For the fourth time, UFC lightweights Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov have agreed to fight for the first time.
After three prior fights fell through, due to one injury apiece and once due to health problems stemming from Nurmagomedov’s cutting weight, the fighters have apparently agreed to square off at UFC 223 on April 7 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
But will it be for Ferguson’s interim lightweight title, or for Conor McGregor’s belt? UFC president Dana White won’t say … yet.
The Irishman hasn’t fought in the UFC since he claimed the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. But after his dalliance with boxing, McGregor has shown little inclination to hopping back into the octagon, despite his being called out by both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov.
On Tuesday, Russian outlet TASS reported that the organization had already stripped the absentee fighter of his belt, but the promotion has yet to address the report.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty of reason not to buy it until we hear it from the horse’s mouth—because it’s already been over a year, and because of White’s recently backtracking an ultimatum set up for Notorious.
Two weeks ago, in a January 4 report, White claimed McGregor’s belt would be stripped if he’s not in the ring by March.
“As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib vs. Tony and then the winner fights Conor for the title,” White told Yahoo Sports. “Or if Conor doesn’t want to fight and wants to sit out until next fall, then we would have to make Khabib vs. Tony for the title, not the interim title.”
Just 11 days later, White seemed to push that deadline back another five months, making it sound like McGregor, who has not once even been scheduled to defend a title, can keep his so long as he’s in the ring before September.
Dana White: “If (McGregor) comes back in September, that’s almost two years. That can’t happen. It’s not fair to everybody else… the belt would have to move on. You do Khabib vs. Tony; we’re working on that fight now. If and when Conor comes back, he would get the first crack.” https://t.co/dMLM4ADGlF
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) January 15, 2018
In December, White said he was “hopeful” McGregor would return to the octagon by the summer. It appears McGregor has as a new strip date every time White is asked about it.
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov should be fighting for the outright title, but it seems White doesn’t have the stones to pull the string.