We Need To Talk About The Lightweight Title
By The Way - Weekly Columns
By Jody Jamieson At UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden, Conor McGregor made history. In defeating Eddie Alvarez in completely one-sided fashion, The Notorious One became the first man in UFC history to hold two of the company’s titles simultaneously. Having taken the featherweight title with one punch in just 13 seconds from Jose Aldo, the lopsided lightweight title fight was in many ways the more decisive victory. That was November 2016. Fast forward fourteen months, and there’s been no McGregor activity to speak of, save from a venture into the boxing world where he performed admirably again Floyd Mayweather, though in a fight where the result was never in doubt. It is in many ways understandable that Conor was afforded that opportunity, which benefitted both fighter and promotion in a unique way. From the moment the August 26th super-fight ended, all eyes were on UFC 219. McGregor himself suggested he wanted to get back in the Octagon before the end of 2017 in his post-fight press conference in Las Vegas. The year end card has played host to many a marquee bout in the past and it seemed the logical time for the return of the sport’s biggest star. We did see a big lightweight bout take place last Saturday, though McGregor was nowhere to be seen. Instead, we saw Khabib Nurmagomedov take Edson Barboza to pieces in a performance that was in equal measures spectacular and frightening. Barboza’s thousand-mile stare at times when he was deposited on the mat awaiting more ground and pound misery was uncomfortable to watch. That’s something you wrestle with as an MMA fan. Sometimes the best performances unfortunately involve watching someone get brutalised without mercy for a prolonged period. Towel stoppages in MMA are another discussion for another time, but an important one that needs to be had. During a media scrum with John Kavanagh at UFC Glasgow in July, which occurred during the height of Mayweather-McGregor madness, Kavanagh repeated to us a tale that has done the rounds for a while. He reiterated that McGregor is obsessed with fighting Khabib in Russia. Such an event would be massive both for the sport, as well as a huge market producing a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of top flight prospects. The problem with obsession is that it isn’t always accompanied by a similar level of motivation. I’m sure McGregor still envisages himself almost daily holding the belt aloft in Russia after slaying their favourite son, but this fight has made sense ever since McGregor was booked to challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight belt almost two years ago. Like most things McGregor right now, it feels no closer to becoming a reality. Not to be forgotten in this equation either is Tony Ferguson. A man who was supposed to fight Nurmagomedov way back in March last year for an interim title, created to make up for the planned hiatus of McGregor. Khabib was the culprit that weekend, failing to show up for weigh-ins while simultaneously making tiramisu a meme in MMA circles. Ferguson would later challenge and then defeat Kevin Lee for the interim belt at UFC 216. The debate among many people focuses on whether it’s Ferguson or whether it’s Nurmagomedov next for McGregor. Khabib is 25-0 and looks unstoppable right now, while Tony holds the interim title, which is the whole point of creating a holdover belt in the first place. McGregor’s latest twitter tirade told a big story however which needs to be wrapped up immediately. Sure, a lot of people get a kick out of McGregor’s online schtick, but there needs to come a time where the UFC calls his bluff. They allowed him a couple of weeks to bask in his “Champ-Champ” glory before taking the featherweight title from him, and that was “only” 11 months after defeating Aldo. McGregor was lucky in a way that the brass appeared to strip him as a reaction to the crumbling UFC 206 card. McGregor marches to the beat of his own drum. That’s in many ways a large part of his appeal. But while absence makes the heart grow fonder for many fans in many sports, how much more of this is the fanbase truly willing to take? We’ll all be happy to see him back to defend the belt if that is indeed what is going to happen next. But there are only so many times he can ask people to beg before they give up. UFC have been complicit in this as well. Allowing Conor to call his own shots has left them in a predicament where their biggest draw is essentially drawing them zero dollars right now. There will be a big fight at 155 pounds coming up in the next few months and there are three permutations. Whichever UFC ranks #1 and #2, we know it would be Khabib vs. Tony ranked #3. Option 3 though is looking more and more like the most likely outcome. McGregor has “fuck you money” and will want to be paid, and while many would scoff at his demands, you only have to look at the major sports leagues in America to see why the Irishman has a case. Revenue sharing in the four major sports leagues ensures players are paid roughly 50% of the league’s intake of wealth. In the UFC, the figure was closer to 10% in 2016, and doesn’t figure to be any better when the 2017 numbers come out. Conor has every right to ask for every penny he can get. There is a theme emerging however once Conor takes a title. He won both featherweight and lightweight gold in Cage Warriors, and defended neither. That he was given his UFC opportunity immediately afterwards is a more than fair excuse. Then he fought three times in 2016 after defeating Aldo, with none of those bouts for the 145 title. Jose Aldo fought Frankie Edgar for an interim featherweight title while Conor was promoting the Nate Diaz matchup. Dana White has long promised the UFC wouldn’t become like boxing with regards to devaluing the titles. It’s time to put up or shut up with regards to Conor McGregor. Either he’s coming back soon to defend, or he vacates the championship. Lightweight is perhaps the most stacked division in the company, and in the entire sport. It’s been on hold long enough.
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Do you agree with Jody's assessment? Should Conor McGregor makes his UFC return in 2018? Will he give up his lightweight title or will he still have it come the end of the year? Drop us a comment below please!
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