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- Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer Close
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for "MMA Live"
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
UFC 209 was never going to bring the lightweight division into focus. As long as Conor McGregor is sitting atop that weight class, uncertainty will reign.
But at the very least, we were expecting some clarity on the general hierarchy of the 155-pound division last weekend.
An interim lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson had fans salivating ahead of UFC 209. Not only was it going to be a spectacular fight, the winner would be perfectly set up to call McGregor out.
But then Nurmagomedov was hospitalized while cutting weight, which ultimately resulted in both he and Ferguson getting pulled from the card.
So, instead of clarity, the lightweight division saw its third cancelation of Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson. It saw Nate Diaz, who is currently turning down any fight except a Conor McGregor trilogy, chilling in floor seats. And the champ himself, McGregor, was presumably taking dramatic photos somewhere in front of his private car collection.
What is happening to the UFC's lightweight division? Here's my prediction on how the dust will eventually settle.
When McGregor does return to the Octagon, he will fight… Diaz
The UFC needs a blockbuster fight and it's been proven this qualifies. Yes, McGregor sells fine on his own, against anyone — but Diaz raises that already high bar.
Is this the fight that should happen? Probably not. McGregor holds the official lightweight belt and the most deserving person to challenge him for it at this particular moment is unquestionably Ferguson. To keep Ferguson from that opportunity is, simply, unfair.
But as we're seeing, the UFC is showing a strong preference as of late for the "money fight" over the "rightful No. 1 contender fight."
McGregor's already stated, previously, he intends to fight Diaz again. His coach, John Kavanagh, has said the same. And although a potential boxing match against Floyd Mayweather has dominated headlines, it's more likely McGregor's next fight will be in a cage, not a ring.
Initial fan reaction would likely be negative to this trilogy, but at the end of the day, it would sell quite well.
The greatest holdup might be UFC president Dana White, who has repeatedly downplayed a third fight between McGregor and Diaz.
White's never said this, but you wonder if that's based on the fact that, as a promoter, you want to avoid putting your biggest star in a position in which he could lose to the same opponent twice. But even given that possibility, a trilogy seems very likely.
Ferguson will fight Nurmagomedov…for reals.
Fourth time will be the charm. UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas, which is already shaping up to be a wickedly good card.
Speaking to ESPN.com this week, Ferguson said he's willing to accept this (cursed) matchup again, as long as he's guaranteed to make his full contracted pay in the event Nurmagomedov pulls out at the last minute again.
Whatever agreement Ferguson reaches with the UFC, a deal will come together to finally see this fight happen. And with Nurmagomedov slated to miss significant time this summer due to his annual Muslim observance of Ramadan, it will happen soon.
It has to happen. For Tony. For Khabib. For our collective sanity. These two might have the most unfinished business between them the sport has ever seen.