At this point, it’s safe to say the majority of the collective mixed martial arts world is growing impatient waiting for Conor McGregor’s first official title defense.
The Irish megastar has been out of action since his TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather last August, and he hasn’t set foot in the Octagon since winning the UFC lightweight title against Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. He also hasn’t defended a single UFC title, getting stripped of the featherweight belt he won in December 2015 shortly after winning the 155-pound title.
But the only word we’ve even remotely heard from “The Notorious” is about a potential rematch with Mayweather in the UFC, the most lucrative but least dangerous fight he could pursue in MMA. With interim champ Tony Ferguson set to meet top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov for some form of the belt in the main event of April 7’s UFC 223, Dana White has stated the winner would ‘be the champion’ while remaining coy if the promotion would actually strip McGregor.
One top UFC lightweight contender thinks it’s coming, however. No. 5 Dustin Poirier recently told MMA Fighting that the UFC will strip McGregor at UFC 223 and the official belt will finally be on the line:
“I think they’re stripping Conor here, and they’re going to fight for the real belt.
“This sport is a crazy thing, and what happens, it’s unpredictable. But I think the winner of Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib is going to be the real, undisputed UFC lightweight champion.”
The sentiment among many MMA fans is that the winner at UFC 223 would be the official champion no matter what the UFC said, yet they definitely could make a huge splash by stripping McGregor the day before the fight.
As for the match-up itself, Poirier gave the advantage to the dominant Nurmagomedov after he was able to smash formerly surging Muay Thai striker Edson Barboza in his last bout:
“Just the two styles, I think Khabib’s going to pressure him and be stronger and better on top, harder to submit,” Poirier said. “I mean, if Kevin Lee can take Ferguson down, Khabib is going to do the same. And we’ll see. We’ll see [Ferguson] on his back again, we’ll see him throwing elbows and throwing submissions. It’s an interesting fight, for sure, but I think the most dangerous thing is how long it lasts on the feet.
“I know Tony’s really unpredictable, moves in weird, awkward ways, different timing. Khabib’s not as fluid of a striker, but we’ve never really seen Khabib in trouble on top, in guard. He does a lot of damage from the top position as well. So it’s an interesting fight, but I think Khabib’s going to come out ahead.”
Currently 2-0(1) in his last three fights with the no contest a highly controversial result versus Alvarez at UFC 211, Poirier has the biggest fight of his career when he meets blood-and-guts fan favorite Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC on FOX 29 on April 14, one week after UFC 223.
He’s obviously planning on beating Gaethje, and believes he’ll be deserving of a title shot in his next fight if and when he does:
“I’m on the right track,” Poirier said. “I’ve just got to keep winning, and winning solves everything. So I’m going to come out here in two months and beat Gaethje, and I feel like I might get a title shot. I feel like I should get a title shot with that win.
“Get past Gaethje and fight the winner (of UFC 223), and I think it’s going to be Khabib.”
A lot of that, of course, is going to depend on what McGregor’s next move is.
If the current champ chooses to pursue yet another farcical (but lucrative) match-up with Mayweather, then “The Diamond” could be pushed to the front of the pack with a win over “The Highlight.” If McGregor returns to face either Ferguson or Nurmagomedov, however, then the lightweight division will remain stagnant despite a list of top contenders looking – and deserving to – get their shot.
It’s a mess unlike one we’ve ever seen in modern MMA – and there’s no clear end in sight. Would the UFC create some clarity by stripping “The Notorious” at UFC 223?