Has UFC boss Dana White alienated two weight divisions by giving Conor McGregor a lightweight title shot?
In case you hadn’t noticed or have been living under a rock for the past year, Dublin man Conor McGregor has become just about the biggest thing in sport. His rise through the UFC ranks, laying waste to all before him has been nothing short of meteoric, and spectacular to watch. The only thing that is keeping pace with his success is his mouth.
From day one in the UFC, McGregor has been a loud, flamboyant and cocky addition to the roster. A featherweight division looked on with both distain and amusement as the Irishman spoke of how everyone was ‘a bum’ and ‘a joke’. His ‘We’re not here to take part. We’re here to take over’ one liner has got to be the best sound bite to come from a fighter since Mohammed Ali’s ‘I am the greatest’. He is pure marketing gold to the UFC.
Some say he takes it too far, is disrespectful and too bombastic. However, say what you want about McGregor’s mouth, so far he has backed up every single word. He has taken over.
The business side of the UFC absolutely loves him, with good reason. He is their cash cow, bringing in enormous Pay-Per-View figures and Dana White and Co are milking it for all they are worth.
Following McGregor’s glorious 13 second destruction of Jose Aldo on December 18th last, thus taking the featherweight strap, McGregor immediately announced his intention to go after the lightweight belt and become a two weight champion. He has after all fought at lightweight during his Cage Warriors days and did hold both belts there.
While McGregor is well within his rights to move up a weight class, this is where the UFC has made two big mistakes.
While McGregor has swept aside the featherweight division, ‘whooping ass and looking good doing it’, as the man said himself, he missed a spot. Before McGregor came along it was Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes and champion Jose Aldo who were knocking lumps out of each other at the top of the featherweight ranks. While Aldo prevailed, there has always been very little between them.
En-route to the title, McGregor bested Mendes with a second round TKO. Mendes had stepped in to replace Aldo on short notice so some say, including Mendes, he was not fight ready and deserves another shot at the Irishman.
Then in December, we all recall how Aldo finally stopped running and stepped into the ring. Queue the 13 second highlight reel.
There are few who would deny that McGregor does not deserve the title. He has won 8 straight fights to get there, putting away most of the best along the way. There are still many who say though that he should have fought Edgar. Until he does that there will be people who will challenge his credentials.
Giving McGregor a title shot at Lightweight
The UFC has managed to upset a whole division of fighters by giving McGregor an immediate title shot at lightweight. Skipping Edgar to the featherweight title is one thing, ‘earning’ a title shot without a single fight in the division, is another.
Even to the uninitiated it is clear that this is a purely business decision by the UFC, pay-per-view numbers and dollar signs. When McGregor takes on Rafael dos Anjos on March 5th it is likely to rival the Mayweather – Pacquiao fight in terms of revenue. Everyone involved is going to get very rich, win or lose.
However, in putting business before rankings, the UFC has upset a whole division. Rankings are there for a reason. Title shots must be earned. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone most recently earned his shot. Promptly beaten yes, but he earned that beating. McGregor has no time spent in the lightweight trenches. He merely comes with a featherweight belt. While that must count for something, many would argue very loudly that it doesn’t count for enough.
If McGregor wins on March 5th, he is going to have a whole lightweight division lining up to take a shot. This is great financial news for the UFC and McGregor, and to be honest, everyone he faces. What then however, for the likes of Edgar, Aldo, Mendes and every other featherweight contender? Will they have to settle for interim belt fights while they wait for McGregor to return to defend his title? Many would say that this risks ruining the division.
Frankly, it is difficult to see how it’s all going to work, unless of course, McGregor loses to dos Anjos. Is it then a simple matter of returning to featherweight and silencing all critics? Maybe. McGregor could rubber stamp his greatness on the featherweight division and then give up the belt, allowing others to contest for the title. Then, free to move up to lightweight, McGregor can then go and earn another shot at lightweight.
Whichever way things go, there will only really be one real winner, the UFC. The question however is, at what cost?