Photo Credit: MMA Weekly
So on Saturday, the Ultimate Fighting Championship held a "dual press conference" to promote UFC 222 which takes place March 3rd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and UFC 223 which takes place in Brooklyn on April 7th at the Barclay Center. The main events for both cards are now official; well only one is truly official.
UFC featherweight champion Max Halloway will take on former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Edgar looks to become the fifth fighter to win a title in two different weight classes while Halloway looks to add another name to his resume, coming off of two beat down performances against longtime champion Jose Aldo. This event brings a lot of anticipation from MMA fans all around the world, and there was one question one question on everybody's mind entering the press conference: will the UFC strip Conor McGregor of the lightweight title and promote interim champ Tony Ferguson as the new reigning champion? UFC President Dana White provided more questions than answers.
White stated that Ferguson vs Khabib would decide who "the real" champion is. When asked if that meant that Conor would be stripped of the title he replied, "did I say that?" in a sarcastic manner. And so the media and fans are left wondering what the hell is going on? How can one man not defend a title for almost two years and not be stripped of the title? Well when that man is Conor McGregor that's a different story, I guess. After weeks of hearing Dana White state that they were "prepared" to strip McGregor of the title, here we sit. McGregor is still the champion but Tony Ferguson is being introduced during this press conference as the UFC lightweight champion.
After years of Dana White being "the boss" and practically banning fighters from the UFC (Randy Couture), kicking them while they are down (Georges St.Pierre) and literally trying to fight them in an exhibition boxing bout (Tito Ortiz), it appears as if Dana White has finally met his match. If this was any other champion in the UFC the belt would have been stripped long ago.
From a business standpoint, White's reluctance to strip McGregor of the title makes sense. But to have him walking around with a belt when he hasn't fought for the UFC in almost two years the legitimacy of the title is an ALL-TIME low.
A few days prior to the press conference the UFC sent out a press release stating that Tony Ferguson would be defending the UFC lightweight title. When asked about it a public relations representative of the UFC said it was a "mistake". Like I said, for once, it seems that Dana White has met his match. No longer can he control a fighter. Gone are the days of White being the true boss of the UFC. What this proves is that Conor McGregor is apparently allowed to be bigger than the UFC. A sad day for the sport of MMA to say the least.
We never thought one man would be bigger than the six hundred men and women under contract in the promotion but let me remind you this is what happens when you allow one man to be put on a pedestal unlike any MMA fighter has ever been. When you allow one man to make $100 million dollars in a boxing ring when he competes in a sport that's highest payout topped out at $20 million. The UFC deserves some criticism because this whole situation has been handled terribly. Either strip him or don't but at least SAY which way you are going to go for the sake of the sport and for the sake of the fans. Dana White was unwilling to do that.
I can only think of one reason as to why and even then it doesn't make much sense. Is the UFC afraid that Tony versus Khabib will not happen again and that's why they don't want to make this fight for the true UFC lightweight title? I truly don't know, but either way when you have two fighters who have been active in your promotion compared to a guy who has been inactive, for the sake of moving the needle in the brand it has been time to move on for quite some time.
People tell me all the time "well the UFC doesn't have many stars" that actually isn't correct. The UFC has many stars, most of which they either fail to promote or they choose not to promote for reasons unbeknownst to me or to any other MMA enthusiast. One thing I do know though, in my time covering the sport this is the weirdest situation that it's ever found itself in, and if you want to point blame at someone point it at the man who created it: Dana White.