Dear UFC | How much longer will Conor McGregor be around?

Conor McGregor enters the arena before a super welterweight boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
(AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

Will Conor McGregor be forced to vacate the title if he doesn’t face Ferguson-Lee winner next?

We got a bit of peculiar, albeit somewhat expected, news late last week: The winner of an interim championship fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will not be guaranteed to face Conor McGregor upon his UFC return. Expected because neither man fits the bill as a viable candidate to McGregor from a popularity standpoint, but peculiar because of what that may indicate for the future of the lightweight championship.

If McGregor does indeed to come back to fight somebody other than the interim champion, does that force the UFC’s hand in stripping the Irishman from his post as the 155-pound kingpin? Likely not, merely because of what chaotic circumstances may ensue by stripping him of a second title in a little over 12 months. He will likely hold onto that title, but how on earth do you justify not having the titles unified at the earliest possible convenience?

We ran into a similar situation earlier this year, when Robert Whittaker claimed the interim title only to watch the UFC book Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre for the actual crown. Whittaker’s hurt though, allowing Bisping vs. St-Pierre to make some sense, all things considered. But if the winner of Ferguson-Lee comes out unscathed and ready to go, what does Dana White tell the public?

Will Nate Diaz fight before McGregor returns?

There’s really only one fighter that could justifiably skip the line, leapfrogging both Ferguson and Lee. His name is Nate Diaz.

McGregor and his camp have already displayed an interest in taking on the popular lightweight for a third time in two years, paving the way for the complicated scenario described above. Diaz stunningly won his first bout with McGregor in March of 2016, ceding a majority decision to the Irishman in an immediate rematch several months later. A rubber match seemed to be written in the stars from that moment on, with McGregor’s return seeming like a perfect place for it to come to fruition.

The issue is Diaz hasn’t fought since last competing against McGregor in August of last year, meaning he’d be coming off quite a hiatus if he manages to lure McGregor back into the cage this December. The ring rust is a bit of an issue, but so is the idea that the public may need a brief reminder of who Diaz is and what he’s capable of before pushing a trilogy bout to the moon. For just about everybody’s sake, he may need to fight before McGregor comes back.

That’s sort of a problem in itself too, though. Diaz was a surprisingly tough matchup for McGregor, but we’ve witnessed on numerous occasions that he isn’t quite a force against the other top lightweights of the division. And considering Diaz currently sits at No. 6 in the lightweight rankings, he may not be able to avoid fighting a top five fighter before he’s granted a shot at McGregor.

Not from a public standpoint, anyway. The UFC may very well allow Diaz to waltz right into another big payday, either by giving him a feasible opponent or letting him remain on the sidelines until it’s time to play.

How much longer do you expect McGregor to stick around? 

In the weeks leading up to McGregor’s historic showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr., there was a great deal of discussion surrounding the future of the Irishman’s career inside the Octagon. It’s since become clear that McGregor has no intention of taking his $100 million payday and walking away, but it’s worth wondering if that’s only due to the current circumstances.

As noted, McGregor is clearly interested in facing Diaz over the interim champion when he returns, meaning he’s focusing on a fight the fans want — a fight the fans would gladly pay for. Despite McGregor’s otherworldly popularity, it certainly helps when he has an opponent capable of carrying even just a sliver of the promotional weight. Diaz was capable of doing that. Mayweather clearly was too.

The rest of the lightweight division, save for perhaps Khabib Nurmagomedov and his incredible following back home, may not be up for the task. There aren’t very many feasible records left for McGregor to break, be it inside the cage or out. He’s clearly still interested in making money, but at some point, he’ll need to question if the paychecks associated with fighting the likes of Ferguson, Lee and the lot of rising lightweight contenders will be worth it.

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