The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Featherweight division has been subjected to intense scrutiny ever since former Champion Conor McGregor started making waves back in 2013.
Now, with McGregor “relinquishing” his belt, an unsettling shadow has been cast upon a stable of fighters who make their living at 145lbs – more on that later. With his departure now finalized, what can we honestly say about McGregor’s Featherweight career and its seemingly abrupt end?
The Case for Featherweight
There is no doubt that “The Notorious One’s” run at Featherweight was anything but incredible. Yes he knocked around some tomato cans on his way to the top but his wins over Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier and Chad Mendes are proof of his ability to beat top-ten caliber opponents – to say nothing of his 13 second trouncing of Jose Aldo. So while some argue his title shot was more or less gift-wrapped no one can argue he didn’t legitimately open his present. The real question is: did he ever plan on using it?
McGregor didn’t and still doesn’t have anything to gain from a rematch with Aldo. As many have said, unless he scores a 12 second knockout he’s going to end up looking poor by comparison. As for defending his now “relinquished” Featherweight title against other contenders, that is something altogether more complex. The Irishman was well within his rights to chase after the elusive double Champion status even if doing so meant neglecting 145. So while the fight with Dos Anjos fell through it is understandable that McGregor got distracted with Nate Diaz and the rematch.
This is all recent history and doesn’t really deserve an in depth recap but let’s iron out the details.
Eddie Alvarez defeated Dos Anjos and offered McGregor the fight that the Brazilian couldn’t show up for. You know how it goes from here. But we still have to ask through all the weight class changes and last minute opponents, was McGregor ever intent on defending his Featherweight belt? Or did he just want the “little boy belt” over one shoulder next to the new one?
Until his “MacLife Memoir” comes out to mediocre critical acclaim we wont truly know. My hunch is that he would have defended his belt if it weren’t for the appearance of better opportunities. Why starve yourself to fight elite competition when you can eat like a king and fight “bums”? That isn’t to say that Diaz or Alvarez are bums but I think its safe to say that the Irishman would rather fight either at his best than to cut down to skeletal status and fight someone like Max Holloway. All of his opponents from now on will be killers.
It seems to me McGregor made the prudent decision of fighting at a weight where he has a bit more fluid in his amniotic sac protecting his brain. After all, its not like he’s going to take a pay cut.
Whether the UFC stripped him of his 145lbs belt or he himself relinquished it is really a moot point – though they clearly didn’t need an army to do it. What is very much up in the air is the value of Featherweight. We have a newly crowned Champ who in the eyes of many is seen as a kind of leftover.
It is certainly going to be difficult to market Aldo to anyone but the hardcore fan given his loss to the new Lightweight King. Yet those in the know appreciate Aldo’s tenure and his most recent win point to a possible return to glory. That leaves the hungry contenders, who McGregor left to starve, locking on to a familiar target. All this brings us to…
Headlining what is undoubtedly a Fight Night card following the loss of Cormier/ Johnson are Anthony Pettis vs. Max Holloway for yet another useless Interim Title. Long gone are the days when an Interim Title was instituted to assuage the absence of an ailing champion. In an effort to save an unpalatable PayPerView card, the UFC has elected once again to slap a belt on what everyone knows is a number one contender fight. All this can be forgiven though if we actually see some semblance of motion in the Featherweight division.
For almost a year now 145lbs has been at a standstill. We thought Aldo’s win at UFC 200 guaranteed him a fight with the champion. We thought McGregor’s win at UFC 205 meant he would have to defend his Featherweight belt next if he wanted to remain a Two-Weight World Champ. Maybe now, with the creation of a kind of power vacuum, 145lbs can finally move forward.