One of the biggest drawing points for this weekend’s UFC 200 card is the fact that there are three title fights. Everyone already knows about the main event — a UFC light heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones – and the women’s bantamweight title fight between Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. But the third title fight, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be receiving as much attention as its counterparts, nor is it receiving as much attention as the recent addition to Saturday’s card of Brock Lesnar and Mark Hunt. This is a shame, because the fight features two of the very best featherweights in the world.
Of course, the fight in question is the interim featherweight title clash between former champion José Aldo and Frankie Edgar. This fight is for an interim belt because the current champion, Conor McGregor, is showing little to no interest in ever defending his belt. Instead, McGregor is opting for a rematch against Nate Diaz, the man who submitted him at UFC 196 in March, in a welterweight bout.
The rematch with Diaz makes little sense for McGregor or the UFC beyond strictly monetary purposes — the fight will be a huge draw when it happens in August at UFC 202, no doubt — and Aldo and Edgar fighting for an interim title while the current champion is perfectly healthy makes even less sense.
Typically, an interim title is created when the current champion is injured for an extended period of time. That’s not the case here. McGregor is fully healthy and ready to fight whenever and wherever he wants to. If McGregor decides that his future is in big-money fights in other weight classes, that’s his choice. But then he should vacate the UFC featherweight title and let Aldo and Edgar fight for the right to represent the division as the undisputed champion.
The fight between Diaz and McGregor was supposed to happen at UFC 200, actually. But the UFC shelved the fight when McGregor refused to show up for a promotional press conference. McGregor also hinted on Twitter that he might retire:
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya’s later.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
After McGregor’s tweet, UFC President Dana White said McGregor should vacate the belt if he chose to retire. But on the topic of actually defending the title, White has been unsurprisingly silent. The close relationship between McGregor and White is well known, despite their alleged recent acrimony over McGregor not showing up for a UFC 200 press conference.
Aldo and Edgar both have a legitimate claim as the No. 1 contender for the featherweight title.
Aldo was a dominant champion, holding the title for six years before McGregor knocked him out in just 13 seconds at UFC 194. Normally, such a quick and devastating loss wouldn’t merit an automatic rematch for Aldo. But given that Aldo was champion for such a long time, he deserved one.
Edgar is on an absolute tear right now. He’s won five straight since losing his first meeting with Aldo in 2013. He has never looked better. Plus, Edgar’s elite wrestling skills could be McGregor’s kryptonite, and also one reason why Edgar and many others think McGregor is ducking a possible fight.
It’s also been said by McGregor’s coach and others that McGregor may never return to the featherweight division because the weight cut is too difficult for him. If that’s true, it’s all the more reason why the Irishman should vacate his belt and let Aldo and Edgar fight for it.
If McGregor is tired of starving himself to make the featherweight limit, trust me, as a lover of food, I can empathize. But then McGregor shouldn’t hold the featherweight division hostage and let his rivals fight for a phony, meaningless belt.
Aldo and Edgar are two of the very best featherweight fighters on the planet. The UFC’s featherweight division loses no luster if McGregor vacates the featherweight title and Aldo and Edgar fight for the right to be called champion. The division has plenty of other talent ready to fight for the title as well, including Max Holloway and Charles Oliveira.
McGregor should do the right thing and relinquish his belt so that the UFC featherweight division can move on. If McGregor isn’t willing to do that, then the UFC should make the decision for him and give UFC 200 the full three-title-fight treatment it deserves.