Conor McGregor makes strong case for why lightweight title should be on the line at UFC 257

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read

Much of what Conor McGregor has said about Khabib Nurmagomedov has been over the top, distasteful and just plain factually incorrect.

On Thursday at the final news conference for UFC 257, when McGregor will meet Dustin Poirier in the five-round main event at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, though, the Irishman’s comments on his bitter rival couldn’t have been more to the point.

He believes Nurmagomedov should be stripped of the belt and that he and Poirier should be fighting for the vacant title.

Nurmagomedov won the lightweight title in 2018 and defeated McGregor in the best-selling pay-per-view in UFC history on Oct. 6, 2018, at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. A wild melee broke out following the match and both men wound up suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Nurmagomedov has submitted both Poirier and Justin Gaethje since defeating McGregor. He announced his retirement in the cage on Oct. 24 after submitting Gaethje, saying his mother had asked him to leave the sport.

UFC president Dana White made a production out of meeting with Nurmagomedov last week. He released a video on social media of the two heading into a room and closing the door, then announced he’d share the results of the meeting the following day during the UFC’s broadcast of a card on ABC.

On the broadcast, White quoted Nurmagomedov saying that for him to come back, McGregor or Poirier would have to do something spectacular.

Nurmagomedov, though, disputed that. In an interview in Russian with the YouTube channel Sport24ru, Nurmagomedov said he was no longer interested in fighting.

“My mother is the most precious thing I have left,” Nurmagomedov told Sport24. “You won’t push me to do things that will disappoint my mother. I don’t even have plans for UFC in the near future. I don’t even have any thoughts about preparing for a fight.”

Nurmagomedov deserves time and space to make a decision, but it’s been nearly three months since his announcement in the cage after defeating Gaethje and he’s saying the same thing.

Given that, the simple remedy is for the UFC to declare the title vacant and have No. 2 Poirier and No. 4 McGregor fight for it on Saturday.

“I would make the case if that man is continuing to dodge this and dodge the commitment of competing again, the title should be stripped and we should be engaging in a title fight,” McGregor said. “But I’m sure it will happen after this bout. I’m interested to hear what the excuse is or what will be said after the fight, but I predict a title strip.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 21:  (L-R) Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor face off during the UFC 257 Press Conference inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 20, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor face off during the UFC 257 news conference inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on Jan. 20, 2021, in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Nurmagomedov is hardly dodging McGregor. He remains bitterly angry at McGregor, and for good reason, given McGregor’s highly personal insults aimed at him, his wife and his late father, and McGregor’s attack on a bus Nurmagomedov was on ahead of UFC 223 in New York.

McGregor’s behavior in the bus attack and his comments after it and during the fight’s buildup were egregious, distasteful and totally out of line.

Those wounds aren’t so easily healed, especially for a person like Nurmagomedov, who is so close to his family, particularly his father, Abdulmanap. So now that he has the upper hand as champion, if he doesn’t want to give McGregor another shot at the belt, it’s understandable.

Dodging, though, implies that he’s afraid, and that’s patently ridiculous.

To be fair, however, it’s also ridiculous given Nurmagomedov’s very public words about not returning that the belt isn’t being contested at Etihad Arena on Saturday.

Now, the only explanation for that can be that Nurmagomedov said something to White in private that he has yet to say in public. Even McGregor is dubious of White’s comment that Nurmagomedov needed to see something spectacular.

“He did not say [he needed to see something spectacular],” McGregor said. “Dana said that.”

That’s precisely correct. Now, Nurmagomedov may have said something to White in private that White construed to mean that there is a chance he’d come back.

He’d clearly want to make that fight since the first bout sold a UFC-record 2.45 million pay-per-views and the rematch could zoom well past 3 million sales.

Given Nurmagomedov’s public stance, however, there is an easy solution for White. He needs to strip Nurmagomedov, declare that the McGregor-Poirier fight is for the title and say that if Nurmagomedov ever comes back, his first fight back would be against the champion at the time.

Simple, and it would be the most equitable solution for all.

The UFC usually bends over backward to accommodate McGregor’s demands, but it is not doing so this time even though his remarks are completely on point.

The public is going to recognize the winner as the new champion, so the UFC ought to just go ahead and make it official.

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