Two things are becoming increasingly obvious in mixed martial arts: Conor McGregor runs the UFC and the company’s management is turning the featherweight division into a joke.
UFC president Dana White announced on SportsCenter on Monday that McGregor, the featherweight champion, will challenge Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
McGregor will headline a show that will include three title fights. Tyron Woodley will make the first defense of his welterweight title in the co-main event, while strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will face Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
White told Yahoo Sports as recently as Friday that he planned to have McGregor defend the featherweight title, which hasn’t been defended since he won it on Dec. 12 at UFC 194 in Las Vegas, against interim champion Jose Aldo. It had also been suggested prior to that on Fox Sports 1 that McGregor was injured.
It turns out that he’s quite healthy, and that the Alvarez-Khabib Nurmagomedov bout that White said he was making last week because Nurmagomedov “is the No. 1 contender,” won’t happen.
Not only that, but White has decided not to strip McGregor of the featherweight belt.
The Nov. 12 fight will be McGregor’s third in this calendar year, and all of them will have been out of his division.
It’s increasingly obvious that McGregor runs the show and gets what he wants.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he seeks out big challenges and engages in entertaining fights (in addition to being by far the best promoter in the business).
But it’s horribly unfair to the featherweights, and particularly Aldo, who will have to wait until early 2017, at best, to get a shot at the title.
Until he was knocked out in 13 seconds by McGregor at UFC 194, Aldo had been the only featherweight champion in the company’s history, and he’d been touted by many as one of the greatest fighters of all-time.
He wanted an immediate rematch against McGregor, who instead wanted to fight then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos for that belt on March 5.
And White quite correctly went along with that. Aldo had developed a bad habit off pulling out of fights and had pulled out of UFC 189 at the last moment with an injury after seven months of promoting it.
That made the story of 2015 all about Aldo-McGregor.
But Aldo returned and handled Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 and won what the UFC for some reason called the interim featherweight title. It made little sense because McGregor still held the belt.
That, though, became obvious on Monday when White announced Alvarez-McGregor for the lightweight belt. The UFC essentially wanted to give McGregor both sides: Give him the opportunity to become a two-division champion by beating Alvarez and allow him to keep his belt.
The only logic in doing this is a powerful one: Money. McGregor is a massive pay-per-view draw, and the New York card now sets up to attract a million-plus buys yet again.
And if he does that, that would only enhance the value of a McGregor-Aldo rematch for the featherweight belt.
It makes sense on that level, but it’s throwing out all pretense of being a legitimate sporting competition.
One of the things that helped the UFC’s rise from near-extinction in the early part of this century was that, by and large, it made its champions defend their belts against the best available contenders on a regular basis.
Oh, there was an occasional unqualified contender who snuck in, but up and down the lineup, White and former UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta made a point to fairly match and challenge their fighters.
McGregor is a terrific fighter who’s hugely entertaining, and everyone loves seeing a shot at history.
But his bid for history is making the featherweight title seem insignificant, and it’s not fair to the other fighters who want their crack at the title and the chance, potentially, to become a superstar.
If they delay the McGregor-Aldo fight until the first quarter of 2017, that pushes the person who would be the next contender after Aldo back until sometime in the summer of 2017.
It’s hardly a stunning turn of events, even if White played Nurmagomedov and let him think he had a chance at a title shot.
He never did.
McGregor calls the shots at the UFC now and when he decided he was fighting for the lightweight title, then he was fighting for the lightweight title.
Everyone else has to wait.