Though Dana White insisted post-UFC 216 that newly crowned interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson is the opponent that makes sense for Conor McGregor’s octagon return, many were sceptical.
Regardless of how many times White repeated the claim and dismissed the idea that McGregor’s next fight will be a trilogy-completing clash with Nate Diaz, the doubts remained. These doubts were understandable too, as White has a history of veiling the promotion’s real intentions in these situations and the Diaz fight looks a far more financially lucrative option for the UFC than McGregor vs. Ferguson.
However, the general feeling now seems to be that Ferguson has become the front-runner, due to the fact that McGregor himself and members of his team have been suggesting as much in recent interviews.
“There is a fighter with the interim lightweight belt. I feel that will be next,” McGregor told Entertainment.ie while he was promoting a new feature-length documentary on his career earlier in the week.
Fans of the mouth-watering match-up shouldn’t get too excited just yet, however, as in another interview recorded that same day McGregor admitted that he is finding it difficult to get truly enthused about the prospect of facing ‘El Cucuy’.
“We are in the negotiation stage at the moment and that’s a lengthy process,” McGregor told the BBC. “They’ve got to make me excited about it. I came from a crazy event – a record-breaking event. ‘The Billion Dollar Fight’ it was called. I made insane money.
“And then the opponent that they are trying to line up for me is an opponent with a $600,000 gate in Las Vegas. A $600,000 gate in Las Vegas is unheard of. It’s abysmal. So, it’s hard to get excited about that – 100,000 Pay-per-view buys compared to my 6.5 million Pay-per-view buys. It’s a hard one to get exited about but we are in the negotiation stage. Can they entice me? No doubt they can. Have they so done yet? No. We are in the negotiation stage.”
UFC 216, the card headlined by Ferguson’s interim title victory over Kevin Lee, actually did a little bit better than McGregor claims here. The gate receipts totaled closer to $700,000 – $677, 999.50 to be precise. But that still means that it outperformed only one of the other six UFC events that have taken place at the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas and it drew less than a third of the cash that UFC 213, a card headlined by Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker but that was initially scheduled to be topped by Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko, took in at the venue at the beginning of July(via MMAJunkie).
Initial estimates suggested that UFC 216 had bombed on Pay-per-view, with Dave Meltzer projecting roughly 120,000 buys. But Meltzer later amended his projection, claiming that the event had performed much better than early indications led him to believe and that it had “easily topped 200,000 buys(via BloodyElbow).”
Still, when one considers the gargantuan numbers that McGregor did opposite Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August, as well as those that he was routinely drawing in the UFC prior to that, one can understand where the SBG Ireland star is coming from.
He is the champion, however, and as such he has, in theory at least, a duty to defend the title against the top contender. There is absolutely no doubting that Ferguson has earned his crack. The win over Lee was the eccentric all-rounder’s tenth straight and his sixteenth in seventeen fights.
If McGregor is granted the co-promoter status he seeks, maybe then he will suddenly find a sense of excitement about trying to become the first man to blemish Ferguson’s record since May of 2012. Or maybe Tony will get swatted to the side while McGregor explores another money fight.