Alright people, I know plenty of you have clicked on this article to leave a comment or two about what a moron I am based on the title. Get your panties out of a wad and actually take the time to read my two cents.
Writing this became a therapy session for me as I tried to address why I feel apprehensive about the idea of Conor McGregor winning at UFC 229. Plus, it should encourage thought and discussion with fans. You know, the person who is reading this. That’s all I’m trying to do.
First, let me state that I’m not questioning McGregor’s validity as a fighter. Clearly, he’s an all-time great. He was the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold two titles. That’s a feat only Daniel Cormier can match. There’s a very strong possibility he’s going to become a three-time UFC champion this weekend, adding to his list of accolades. McGregor is a great fighter. I’m questioning whether he’s a great champion. Are you following me? Good.
I also have to question how much I want to see McGregor win. Not because I’m a McGregor hater – though I know I’m going to be accused of that for penning this article. It’s because I want to see the lightweight division in motion rather than stagnating at the top — like it did when McGregor was champion. Or how the featherweight division did when McGregor was champion. You get where I’m coming from?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move to what the definition of a champion is. Merriam-Webster states it is “a person accepted as better than all others in a sport or in a game of skill.” While I don’t disagree with that definition, there is more to it than that, at least in my mind. In a sport where a champion is recognized, it requires a responsibility of those who are champion. That responsibility is to accept the challenge of all worthy comers who come forth looking to claim the title of being champion.
Needless to say, Conor McGregor has never accepted that responsibility. He has laid claim to two belts in the UFC, abandoning each division to seek greener pastures. While it’s understandable why he did that – and it is certainly his prerogative to do so – it also created a hairy situation in each division he abandoned. What were the fighters in those divisions fighting for while McGregor was champion? They were hoping for the right to fight him, though he had no interest in doing so if they didn’t offer him a potential payday. Thus, for a long while, they were fighting for the right to be called the uncrowned champion.
The basis of my argument is McGregor’s refusal to defend a single title. Even dating back to his time as a two-division champion in Cage Warriors, he has never defended a single title he’s won. What type of a champion refuses to accept the challenge of those coming after them? I’m sure McGregor’s response would be “a champion who does whatever the fook he wants!!!” He’s entitled to that opinion, just as many of you reading this believe. However, it could also be argued McGregor compares closer to Germaine de Randamie — the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight champion who was stripped of her title when she refused to defend against Cyborg Justino — than the all-time greats. In fact, it could further be argued McGregor is a worse champion than de Randamie as McGregor has twice refused to defend his title.
In contrast, let’s look at some of the fighter’s generally known as the greatest in the history of the sport. Georges St. Pierre won the welterweight title for the second time in April 2008. From that time until he relinquished the belt in December 2013 – of his own free will – GSP defending the title 9 times. It probably would have been more if he wasn’t forced to the sidelines for 19 months due to a torn ACL. His willingness to face all comers built up an impressive legacy, and made him a dominant champion. Perhaps you could say… a great champion.
Anderson Silva secured 10 successful title defenses in the UFC middleweight division from October 2006 to July 2013. He too was a great champion. Demetrious Johnson won the inaugural UFC flyweight title in September 2012 and captured 11 successful defenses before finally dropping it this past August. It was enough for some to call him the greatest P4P fighter in the world. Of course, controversial as he is, I can’t go without mentioning Jon Jones. He managed to record 8 successful defenses from March 2011 to April 2015 before being stripped due to his legal troubles at the time. Like St. Pierre, all three of them welcomed all comers and turned them away, proving they were undoubtedly the best of their generation. Well, perhaps there is some doubt to the validity of Silva and Jones given their PED failures, but you get the picture…
By contrast, McGregor was unwilling to prove he was the best. I say unwilling as he was never sidelined by injury. It was completely by choice he never defended. Many fans would have loved to see McGregor duke it out with Frankie Edgar after McGregor took the featherweight belt. Once Max Holloway dethroned Jose Aldo, there was another opponent fans were dreaming of seeing McGregor confront. Hell, many would have loved to see a rematch between McGregor and Aldo, believing the longtime kingpin deserved a rematch with the Irish sensation. We didn’t get any of those. We didn’t get any confirmation that McGregor was truly the best featherweight of his generation. Instead, we’ve all been left to wonder what if. It leaves his legacy open to questioning, just like I’m doing right now.
McGregor still has time to blaze a similar narrative at lightweight, getting another opportunity to reclaim his belt this weekend against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Should he take the belt, he has the likes of Tony Ferguson – pending the outcome of his contest with Anthony Pettis — and Kevin Lee waiting in the wings as worthy and intriguing challenges. Alas, there has been zero talks of those being potential obstacles moving forward.
Instead, we’ve heard rumors of McGregor challenging stars like GSP and Silva, who are well past their primes, or maybe even a rematch with Floyd Mayweather. Wouldn’t it be more intriguing if he were to prove once and for all he’s this generation’s greatest lightweight? Alas, win or lose, it seems he’s most likely to chase after the money. But is that the same as chasing after greatness? Should he win the belt from Khabib, it will likely result in more chaos in a division chuck full of contenders, and a strong likelihood of McGregor eventually being stripped of his third belt that he didn’t defend. Did I say didn’t defend? I meant refused to defend.