McGregor to vacate title, Ferguson-Khabib booked for UFC 223

BOSTON: Arguably the most notorious personality in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and all of combat sports, Conor McGregor, is set to vacate his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight title as the sports’ premier promotion announced a championship bout between Interim Champion Tony Ferguson and undefeated contender Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday.

McGregor last fought in the UFC against then lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez winning via a second round TKO in November 2016 and the 29-year-old Irishman’s return to the octagon is not expected until September this year. UFC President Dana White confirmed in a interview earlier this month that the organisation would not wait till Fall for the Notorious’ return and will strip McGregor of his title.

“If McGregor comes back in September, that’s almost two years since he won the title. That can’t happen. It’s not fair to everybody else. Love Conor, respect Conor, love everything that he’s done for this company. Everybody knows that. I say it all the time. But the belt would have to move on,” White said during a Fox-Sports 1 post-fight show.

White, however, maintained that McGregor would get the first shot at either Khabib or Ferguson (or another title holder) for the lightweight belt, if and when the Irish superstar decides to return. “When Conor decides to come back, and if he decides to come back, then he would get the first crack at the title.”

Tony Ferguson, who won the Interim gold at UFC 216 after finishing Kevin Lee via a triangle choke in Round 3, is set to face undefeated Russian contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, who dominated number 3 ranked Edson Barboza in December 2017 at UFC 219, earning the 29-year-old ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus.

Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and Khabib (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) were scheduled to fight 3 times before but all previous attempts to put the two inside the octagon together went in vain as both pulled out due to injures one-time each, while Khabib pulled-out due to a weigh-related issue in February last year.

The two have been booked for a fourth-time and are expected to battle on April 7 in Brooklyn at UFC 223 for the undisputed lightweight championship, White confirmed in a promotional press conference on Saturday.

In the co-main event of April’s event, former women’s straw weight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk is set to face title-holder Rose Namajunas in a UFC 217 rematch, which saw Namajunas defeat then undefeated champion Joanna via a first-round TKO.