One of the bigger headlines coming from the world of mixed martial arts this week is the decision – on the part of the UFC – to strip their biggest star of one his two championship belts. Conor McGregor, who stopped Eddie Alvarez just 2 weeks ago to make history, was made a non-player in the featherweight division when the UFC forced him to vacate his title in what has been judged by many as a highly controversial move.
McGregor won the featherweight belt just 11 months ago when he knocked out then-champ Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, a feat that remains the shortest ever title-victory in the history of the organisation. In the time since, Conor has fought 3 consecutive fights outside of the 145lb division, choosing not to defend his title and instead opting to test himself against larger opposition.
Perhaps it was the lack of any prominent injuries that caused the UFC to make the move to strip him of his belts. Sure enough, there have been champions who have gone for even longer periods of time without defending but for the most part, when the option to defend is available and health is allowing, champions are expected to attempt to retain their belts.
The fact that Conor has remained injury-free this year and still has not fought at 145lbs may have swayed the decision but irrespective of that being that case, he has gained himself a number of high-profile supporters despite the fact that he has yet to make any form of comment or statement on the matter.
One such supporter is famed-MMA journalist and the host of the MMA Hour, Ariel Helwani.
Helwani, who primarily works as a lead writer at MMAFighting.com, hosts the aforementioned MMA Hour, a weekly talk show where he discusses all things MMA both directly to his viewers and with a plethora of prominent names in the MMA world.
This week, Helwani took a moment to address the UFC’s handling of McGregor’s situation and how it all ties back to next month’s eagerly-awaited UFC 206 event.
“I believe the UFC was well within their rights to strip Conor McGregor,
“The problem is the why and the how. The why is a big issue. If Daniel Cormier did not get injured, Monday morning we’re sitting here talking about Conor McGregor as the featherweight champion. Daniel Cormier’s injury should have nothing to do with the featherweight division. So that’s the why. They stripped Conor McGregor because Daniel Cormier got injured, and they needed something to headline this pay-per-view in December in Toronto.”
Daniel Cormier, the current champion at light-heavyweight, was forced to pull out of his upcoming title defense against knockout artist Anthony Johnson, causing the promotion of the co-main event, featuring Anthony Pettis and Max Holloway, to the main event slot and subsequently, to an interim-title bout.
“The UFC doesn’t have the confidence in the likes of Max Holloway [and Pettis] to just headline the show on their own, in a fantastic fight,” Helwani continued.
“A fight we were all going gaga over when it was announced. Twenty-five minutes of those two going toe-to-toe should be enough. They don’t have enough confidence in [the fans’] ability to realise that this interim belt they are instituting now, is nothing more than just a fugazi belt. It’s just a promotional prop that they’re putting in there to hope that they’ll increase the pay-per-view buys.”
The ever-increasing presence of interim titles in the UFC has indeed – in the eyes of many – led a certain level of loss in the value of belts these days. Several have noted that the now-fickle nature of what usually is a such a highly-significant thing has completely detracted from their worth.
“They botched it. They botched it epically. They botched it because if you’re going to go ahead and strip Conor, then Holloway /Pettis needs to be for the real belt, and you say to Jose Aldo that you’re getting the first crack at the champion of this interim title, you’ve been talking about retirement, you’ve been talking about not fighting again, you’ve been talking about throwing fights, we don’t know the state of your career is, so we’re making Holloway/Pettis the real championship fight, because we just stripped the biggest draw and the biggest star of his belt.
“It’s a disservice to Holloway and Pettis, who are going to have an amazing fight in a couple of weeks, it’s a disservice to Jose Aldo, and it’s a disservice to Conor McGregor.”
Helwani understands the sport better than most, and listening to him speak it must be said that there is a lot of truth to what he is saying, something that will make the eagerly-awaited statement in response from the McGregor camp that bit more interesting.
Watch this week’s episode of the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani in full below.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena