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With Conor McGregor eloping to 170, the featherweight belt needs to go back up for grabs

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

What started out a play at UFC history has become a series of sharp left turns that has everyone feeling a little dizzy. Instead of fighting Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 for the lightweight belt, Conor McGregor was asked to roll with the punches when RDA went down with a broken foot. Dos Anjos became Nate Diaz, and that broken foot became broken records. Diaz dealt McGregor his first loss in the UFC, with the Irishman fighting indifferently — one might even say cockily — as a welterweight. By beating McGregor, Diaz subsequently leapt into (deeper) cult status and Justin Bieber’s crosshairs.

Still, the show was a regular bonanza for the UFC, (more than likely) surpassing the landmark event that was UFC 100 in revenues.

Now, if all of that just seemed like a bunch of people giving into whims in a makeshift situation, think again. According to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, the two have verbally agreed to rematch at UFC 200…at welterweight, no less, where neither were hubbed prior to squaring off earlier this month. Suddenly an arbitrary meeting to save a card has become something to plan and bank on for the next landmark event.

Not only did the original distraction work, but now the distraction becomes the attraction. Which is, of course, a little bit bogus.

McGregor shouldn’t get a mulligan for losing a fight that only made sense because of extenuating circumstances to begin with. It was a fun fight, one that could be revisited down the road under refreshened stakes, but what about the division that McGregor won the belt in? What about Frankie Edgar, who was promised a shot after obliterating Chad Mendes? What about Jose Aldo who held the belt for a decade? What about those directly beneath the Edgar’s and Aldo’s who find themselves in a constrictive space with no real opening?

If McGregor has it within his power to delegate red panty nights, he’s leaving a lot of people out there to go commando.

It was one thing for McGregor to jump to lightweight for the chance of holding two titles concurrently; that was all about his prowess and daring. But this "why not" jump to welterweight feels a little bit promiscuous. It leaves a lot of things undone, a lot of people wondering why they bother. It leaves a lot of former champions —people who’ve gone a long way to earn company respect — in the proverbial lurch.

At this point, McGregor should be asked to cede his featherweight belt. Or, short of that, an interim title fight should be booked between Edgar and Aldo, just to keep things moving while he’s out straying. Should Aldo win, then the rematch is set for his return. If Edgar wins, hey, Edgar-McGregor at long last. Either way, there’s activity rather than a bunch of people idling.

Then again, maybe the UFC should look at booking Edgar — the man they hounded endlessly to drop to 145 pounds to begin with — a shot at Rafael dos Anjos’ lightweight title. They share the same manager (Ali Abdel-Aziz), but not a friendship. In that scenario, Aldo could face Max Holloway for the interim featherweight title.

Whatever the case, the point being you can’t build up a weight class and then hold it up while the king makes his rounds. It’s one thing to accommodate a rare star like McGregor in his pursuits of greatness, but another to let him dictate divisions. Besides, what’s the long view on this? Should Diaz win, McGregor’s original detour through Diaz becomes an ultimate derailing. Should McGregor beat Diaz, he vindicates himself, but Stockton’s stock goes back down considerably.

In a year when the word "rematch" has gotten a little out of hand, McGregor-Diaz II comes off like an exclamation mark just for emphasis. It’s a fun fight. It’s one that sold well. Everyone will watch. But it’s also shortsighted unless the UFC intends to let the featherweight belt go back up for grabs. And if it doesn’t, at least give Edgar credit for getting one thing right.

The "C" in UFC does stand for Conor. The "F" and the "U" are more directed at the rest of them.

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