The UFC continues to make strange exceptions for their biggest star, Conor McGregor, a trend that shouldn’t surprise anyone but was on display at the 25th Anniversary Series press conference on Friday afternoon. The event formally announced a whackload of great fights, like a featherweight championship bout between Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 and a rematch between strawweight champ Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223. Additionally, UFC 223 will include title fight between lightweights Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
A loaded question everyone had was whether Tony and Khabib would fight for the interim belt or the undisputed belt. The ramification if it was the full undisputed belt is that the UFC would be stripping Conor McGregor of his lightweight title, the second title they’d take off of him in as many years. But the UFC threw a curveball at everyone in attendance, declaring Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov in April for the undisputed lightweight title while at the same time refusing to strip McGregor.
It’s an unusual situation to say the least. The UFC has booked a title fight for a belt that is, for now, still wrapped firmly around Conor McGregor’s waist. They refuse to admit they’ll strip him, instead saying “We’ll see what happens.”
And considering how crazy the world of MMA is, maybe they’re right to do that. This is the fourth (fourth!) time the UFC has booked Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov, with injuries canning the first two attempts and a disastrous weight cut on Khabib’s end scuttling the third go the day before the event. UFC 223 is three months away, and anything can happen. Statistically, a pretty high percentage of UFC main events fall apart after being announced. So why anger your biggest cash cow before both fighters make it to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn?
But it’s also not a great look. If there was any doubt who’s in the power position in the relationship between Conor and the UFC, this settled the debate. UFC president Dana White went out in front of reporters and didn’t even try to sell them on this Schrödinger’s title situation. The general vibe of his answers was “Don’t ask too many questions,” because the answer to all of them is that this is a business decision that may take away from the legitimacy of the sport, but it is what it is.
Once again we’re reminded that the UFC is now firmly in the throes of the Conor McGregor era, which isn’t always be a positive thing.