clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The problem is, Conor McGregor was the life of the party at featherweight

New, comments
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Conor McGregor’s departure from the featherweight division is the type of significant event that could have its own memorial, at least for those he left behind. Everything now returns to the way it was back in 2013 BC (Before Conor). The dancehall, which came booming to life with the big band, zoot suits and free-flowing liquor, is now quiet with leftover confetti and slunken regulars. Max Holloway who has worked to get his shot, certainly will — but it won’t be against McGregor. Frankie Edgar, who was promised a shot one night a long time ago on a wild trip to Vegas, just got banished.

That’s because Jose Aldo, the longtime ruler of the feathers, is king again — and Edgar has already lost twice to the king. It’s like the cruel landlord just bought back the building.

What to make of Saturday’s news that McGregor will "relinquish" the featherweight title? And that Max Holloway will fight Anthony Pettis for the "interim" title on Dec. 10? And that Aldo, who held that purgatorial distinction — "interim champion" — is now the fairly disputed undisputed champion?


You know what it’s like? One of those nine-steps-removed scenarios with a curvy paper trail back to where things went off course. It’s like when Chael Sonnen volunteered to fight Jon Jones at UFC 151 after Dan Henderson went down, and Jones said no thanks only to become Public Enemy No. 1. The UFC had a shallow card, then as it does now, and Sonnen appeared as a brief form of salvation just by raising his hand. What did the UFC do after the dust settled? Book Sonnen against Jones, first in a coaching stint on TUF, then in an actual fight, because it got distracted by somebody making animal shadows on the wall.

In this case, UFC 206 had a main event between Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier fall through, and — left with no big fight, and no attention-grabbing symbolism at the top — concocted the interim title for Holloway-Anthony Pettis. And Aldo was made the default champion. McGregor, who made history on Nov. 12 by winning the lightweight belt, now takes the booming dancehall up there. The illusion that he was ever coming back to featherweight to defend the title is over. He’s done with 145, which, though inevitable, is sad for that class. Then again, hey — they rebuilt the Moulin Rouge after it burned down, and eventually came up with Mistinguett.

There’s still hope.

You can blame the UFC for stumbling down a UFC 151-esque rabbit hole by not having a better card, but in this case it’s better to blame the UFC for allowing McGregor to maraud its ranks. The big difference here is that it’s only our imagination that’s really hurt. McGregor was holding up a division, yet it’s fun to glorify an Irish hijacker who sports mink. It’s also fun to let out line on a guy who is on an reckless, unsustainable mission towards more — more, more, more — like a big fat gratuity left to the fight game. We can let out line, let out line, and then the moment McGregor begins to falter we can reel in that exhausted whale, and look that sucker straight in the eye. We want to see exactly how much McGregor can get by with. This shallow card has interrupted that. And that’s the undercurrent of resentment in play.

Why voluntarily clip McGregor’s wings after having come this far? We all knew McGregor wasn’t going back to featherweight, yet that was the drama. That he could hold the fates of Aldo, Edgar, Holloway, Pettis — even poor Jeremy Stephens — in his hand like dice, and roll them all at once for a segue series with Nate Diaz. It’s mesmerizing to behold power in motion, especially in a game that welcomes it — in fact, that cherishes it. Cruel is another word for masterful. And don’t underestimate our collective sense of anarchy (which is always there). McGregor is a home wrecker in brilliant caiman-skin shoes. Now he’s dedicated to lightweight, where Khabib Nurmagomedov is already contemplating walking away from fighting if he does not get a title shot.

Will McGregor consider that? Right now he’s in love with his own power. If anything, he gets off on it. That kind of power could light up New York (and did).

It’s the kind of power that makes the Aldo situation feel like an empty gesture. Aldo, who didn’t lose for a decade and got caught against McGregor in 13 seconds. The reason "interim" doesn’t mean anything between Holloway and Pettis is because "interim" no longer stands in for McGregor. It stands in, and leads to, Jose Aldo. Nothing against Aldo, the quiet champion who for so long dominated the division. It’s just that the big band is now raging down the street. Everyone can hear it. Including Aldo, who wanted another shot at McGregor more than he did a belt.

That’s the difference.