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After the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event of the year on Sunday in St. Louis, UFC President Dana White had to address the issue of lightweight champion Conor McGregor and the division over which he reigns. White said McGregor would be stripped of his title if he does not defend it soon. Tony Ferguson currently holds the interim lightweight championship, with the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov established as the clear No. 1 contender.
Ferguson has been on a defend-or-vacate campaign against McGregor since he submitted Kevin Lee with a triangle choke to win the interim championship at UFC 216 in October. Meanwhile, fans await the next move from “The Notorious” one. FloCombat reported that Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are rumored to headline the UFC’s return to Brooklyn, New York, in April . While that bout has not yet been confirmed, it would be one step toward moving on and away from McGregor, who has not fought in more than a year.
“Conor has said he’s thinking of coming back in September,” White said. “If he comes back in September, that’s almost two years. That can’t happen. It’s not fair to everyone else. Love Conor. Respect Conor. Love everything he’s done for this company, but the belt would have to move on.”
White indicated that if McGregor were stripped and decided to return later this year he would be first in line for a title shot against the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov winner. The UFC has come under plenty of criticism due to its habit of turning to interim titles whenever something goes awry with one of its champions. Whether it’s McGregor, Ferguson or Nurmagomedov, the lightweight division needs a true, active titleholder.
This marked the first time White has addressed McGregor’s inactivity, and with two top contenders ready to face one another for the undisputed championship, it would seem that an ultimatum has been issued. The UFC usually reserves the first week of July for International Fight Week, stacking a few events while leading up to a major pay-per-view in Las Vegas. Perhaps the UFC could get McGregor to return for a mega-fight with the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov winner a little sooner than September.
Regardless of McGregor does, the show will absolutely go on -- with or without him.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.