This past month UFC officials announced what would be at stake in the UFC 223 headliner between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov: the UFC’s undisputed 155-pound title.
That would be simple enough if it weren’t for one detail: The UFC’s lightweight division already has an undisputed champ in Conor McGregor. So when UFC President Dana White said at this time that McGregor would not be stripped of the belt, it got a little trickier.
Nurmagomedov has since confirmed that the belt that’s on the line will be the undisputed one. And his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, recently reiterated on MMAjunkie Radio that fact is “100 percent” true, and he went on to explain just how they ultimately came to the terms of the arrangement.
“All the media made no sense (at the press conference); they tried to get an answer out of Dana White. ”Abdelaziz said. “He made it clear. ‘I did not want Tony Ferguson to become the champ. I want him to be the interim champ.’ Because fight night, if Tony got hurt, Khabib would still fight for the undisputed lightweight championship.
“But if Tony Ferguson was the champ, Khabib would have to fight a regular fight. I’m not giving myself credit here as a smart guy, but any manager in my position, he should have thought of that – ‘Let’s make Tony Ferguson champ and Khabib fight him’ But hold on, what happens if Tony got hurt? Khabib is going to be 30-0, with no belt? This is why, regardless, if Tony got hurt or Khabib got hurt, it’s a belt on the line. It doesn’t matter.”
Ferguson’s UFC title, as it stands, is still the interim one. This way, Abdelaziz reasoned, Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) is protected from a theoretical scenario in which Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) has to pull out and he ends up in a non-title co-main event, for instance.
So how does champ McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC), who’s been M.I.A. (at least as far as the octagon goes) since he took the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez in November 2016, factor into this?
“I’m going to tell you why it makes sense: If Khabib got hurt, Tony won the belt, and Conor can get a backdoor at it,” Abdelaziz said. “Conor will be like, ‘You know what? Khabib got hurt. I’m next.’ It’s good for them too because they can step over Khabib if Khabib (gets) hurt. Conor can still come back and fight Tony. …
“Irrespective, Conor is a two-time champion. This is what he did. He beat two very good guys. And I think they’re very smart. Fight week, they’ll probably make an announcement. (There) will be more news coming, going toward the event. It’s smart. If they strip him now, that’s it. Fight week’s normal. But if they strip him on fight week, how big will the news be? Huge.”
Considering Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov fight bookings have been canceled three times already, skepticism and doubts are warranted. But should things finally go as planned, the title fight will serve as the pay-per-view headliner of UFC 223, which takes place April 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ferguson, of course, will be the one carrying a UFC belt into it. But while Abdelaziz respects the interim champ and actually thinks he’s a “good guy,” he has no doubts who is actually running the show.
“Trust me: Tony Ferguson is the B-side,” Abdelaziz said. “This whole entire thing is built around Khabib. This fight was supposed to be in Seattle. This fight moved from Seattle to Brooklyn because of the Russian population and the foreigners – to cater to Khabib. This is the fact of the business. …
“The UFC, the only thing, they don’t see color. They don’t see race. Nobody,. No fighter out there can say that Dana White or (matchmakers) Sean Shelby or Mick Maynard are racist. All these people see (are) great fights and money. And this fight, Khabib is the A-Side. Guarantee you, 100 percent. He’s the guy.”
To hear from Abdelaziz, check out the video above.
And for complete coverage of UFC 223, check out the UFC Events section of the site.
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.
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