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17th Dec 2016

There may be another UFC lightweight champion by the time Conor McGregor returns

This would be a bad move

Patrick McCarry

After UFC 206 and the whole interim title fiasco, nothing would surprise us any more.

The UFC’s latest pay-per-view went down well with those [in the United States and Canada] that chose to stump up watch it all unfold. PPV numbers were well down on the stacked UFC 205 and that, in part, was down to the mess that surrounded Max Holloway versus Anthony Pettis.

Once light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier pulled out of the main event, the promotion needed a title fight to keep its PPV status. An interim featherweight title was forged in Las Vegas and ready in time for the Toronto showpiece.

It did not help matters that both Pettis and Holloway dismissed the belt as a token gesture and that Pettis missed a shot at it entirely by failing to make weight. Holloway was the only man that could take home the gold by winning and that he did.

Now, with Conor McGregor – the UFC’s biggest star – off the clock until summer 2017, the promotion is strongly considering another interim title fight. This time it would be in the lightweight division that McGregor recently became champion of.

Conor McGregor celebrates winning 12/11/2016

In Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, the UFC has two men that can justifiably claim to be next in line for a crack at ‘The Notorious’ upon his return.

The sensible fight to make is Nurmagomedov versus Ferguson in February or March of 2017. ‘The Eagle’ has, in fact, told Real Sport that talks are at an advanced stage for a tilt with Ferguson.

He also suggested that an interim belt may be up for grabs. He said:

“90% chance that my next fight will be on March 4 at UFC 209 against Tony Ferguson for the interim title.”

There is a possibility that Nurmagomedov is flying a speculative kite here. MMA Hour host Ariel Helwani says discussions have involved an interim belt, though.

A bout between these two men would generate enough interest to main event a major PPV. Again though, the promotion would be inclined to push it as an interim belt contest in order for it to head up a main card.

If that sounds a tad ridiculous, that’s because it is.

There are far too many interim titles and paper champions doing the rounds in the past couple of years. McGregor himself was interim featherweight champion after he defeated Chad Mendes at UFC 189 in July 2015. The Dubliner did not appreciate the ‘interim’ tag in an interview with GQ magazine last November:

McGregor: I am on it, all the time, never stop thinking, learning. You don’t get to be world champion unless you do that…

GQ interviewer: Interim…

McGregor: F*** that, what do you mean interim? Aldo and I had a date, he didn’t show, someone else took his place, I beat him, easy. So don’t give me interim.

It will be interesting to see what McGregor’s take would be if Nurmagomedov or Ferguson takes an interim title while he is off preparing for the arrival of his first child.

Right now, however, he appears to be a man intent on celebrating the fruits of his labour.

2017 promises to be as enthralling as 2016 in McGregor’s world.