It's hard to blame Edson Barboza for not recognising Conor McGregor as champion 3 years ago

It's hard to blame Edson Barboza for not recognising Conor McGregor as champion

You have to feel for fighters like Edson Barboza.

Edson Barboza is one of the most dangerous contenders in the most populated division in the UFC.

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He's fought 17 times over the span of eight years for the promotion. He's beaten a former Strikeforce and a former UFC champion in two of his last three trips to the Octagon. His reward for stringing together three consecutive wins against ranked opponents is a fight against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Even if he manages to do what no other man has done before and defeat Nurmagomedov, he's not guaranteed a title shot. The belt hasn't been put on the line for over a year and the interim champion just had surgery. So the spoils of this particular war, for now, are unknown.

Although Tony Ferguson seems content to sit out and wait for a unification bout against the biggest superstar in the history of the sport, Barboza has set his sights on that interim belt. In his eyes, the man who had to set a divisional record of successive wins is the true champion, not the man who's only fought once in the division, as he explained to Combate.

“I’m number three in the rankings and I see Tony Ferguson as the actual champion. I always make this very clear. It doesn’t matter whether or not Conor McGregor comes back. I don’t know if he is coming back or not and I don’t care. All I hope for is that whoever wins my fight with Khabib, becomes the next one to fight Ferguson for the belt.”

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It took a long, long time for stability to return to 145 lbs after McGregor failed to defend the strap. When Max Holloway beat Jose Aldo at UFC 218, it was the first time that belt had been successfully defended since October 2014.

With no title defence booked a year after the belt was won, there is a sense of deja vu spreading through the 155 lb division. Fighters such as Eddie Alvarez have been forced to get creative in order to find motivation.

'The Underground King' explained on the MMA Hour that the uncertainty surrounding the championship is why he promoted his last fight against Justin Gaethje as the battle to find out who was the UFC's most violent man.

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"For right now, shit just isn't defined with the title and there's just not a lot of value in it.What value is in it? There's an interim guy who beat the number seven guy to become the champion. That's not a champion. You can't bring a number seven ranked guy in and then put him against the number one contender and he beats him and they say, 'Now you're the champion.' That's silly."

"The champion's not defending, so now the belt loses its value.For me, I'm like, 'let's make another belt.' Let's make a belt for most violent. Let's make up whatever belts we want because there's not much value to them."

There's no light at the end of the tunnel. There's no carrot being dangled on a stick. There's no belt to fight for.

No wonder why Edson Barboza is ignoring McGregor's champion status.