When Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov enter the octagon in Brooklyn on April 7, the UFC lightweight belt will no longer belong to Conor McGregor.
UFC President Dana White confirmed to the Los Angeles Times on Friday that contractual language drawn up for the April 7 fight makes the winner the lightweight champion, leaving Ireland’s charismatic McGregor beltless after he became the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously wear two after a victory in November 2016.
“That’s exactly right: As soon as one punch is thrown, it’s on for the full title and it’s only fair,” White said. “They’ve both worked their way up to No. 1 and No. 2. They deserve a shot.”
McGregor hasn’t appeared in a UFC octagon since winning the lightweight belt by stopping Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden in UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016. He proceeded to participate (and lose by 10th-round technical knockout) in the August 2017 boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr., earning in excess of $100 million.
The comfort of his riches has resulted in some angst for the UFC and the fighters who want that lightweight belt as McGregor remains without a commitment to a comeback date.
“This is good news for the fans,” White said. “I always hear about, ‘What will you do if this guy leaves …’ This is a sport first. People leave, they’ve made money and moved on. It happens.”
White noted that McGregor has said on social media recently that he intends to fight in the UFC again, and the UFC president said he’s convinced McGregor “will be back … and when he comes back, he will fight for the title.”
McGregor’s casual approach, however, prompted Ali Abdelaziz, the manager for Russia’s Nurmagomedov (25-0), to demand during January talks that his fighter would meet Ferguson only for the undisputed lightweight belt, not the interim version owned by Costa Mesa’s Ferguson (25-3).
“[McGregor] will no longer be champion … he’s going to be stripped,” Abdelaziz told The Times. “One-hundred percent, the contract says that, and the UFC was on board, too.”
The only reason stripping McGregor hasn’t happened sooner is the checkered injury/withdrawal history of Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, who have built up a deep disdain for each other with one injury withdrawal each and the weight-cut illness that forced Nurmagomedov to scrap his scheduled fight against Ferguson last March.
That’s why White was coy on the status of the belt at a news conference to announce Ferguson-Nurmagomedov in January.
White said the McGregor situation was different than that of recent middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who relinquished his belt because he didn’t want to remain in the division.
“Conor does want the belt, he does want to be the champion, but he doesn’t want to defend it,” White said. “I’d love to see him fight the winner of Ferguson-Khabib next.”
Ferguson won the interim belt in October by defeating Kevin Lee, and Nurmagomedov returned in December to dominate Edson Barboza by unanimous decision.
McGregor, in his social media post, said he sought to fight former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar on Saturday following the leg injury of featherweight champion Max Holloway. McGregor said the UFC couldn’t agree to pay him his desired purse.
McGregor’s options for a return fight in the summer would include the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson winner, whoever emerges with the featherweight belt after Holloway fights Saturday’s Edgar-Brian Ortega winner, a third fight against Nate Diaz or possibly welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire