Is there something of an underlying problem when the biggest name and influencer in the UFC is a fighter who has not fought in the octagon since November 2016?
This is the position UFC president Dana White finds his promotion in in January of 2018. However, when the person in question is Conor McGregor, perhaps some allowances are required.
The Irishman has basically written his own rule book when comes to when he fights and against who, regardless of titles he may hold. His value to the UFC is such that he has been afforded such luxuries by White.
Now, as the promotion looks to confirm the fight cards for its next two marquee events, UFC 221 and 222, it is evident that outside of McGregor and barely a handful of other big names, the roster is somewhat lacking in star power.
While McGregor alluded to a return sometime in 2018, he didn’t give any indication of just when and where that might be.
So, as the MMA world awaits the return of its biggest star, it has been left to the rest to fill seats and pull in pay-per-view subscriptions.
As recently as 2016, the promotion had no such concerns. McGregor, at the peak of his influence, was chasing the lightweight strap to go with his featherweight title.
Circumstance, however, sent him on a different path, one that in hindsight has been so much more enthralling and entertaining.
His almost out of nowhere rivalry with Nate Diaz saw the UFC deliver two of the most lucrative events it has ever staged, UFC 196 and 202.
Promoting each event was a simple case of putting the two men in a room together and watching the one-liners and insults fly. It was gold.
Fast forward 18 months and both are on hiatus, basking in the respective wealth that has come their way. With no financial need to pull on the four-ounce gloves, both men have explored new opportunities.
Now, however, Diaz has announced his intention to return to action by mid-2018 and to say this is a timely boost for the UFC could be the understatement of the year.
Though talks of a trilogy fight between McGregor and Diaz had quietened while they have been away, it remains an unsettled score.
More than that, it remains an intriguing match-up that all MMA fans, whether they love or hate either man, would pay good money to see.
Since collecting the featherweight title and then the lightweight equivalent, McGregor has shown no real interest in defending either.
With one title already returned to the 145lb division and the second seemingly about to head back to the 155lb ranks, it looks like McGregor’s motivations continue to lie elsewhere.
He appears driven not by the chance to reign and defend his position. Instead, his ambitions seem to lie in challenges not previously considered.
How many other fighters would consider jumping two weight classes on a whim and risk an unbeaten UFC record?
How many other fighters would challenge one of the greatest ever boxers without ever having experienced a professional boxing fight?
While his absence and failure to defend his lightweight title have denuded his fanbase somewhat, a return to the Octagon in 2018 would be the biggest event of the year, without question.
As Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov prepare to fight for the undisputed lightweight title, a title still officially held by McGregor, there is a growing assumption that the Irishman will return to take on whoever emerges victories from that UFC 223 clash in April.
Nate Diaz’s proclaimed return to the UFC could very well throw up a new, and arguably more enticing, scenario.
With their record at one win apiece, a third and final fight has always been presumed. As both McGregor and Diaz have marked 2018 as the year of their return, this rubber match suddenly appears a reality once more.
As fighting purists will say that McGregor should fight Ferguson or Nurmagomedov next, expect to see the odds on a McGregor-Diaz trilogy fight next shrink over the coming weeks.
From a business perspective, either fight will sell. McGregor’s return will draw them in from far and wide. It, therefore, becomes a case of which fight will sell more, which will grab people’s attention more firmly?
Dare it be said that a clash with Diaz is the bigger fight and also the one McGregor will be drawn to more readily?
The Dubliner’s track record is not one that follows an orthodox path. A lightweight title clash seems almost too obvious for his return fight. A clash with Diaz, however, seems irreverently right.
While Diaz is clearly not one of Dana White’s favourite people and vice versa, news of the 32-year-old’s announcement, in all its foul-mouthed glory, must be music to the UFC boss’s ears.
McGregor v Nurmagomedov or McGregor v Ferguson would definitely be a sell-out. McGregor v Diaz, however, would be money-making on a whole new level.