins and shedding pounds before a fight takes its toll on the body. Fighter safety surrounding dangerous weight cuts is a growing concern in MMA. In fact, a 21-year-old Chinese fighter died following his weight cut prior to a ONE Championship event Friday.

A potential move to the 155-pound division is something McGregor had mentioned many times prior to UFC 194 and it’s something he still plans on doing.

Vacating his featherweight title in order to take on the top lightweights, though, is an entirely different story.

“I’ll tell you one thing that won’t be happening,” McGregor said. “If I go up to that lightweight division there’s no way in hell that I’m vacating my belt. That’s not happening. There will be a belt on one shoulder and a belt on the other shoulder.”

In the past, whenever there was talk of a star champion like Georges St-Pierre moving up to middleweight or Anderson Silva possibly fighting for the light-heavyweight title, White and UFC officials mentioned that they would likely have to vacate their titles in order to do so — the fear being that while an active champion is competing in a different weight class it would create a log jam of contenders in their original division.

“I’m busy, I stay active, I’m fresh,” McGregor said. “So, when I go up for that lightweight belt and take that lightweight belt I will still be the featherweight champion also. I will be a duel-weight champion. There’s no going up and vacating. The belts will still be active because I am active. I’m as active as any of them, so there’s no problem with that.”

McGregor fought three times in 2015. The only other current champions to fight three times this year were Daniel Cormier, Holly Holm and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.

McGregor previously held the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship featherweight and lightweight titles simultaneously back in 2012 prior to signing with the UFC. The 27-year-old is set on duplicating that accomplishment in the UFC.

“Although I said I was considering [moving to lightweight], I wasn’t considering moving the featherweight division for good because I am the unified world champion,” he explained. “This is my division. I say what I do now.

“Maybe, I feel, there’s a couple of contenders in the mix. Let them maybe compete against each other while I go up and take the lightweight belt, allow a contender to emerge, and go back down and take out that contender and then go back up after a lightweight contender has emerged and take out that contender. That was what my career path, I felt, was taking shape.”

Based on early reaction, the opponent most fans want McGregor to face is Edgar. The former UFC lightweight champion has won five straight in the featherweight division. Like McGregor, Edgar is also coming off an impressive first-round KO win via blistering left hook after he starched Chad Mendes Friday night.

“We have some options,” McGregor added. “We have some decisions to make.”

One option that doesn’t appear realistic at the moment is an immediate rematch between McGregor and Aldo.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.