Conor McGregor may be the brightest star in the UFC universe, but he’s not the most beloved by his fellow fighters, particularly those in the weight classes that he holds up.
McGregor has long fielded criticism for winning titles but never defending them. To this point in his career, the Irishman has won the UFC featherweight and lightweight titles, but has yet to defend either. He was stripped of the featherweight title, but now fighters are calling for his loss of the lightweight strap as well.
The latest is lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is set to return to the Octagon at UFC 219 on Dec. 30, where he will square off with Edson Barboza.
“If (McGregor) doesn’t have injuries, and he doesn’t defend his belt for more than a year, then it’s very bad,” said Nurmagomedov in a Q&A with Russian fans in an app called Hype, according to RTSport.
McGregor won the lightweight championship by defeating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November of 2015. He held both the featherweight and lightweight titles at that point. A short time later, he was stripped of the featherweight belt, but then went on to pursue a $100-million payday by boxing Floyd Mayweather in August of 2016.
It has now been more than a year since McGregor set foot in the cage (save for vaulting over the top of a Bellator cage in Dublin), and his fellow lightweights are getting a little antsy without a hard return date on tap.
“When you are the champion and you don’t have an injury, you have to defend it,” said Nurmagomedov. “I really liked how Georges St-Pierre acted in a similar situation. Once he understood that he won’t be able to fight, he didn’t hold his division (in wait). That’s the decision of a real champion.
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“Conor doesn’t defend his belt. I don’t even know when he is going to do that. He has the name. It’s profitable for the UFC that he is the champion. They make money because of him and they won’t strip him off the belt. But in my opinion, Conor had to be stripped of his belt a long time ago and Tony Ferguson should be the real champion.”
The UFC has already instituted an interim title, which Tony Ferguson currently holds. Once Nurmagomedov and Barboza fight at UFC 219, the winner is in a position to force the next move.
The UFC will have to press hard to get McGregor back in the cage to fight Ferguson within a reasonable amount of time. If that doesn’t happen, the winner of Nurmagomedov vs. Barboza could be in line for a shot at Ferguson with the winner of that bout making a very strong claim to the unified belt, whether or not McGregor ever returns.