Home MMA News Who's the 'real' UFC lightweight champ? That shouldn't be a hard question...

Who's the 'real' UFC lightweight champ? That shouldn't be a hard question to answer …


Here’s a question that ought to be easy to answer: Who’s the UFC lightweight champion right now?

Not the interim champ. Not the former champ or the potential next one. I’m talking about the actual champion, of which there can only be one at any given time, otherwise it defeats the entire point of even having champs.

So who is it?

Prior to Friday’s UFC press conference, the answer was pretty straightforward. Conor McGregor won the lightweight title when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in November 2016, and he hasn’t competed in the UFC since, so there’s no way he could have lost the belt the old-fashioned way.

The only other ways to lose it are: 1) to be stripped of the title by the UFC, or 2) vacate the title of your volition. Unless I’ve missed a headline or 90, neither of those things has happened to/with McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC), so he must still be the champ.

I’d feel a lot more secure in that conclusion if UFC President Dana White hadn’t stood there in Boston on Friday and told us that lightweights Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) and Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) would fight for “the real title” at UFC 223 in April.

“The winner of this fight will be the champion,” White said.

So does that mean McGregor is no longer the champion? White wouldn’t tell MMAjunkie at the news conference, except to say that he had “no update” on McGregor’s status.

“Right now, with the position we’re in, Conor’s saying, ‘Maybe I’ll come back in August, maybe I’ll come back in September.’” White told MMAjunkie. “Well, that’s almost two years. It’s not fair to the rest of the guys in the division. The division has to go on.”

And see, that sounds an awful lot like what White would say upon stripping an inactive champion of his title. Matter of fact, it sounds exactly like what he’d say. The fact that he adamantly refused to say it here is clearly meaningful, even if we don’t know what that full meaning is just yet.

The better question might be, can the UFC really just do this? Can it tell us one title is the “real” title without ever specifically addressing the status of the other (presumably fake?) title, and get us to go along with it?

One thing we ought to know by now is that a championship title is little more than an idea. It’s an agreed upon concept, like money, and while you can pass around the physical symbol that represents the concept, without the general agreement underlying the idea it doesn’t really mean anything.

You don’t just get to wake up one day and start calling some lump of leather and gold the “real title” for the same reasons that you can’t buy a cup of coffee with Monopoly money. It’s just not how any of that works.

The UFC has similar problems in a couple other divisions, but with very different root causes.

At light heavyweight, Daniel Cormier is the champion even though we all saw him get knocked out by Jon Jones in a fight that, for official purposes, didn’t actually count.

At middleweight, Robert Whittaker went from being interim champ to “real” champ without even throwing a punch, all thanks to Georges St-Pierre’s quick abdication of the throne. Then Whittaker got sick and now Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold will fight for the interim belt, since it’s apparently important to keep one of those in circulation at all times.

It’s confusing, but at least in those other divisions it’s understandable. It’s only at lightweight that the UFC seems to want to force us to change our minds, but without making any real changes of its own.

That’s going to be an especially tough sell when what you’re asking fans to do is to forget about the biggest star in the history of the sport.

Regardless of what Ferguson and Nurmagomedov do to one another, McGregor will remain the champ in many people’s minds. Trying to pretend otherwise in order to give another fight more temporary promotional heft is like trying to convince people that nickels are actually quarters. It won’t work, at least not on anyone with any sense, and trying it anyway only tells us how much respect you have for our intelligence.

This ought to be easy. Who’s the champ? And if you can’t even tell us that, what can you tell us?

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.



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