During an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Eddie Alvarez detailed the soundest theory we’ve heard thus far on why the UFC have yet to strip Conor McGregor of the lightweight title.
At a rather confusing press conference earlier this month in Boston, the promotion announced that interim lightweight titlist Tony Ferguson will face top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 223 on April 7th in Brooklyn, New York. While he insisted that the winner of Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov will be the new champion rather than an interim titleholder, UFC president Dana White told the gathered media that Conor McGregor had not been stripped of the lineal title, which he won from Alvarez in November of 2016 but has yet to defend. What’s more, White refused to even say definitively that McGregor would be stripped of the title before UFC 223.
Everyone was baffled. Did this mean there was a possibility that the UFC lightweight division would, paradoxically, have two ‘undisputed’ champions come the night of April 7th? Or would the promotion be more grammatically correct and advertise them as a pair of disputed or co-champions? Would a ladder match, in which both belts are hung high in the rafters above the octagon, be declared in order to decide the real
WWF Intercontinental UFC lightweight champion?
White provided a little more information shortly after the presser, suggesting to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter that as long as McGregor agrees to defend the title against the eventual winner of Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov before they meet at UFC 223 he will not be stripped of the lightweight belt the way he was the featherweight title in December of 2016. This still didn’t really explain, though, why White was so insistent during the presser that Ferguson vs. Nurmagodov will be a legitimate title fight rather than an interim title fight regardless of McGregor’s situation. Nor did it seem to completely erase the possibility that there will be two claimants to the lightweight crown after UFC 223.
According to the theory of which Alvarez is an exponent, however, a lack of confidence in Ferguson and Nurmagomedov is the reason for the UFC’s reluctance to officially strip McGregor at this juncture and for all of this bloody confusion.
“I saw another theory online and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what it is,'” said Alvarez. “What’s going on is, this fight is 0 for 3. They’re not going to strip Conor of a belt and then have a vacant title for a fight that’s 0 for 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 or Tony gets hurt or someone gets hurt.”
Indeed, Ferguson vs. Nurmagomdov has been scheduled on three previous occasions. The pair were first supposed to fight at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale on December 11th, 2015, but Ferguson would instead end up battling and overcoming Edson Barboza in a grisly bloodletting at that event after Nurmagomedov withdrew with a rib injury.
The bout was subsequently rescheduled for UFC on Fox 19 on April 16th, 2016, but Nurmagomedov would instead end up pummeling brave late-replacement Darrell Horcher at that event after Ferguson pulled out due to an issue with his lungs. ‘El Cucuy’ would later explain via Instagram that doctors had told him it would be unwise to fight after discovering “blood/fluid” in his lungs. They apparently added that “any more trauma could be terminal.”
Then, most famously, the pair’s scheduled interim lightweight title fight at UFC 209 on March 3rd, 2017, collapsed just hours in advance when Nurmagomedov was hospitalized due to the negative effects of a harrowing weight cut and advised not to compete by doctors.
Alvarez, however, believes that once the two fighters weigh in at the lightweight championship limit of 155lbs on the morning of April 6th and the UFC can feel confident a title fight is going to materialize the following night, they will finally end McGregor’s lengthy, strange and controversial reign as champion.
“So, I think what the UFC is thinking is – this is a theory, it’s just an opinion on my part – this fight is not going to happen. It’s very unlikely that it’s going to happen, so they’re not going to strip the champion and then have this fight fall through and then not have a champion,” stated the Philadelphia fighter.
“So, I think the day of the weigh-ins, they’re going to strip [McGregor] and it’s going to make really big news. Then they’re going to have a title fight, that’s also going to make big news, so it’s going to make for a lot of publicity in one day. That’s my theory.”
For the fans, Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov is a mouth-watering scrap that doesn’t really need the added shine of a gold belt or absolute terminology on the marquee but tell that to the two men who have worked their whole lives to become the world champion.