Tony Ferguson isn’t the only person unclear about the stakes involved in his April 7 title defense against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223.
With UFC president Dana White outright refusing to say that the promotion’s absentee lightweight champion, Conor McGregor, will be stripped of his belt, the question of whether Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are fighting for the legitimate 155-pound title at UFC 223 — as White claimed — or Ferguson’s interim strap is the biggest elephant in the room heading into what should be a marquee fight for the UFC’s most talent-rich division.
Former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez is among those perplexed by the situation. But considering the rocky past of Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov — a matchup that has been booked in each of 2015, 2016, and 2017, only to fall apart every time — Alvarez also has a theory about what the promotion is hoping to achieve with UFC 223.
“What’s going on is: This fight is 0-for-3. They’re not going to strip Conor of a belt, then have a vacant title for a fight that’s 0-for-3,” Alvarez said this week on The MMA Hour. “They have not been able to make this fight. Every time they book it, they’re not able to make the fight. Either Khabib gets hurt or Tony gets hurt or someone gets hurt. So I think what the UFC’s thinking is — this is a theory, it’s just an opinion on my part — this fight is not going to happen.
“It’s a very unlikely chance that it’s going to happen, so they’re not going to strip the champion and then have this fight fall through and not have a champion. So, I think the day of weigh-ins, they’re going to strip [McGregor]. It’s going to make real big news, and they’re going to have a title fight and it’s also going to make big news. So it’s going to make for a lot of publicity in one day, and that’s my theory.”
Alvarez, 34, is the highest-ranked UFC lightweight underneath the triumvirate of McGregor, Ferguson, and Nurmagomedov. He is also still awaiting his next marching orders, having gone unbooked since his third-round knockout of Justin Gaethje in December. As a result, “The Underground King” knows he could be in a prime position if disaster strikes and Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov goes 0-for-4, so he’s staying ready in case the UFC needs a last-minute call-up to help save UFC 223.
“I’m probably still going to end up fighting one of those guys,” Alvarez said. “That fight probably is going to get scrapped. They’re 0-for-3 there, so somebody might get scrapped, so I’ll be ready for that.”
Regardless of how UFC 223 shakes out, Alvarez’s next fight is going to be a big one for the former lightweight champion, as it will represent the last fight on Alvarez’s current UFC deal.
The Philadelphia native is presently angling for a summer matchup against Nate Diaz. Even if the Diaz matchup fails to come to fruition though, Alvarez is hoping to end his contract with a bang, and he expects to remain a part of the UFC afterward.
“They want to re-sign,” Alvarez said. “We haven’t gotten to that agreement yet, but I’m sure we will. I have a good rapport with everybody there, and we’re definitely going to sit down and come to an agreement, but for me it’s really about what this next fight is, who it’s going to be, whether it’s Tony or Khabib, whether one of those guys drop out and I step right in, or whether Nate wants to do something in the meantime, or whatever, or whether I’m just helping Frankie (Edgar) get ready for Max (Holloway).
“I’m sitting here idle, and May or June just sounds like a damn good date to me.”
Alvarez joined the UFC in 2014 as a two-time Bellator champion and was one of the most decorated lightweights of all-time to never compete inside the Octagon. Since then, he has compiled a 4-2 record with one no-contest while fighting the best the division has to offer. His three-fight win streak from 2015 to 2016 over Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis, and Rafael dos Anjos carried him to the UFC lightweight title. And now, on the precipice of his latest round of free agency, Alvarez is unworried about what his future holds.
“To be honest, I don’t care,” Alvarez said. “Free agency is great. In this sport, to be one of the top guys in the world, champion everywhere, and become a free agent, that’s an amazing thing. I’m sure there will be offers everywhere, but I have a good rapport with the UFC as well, and I’m sure they’ll step up and do the right thing and pay. But I don’t care either way. I just want some big fights, some fights that fans are going to get excited about. Get some people in front of me that are going to force me to fight in a way that gets everyone excited. I’m having a good time either way.”