Conor McGregor may be the biggest star in the history of the UFC, but he can't sit on the sidelines forever while holding onto the lightweight championship.
McGregor hasn't fought in the UFC since winning the title in November of 2016 and, by all accounts, he's not expected to return any time soon either, as he remains in contract negotiations with the promotion on a new deal.
For the first time, UFC president Dana White is hinting at the organization stripping McGregor of his lightweight title if he doesn't get back in action relatively soon to get the 155-pound division moving again.
“This is a game of time. Time is your enemy in this sport or any other sport. When you're a professional athlete, time is your enemy and we can't let this thing go on forever and not give other guys the opportunity,” White told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday. “Tony Ferguson has been around for a long time and earned his dues. Khabib [Nurmagomedov] has earned his dues and the list goes on and on.
“So Conor has done very well, he's made a lot of money, and if he decides he doesn't want to fight again for another however long, that's up to him, that's his choice and his decision, but the belt has to move on. So we've got to figure some stuff out here in the next couple months.”
Last week, White said that he hoped to have McGregor back in action by the summer, but never mentioned the possibility of stripping him of the title if he doesn't return in a timely fashion.
Now White is saying that McGregor may not want to get back into the Octagon until the end of the summer and that may lead to him losing his title.
“I don't think Conor wants to fight until August, but if he waits until August or September, that's been about two years since the belt has been defended and that can't happen,” White said.
McGregor's absence definitely muddies the lightweight title picture, especially after Khabib Nurmagomedov stormed through Edson Barboza this past weekend to move to a perfect 25-0, while Ferguson is riding a 10-fight win streak and now stands as the interim champion.
White did make a strange comment about McGregor's willingness to return by March, but then saying that if that was the case, he would be willing to book Ferguson against Nurmagomedov with the winner then fighting the Irishman later this year.
It's unclear why McGregor would have to be willing to return in March if the UFC would move to book another fight without him, but White says that would be a scenario that would allow him to keep the lightweight title.
“As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib versus Tony and then the winner fights Conor for the title,” White said. “Or Conor doesn't want to fight and wants to sit out until next fall and then we would have to make Khabib versus Tony for the title, not the interim title.”
While stripping McGregor of his title might sound like an idle threat, White refuses to believe that he won't eventually get a deal down with the lightweight champion that will put him back into the Octagon sooner rather than later.
White has worked with McGregor on several past contracts including the deal that allowed him to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match last year that reportedly earned him more than $100 million.
“Conor's a very smart guy. He gets what happened in the Floyd [Mayweather] fight. Those are [expletive] unicorns, those kinds of fights, and I've never been afraid to pay Conor McGregor money,” White said. “Conor brings the money in. We've laid out a really nice offer for him and he's a smart kid, I think we'll figure it out. I've always figured it out with him. I've always gotten a deal done with Conor McGregor.
“The question is does he have so much money that he doesn't care anymore and doesn't want to fight. That's up to him. But in no way, shape or form am I asking him to come back and not make money cause he's gonna make money.”
(Video courtesy of Kevin Iole, Yahoo Sports)