Conor McGregor can become the first fighter to hold titles in two different weight classes simultaneously in the UFC on Saturday. However, the UFC may need to set a precedent with fighters in similar situations in the future.
Conor McGregor’s drawing power has put him on the precipice of UFC history. He has not fought at featherweight since defeating José Aldo in December last year, and yet he is now set to fight for the lightweight title at UFC 205.
McGregor has joked that he is worth $4.2 billion to the company, in regards to their sale earlier this year. While he is nowhere near that number, there’s no question that he brings in a lot of money for the company. That is why he has been able to fight three times in 2016 without defending the title.
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However, while the UFC and “The Notorious” have cashed in on fights with Nate Diaz and now Eddie Alvarez, the logjam of contenders at featherweight and lightweight are showing their displeasure. It’s a situation that is becoming a problem for the UFC.
At 145, José Aldo has won the interim title and has been the most vocal in saying that he feels disrespected by the UFC pursuing these spectacle fights rather than honoring their own ranking system. The interim champion feels so strongly that Aldo had made statements requesting a release from his contract.
Behind Aldo, top contender Max Holloway has accumulated nine straight victories and would be the clear cut top contender for a title shot were he in any other division. Instead, until the featherweight title picture works itself out, he will be facing former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in December.
McGregor was originally supposed to fight for the lightweight title in March, which would have conceivably circumvented any issue. However, the injury to Rafael dos Anjos and subsequent fights with Nate Diaz have left 145 with a situation.
The UFC has had an enormously lucrative year, largely due to the Irish superstar. However, the company is being faced with the issue of discord being created the longer he operates outside the usual rules for fighters.
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Exactly how long should a champion be allowed to go without defending the title when healthy, regardless of outside interests? Firstly, it can be assumed every situation is different. McGregor is the biggest draw the promotion has had in 2016, and could conceivably become the biggest star the sport has ever had if he is victorious in New York on Saturday.
The situation is very different if it were Dominick Cruz or Demetrious Johnson creating such a divide. But, it doesn’t lessen the impact it is having on the careers of several fighters. Aldo and Holloway are elite talents, yet they are unable to compete for the biggest prize as long as McGregor is outside the division.
On another note, should McGregor leave 145, it puts a shadow over Aldo and the rest of the division competing for the undisputed championship. While Aldo, Holloway, and others are elite talents, it becomes a tough sell to fans to pay to watch fighters compete for what is understood as second place.
With a victory on Saturday, the lightweight division potentially faces the same problem. Unless McGregor stays at 155, Tony Ferguson would likely face the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Michael Johnson for the vacant title. Once again, two great fighters would be fighting for second place despite the belt being on the line.
In the short term, McGregor has the chance to put himself in an elite category on Saturday and the UFC will receive a hefty pay-day as fans will tune in to watch. However, “The Notorious” can only compete so many times in a year and other fighters are needed to carry the organization. Without setting a precedent on time frame and other factors, the UFC may be cashing in early at the risk of short-changing themselves later on.