BOSTON – Conor McGregor has not been stripped of his UFC lightweight title … yet.
But the next lightweight title fight, which will be between interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC), will be for the undisputed lightweight belt.
That belt currently is held by McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC). And presumably between today’s announcement and the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov headliner at UFC 223, McGregor no longer will be the UFC’s 155-pound champ.
UFC President Dana White made the announcement today at TD Garden in Boston to kick off a news conference promoting the upcoming UFC 222 and UFC 223 pay-per-views. The news conference preceded the ceremonial weigh-ins for Saturday’s UFC 220 pay-per-view.
But White told MMAjunkie that McGregor has not yet been stripped, that an announcement on his status will be forthcoming.
“I’ve been in this business a very long time,” White told MMAjunkie when asked for an update on McGregor’s status. “When you make an obscene amount of money like that, who knows if they’ll ever come back? And right now, the position we’re in, Conor’s saying, ‘Maybe I’ll come back in August. Maybe I’ll come back in September.’ Well, that’s almost two years. It’s not fair to the rest of the guys in the division.”
That response was near verbatim what he said on FS1’s UFC Fight Night 124 post-fight show earlier this week.
White put the shine back on Ferguson and Nurmagomedov after a follow-up, refusing to say outright that McGregor has been stripped or that he without question will be stripped.
“This fight is ridiculous, and after this fight happens, whenever Conor does decide to come back, I think it will be massive,” White said.
McGregor has yet to defend the 155-pound title he won in November 2016, opting in the time since then to focus on the birth of his first son, as well as a highly lucrative boxing match with Floyd Mayweather this past August. Since his time frame for a possible return to the UFC would put him at close to two years of MMA inactivity, White’s stance is the promotion is left with little choice but to strip him of his title – likely, anyway, since today’s news conference provided nothing definitive.
The new champion will come in the form of either Ferguson or Nurmagomedov, who will headline UFC 223 to determine the new champion. Should McGregor return not long after that winner is crowned, the inference from White is he’ll get first crack at winning back the title.
UFC 223 is set for April 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card will air on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.
When McGregor won the lightweight title, he became the first fighter to hold belts in two weight classes at the same time in the UFC. He was the featherweight champ when he beat Eddie Alvarez in the UFC 205 main event to win the lightweight crown. But two weeks after that, the UFC stripped his 145-pound belt to leave him to focus on lightweight. That focus has yet to actually happen thanks to McGregor taking the Mayweather boxing match, instead.
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have been booked against each other three prior times without a fight actually materializing. After each pulled out of one scheduled bout due to injury, Ferguson, No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, and No. 3 Nurmagomedov were most recently signed to fight at UFC 209 in March 2017. The fight for the then-vacant interim title fell apart on weigh-in day when Nurmagomedov was hospitalized after a failed weight cut.
Ferguson subsequently beat Kevin Lee for the interim belt. Nurmagomedov, meanwhile, made a successful return to the octagon this past month at UFC 219, where he dominated fellow contender Edson Barboza for a decisive decision victory.
For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.