Despite previous claims to the contrary, UFC President Dana White denies that he stripped Tony Ferguson of the interim lightweight title after “El Cucy” withdrew from the UFC 223 headliner due to a knee injury.
“There’s no stripping. We’re not stripping Tony Ferguson,” White said at a press conference to promote UFC 223 on Wednesday. “The only one that’s losing the belt here is Conor [McGregor]. Conor is losing the belt. These two [Khabib Nurmagomedov and Max Holloway] are fighting for the belt…One of these guys will be the champion. Tony is still the No. 1 contender.”
While White was typically vague regarding Ferguson’s status as interim champion, it was the most clarity he has provided regarding McGregor’s status. The Irishman hasn’t defended his belt since winning it in November 2016, but White expects McGregor to return at some point in 2018.
“Conor’s coming back this year, 100 percent,” White said. “He will fight this year. We’ll see how this thing plays out, and we’ll go from there.”
However, a McGregor cageside appearance will not be part of the UFC 223 drama. At least, White hasn’t heard that the Dublin native plans on attending the event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“As far as I know he’s not, no. It would be awesome if Conor came,” White said. “This is a fight that’s very important to him and his future. But no, I don’t think he has any plans to be here.”
If Nurmagomedov wins, White isn’t especially excited about the possibility of attempting to rebook the seemingly cursed fight with Ferguson. But if “El Cucuy” is indeed the No. 1 contender, it’s something he might have to consider.
“It’s the last fight on earth I want to make again,” White said. “This’ll be five times, that’s insane. But obviously, however this thing plays out on Saturday, we’ll go from there. Tony’s still the No. 1 ranked guy in the world no matter who wins. Believe me, I’ll deal with that when it’s time to deal with it.