On Saturday, September 7th, the UFC crowned its first Interim Lightweight Champion. Since his big win at T-Mobile Arena, fans and media alike have been debating what Tony Ferguson’s win means to the Lightweight division, and the UFC as a whole.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is no longer a strict meritocracy. An interim title used to guarantee unification, but the road to “Undisputed Champion” has gone from the autobahn to off-road. What that means for “El Cucuy” is not entirely clear, yet.
There should be no question as to what the next move for the UFC’s two Lightweight Champions; after all, what kind of division has two independent Champions that do not cross paths? A unification bout between Interim Champion Tony Ferguson and Undisputed Champion Conor McGregor is the only fight to make.
The UFC has made some serious blunders as of late. Their product, reputation, and pedigree has been tarnished again and again. Whether it be: C.M. Punk, Jon Jones, the Reebok deal, May/Mac, Bisping/GSP — take your pick — the UFC has taken serious promotional damage. If McGregor shirks his responsibility once again and fights anyone but Ferguson, what does that say about the quality of their product, and the legitimacy of their titles?
It truly is a sad state of affairs with regards to the organization when there exists even a question as to whether or not a champion will defend their belt. Those in the know recognize that the UFC needs big PPV numbers in this trough year, but that doesn’t mean fans should acquiesce to the likes of C.M. Punk making his pro debut in the Octagon or McGregor not defending his belt. Moreover, there isn’t any doubt that McGregor/Ferguson will do numbers significantly lower than the Diaz trilogy.
Many fans have taken a look at the UFC and not liked where it is heading. Granted, it will remain the premier organization in the world for many years to come, as well as remaining home to the best talent in the world — only a handful of Bellator fighters (Rory MacDonald, Douglas Lima, Gegard Mousasi, and Michael Chandler) and ONE FC’s Ben Askren are of truly elite status. However, if the ethos of the UFC shifts even more towards entertainment over sport we might see some scary changes.
The UFC is not the place for C.M Punk. It is not the place for a man to fight outside of his weight class (and sport) without defending a championship. It is not the place where 80% of cards are filled with regional-level talent and divisions are full of journeymen and veterans far past their prime.
We the fans put up with this. Why? So that when it comes time for the UFC to book the big fights, the ones of consequence, they do so. But maybe we have put up with these blunders for to long. Maybe the UFC now believes they can give us McGregor/Malignaggi and we’ll all smile and lap it up.
I for one don’t want to see McGregor wasting away his prime fighting another boxing retiree. I also don’t want to see him fighting Nate Diaz when he has a title to defend. These fighters have a short window during which they are at their peak. They are the very best in the world at their very best. This is the time when they should be fighting each other.
Nate Diaz will always be around, he’s not taking another fight any time soon. Malignaggi too, he’ll forever be on call, waiting for the phone to ring, ready to talk knockdowns and sparring beef. Tony Ferguson cannot wait. He has done everything the UFC, the fans, and the sport has asked of him. He has won an unprecedented 10-fights in row in the sport’s toughest division, finishing 70% of his opponents in that time.
Anyone could conceivably make insanely exciting matchups with any of the top 5 Lightweights right now. Some would sell more than others. Some would be more competitive than others. But in an organization whose slogan is, or used to be, “where the best fight the best” there is only one option: Champion versus Champion. We can only hope that our tacit acceptance of the sport’s degradation hasn’t made Dana and WME-IMG believe they can get away with yet another act of gross negligence.