When Conor McGregor became the UFC featherweight champion by defeating — in shocking fashion, no less — longtime champion José Aldo at UFC 194, everybody knew this brash Irishman had plans to do bigger, better things, but they never actually knew if it would happen. After the championship win, it was a matter of if he would do what he promised, then we’ll see what happens and take it from there.
Well, it happened. When he defeated Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, McGregor became a two-division world champion in the best combat organization in the world. He was the first to accomplish this feat. Nobody can take that away from him. However, there was one thing that could be taken from him.
After it happened, it was only a matter of time before he would be forced to make a decision on what championship mattered the most. He would have to relinquish one of his belts, because he just wouldn’t be able to defend two titles at once. McGregor, in typical fashion, said he could do it easily, but UFC President Dana White was having none of it. White said McGregor would have to choose.
McGregor made the right choice, too. He chose the weight class that was better suited for him, especially in terms of his overall health. He opted to remain a lightweight.
Following McGregor’s relinquishing of the first title he won, the decisions being made for the future of the featherweight title have, honestly, been kind of bizarre.
When the UFC stripped the belt from McGregor, the company opted to give it back to Aldo, the guy McGregor had knocked out in 13 seconds at UFC 194. Now, to be fair, Aldo did beat top contender Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 for the interim belt, so the UFC figured he deserved the accolade, even though he previously lost it.
The problem with that decision, however, is that Aldo isn’t too interested in coming back to the UFC, even if it’s for a belt. He’s gone back and forth on the matter, and claimed to be convinced by friends and family that he should pursue his fighting career. But Aldo, for what it’s worth, just doesn’t seem too ecstatic about the idea.
Instead of handing the division’s belt to Aldo, the UFC should have allowed McGregor to keep both belts and have him first defend the featherweight crown, since he has yet to do so since beating Aldo. The featherweight division has been clogged up for more than a year now.
With the lack of featherweight title fights, Aldo, if he agreed, should have been given a chance to rematch McGregor for the belt. Aldo was such a long-reigning champion, initially winning the belt in the WEC, and deserved the chance to recapture the strap. This could have led to two potential results. If Aldo wins and gets the belt back, McGregor goes to lightweight to fight there permanently. If McGregor wins, he proves the first fight wasn’t a fluke and then agrees to relinquish the featherweight title and make a permanent move to lightweight.
The key thing to accomplish would have been to give Aldo the rematch he deserved, if he wanted it, and at least force McGregor to fight one more time at that weight and defend the belt he won. As the saying goes, you’re not a champion until you defend your belt.
Unfortunately, no rematch for the featherweight title ever materialized, because, as he himself has said, McGregor runs the show. He makes his own decisions as champion, and if he doesn’t want to defend the title, he won’t be forced to do so. He didn’t get stripped of the belt in spite of defending it, but because the UFC finally had to let him choose what weight he wants to fight at. The company didn’t make the decision for him. That’s the difference.
The UFC knew if it made McGregor defend the featherweight belt, or else he’d get stripped, he might get upset and refuse to follow orders and then use the “I’m the money maker and I put fans in the stands” argument as leverage to keep from fighting at a weight class where he was faced with an intense and difficult weight cut. After his win at UFC 205, McGregor has even more leverage. He holds both belts, so he makes even more of the decisions.
It all comes down to treating every situation the same way, with pure consistency and zero prejudice toward the champion and/or the money maker. Most champions who win a title have to defend it, and they don’t get away with holding a title for more than a year while fighting two times in another division and winning another title. McGregor has that ability, because he’s Conor McGregor, and he can do what he wants.
This is a serious issue for the rest of the division and for the other divisions in the UFC. Ever since McGregor moved up to 170 pounds to face Nate Diaz two times in a row, everyone else who’s a champion (or up there in the rankings) is asking for super fights. They demand more, because McGregor demanded more and the UFC met his demands.
These fighters see that McGregor can get it, so they think they can get it, too, as long as they repeat their demands enough. And why shouldn’t they?
However, while super fights can definitely make for exciting contests, it clogs up numerous divisions and forces other fighters to wait in the wings for their respective title shots.
It’s all about egos.
This is all a matter of elitist privilege, which is a phenomenon mastered by McGregor, where you make demands, because you have leverage, and whether or not you get it, the declaration will get you media attention, which creates rumors and buzz. Meanwhile, the rest of the fighters at the lower end of the spectrum — McGregor would call them “bums” — have to climb to the top the natural way, with a lot of them working harder, because they can’t talk their way up the ladder like McGregor has done.
McGregor has talked his way into getting what he wants, but he backs it up by winning big fights. If he didn’t back it up, he’d be a joke. As enjoyable as it is to watch his incredible craft on display in the Octagon, I despise a lot of his verbal/mental tactics. However, I have to give him full credit for making a success out of it.
He’s one of a kind. He’s also the reason the featherweight division is such a mess.
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