How Conor McGregor can still become champion

Former two-weight champion Conor McGregor hasn’t fought in the UFC in almost three years, but he could still fight for a title if analysts, commentators, and some fighters get their way.

The Irishman’s last fight versus Dustin Poirier, which ended in an angry McGregor breaking his leg, seems like it was light-years ago. McGregor claimed the feud wasn’t over after the July 2021 bout, but it was, for a least a few years.

Since his injury, the fighter has been through political debates over Irish immigration policy that saw him threaten to run for office. At the same time, he starred in an MMA-fueled remake of “Road House” for Amazon.

Even with a mid-2022 edition of “The Ultimate Fighter,” it didn’t seem like McGregor would ever return. Finally, a main-event clash against Michael Chandler has been set for UFC 303 in Las Vegas, almost three years to the date since the iconic sit-down, post-fight Joe Rogan interview.

For months leading up to the fight, however, fans, fighters, and analysts have been looking for a way for the UFC to make McGregor’s return more meaningful by making it a title fight.

The undying specter that is a 165-pound division has never seemed closer, with many sources citing inside knowledge on the topic.

“A lot of times it comes down to being at the right place at the right time,” UFC commentator and ex-two-division champion Daniel Cormier stated. “I believe that if they’re going to do a 165-pound division, it should have a name attached to the weight class that is so big that it draws people’s attention.”

“Conor McGregor being that name. Michael Chandler, on the other hand, will benefit from being in the right place at the right time,” Cormier said on ESPN’s “Good Guy / Bad Guy” podcast.

“These guys would then fight for the ‘super lightweight’ championship. That’s what I believe it is, and it’s only 10 pounds heavier than 155. Move 170 to 175, move 185 to 195, keep 205, keep heavyweight,” Cormier added.

The comments came months after UFC lightweight Rafael Fiziev said that it wasn’t just a rumor that the company was going to start a 165-pound division; it was confirmed.

“This is not a rumor, this is already for sure as far as I know,” Fiziev said in Russian, according to “I heard that this is already true … they even identified something there, I heard. Yes.”

Detractors have pointed to the long-held theory that the new division would be introduced at UFC 300, which of course did not come true, but that hasn’t stopped the constant speculation.

Former UFC referee John McCarthy claimed that he spoke to a UFC employee who said there was currently no plan to introduce the new division, two months after Fiziev’s claim that it was “for sure.”

“I recently had a conversation with a person that is a well-known employee of the UFC and stuff. I got nothing as far as this being a title fight, but it definitely could be,” McCarthy teased on the “Weighing In” podcast with Josh Thomson.

Two months prior, McCarthy said that it was UFC matchmakers who were the ones against making the new divisions, citing they felt the weight classes would become watered down.

When asked by Ariel Helwani about the fight, however, the new weight class was never brought up by Chandler. Rather, he explained that 170-pound and 185-pound divisions were the main subject of discussion for the fight, saying that 170 pounds sounded just right, allowing both fighters to stay disciplined.

“I think 170 is perfect. 170 is enough to keep us both disciplined enough through a training camp, and it’s going to be a little bit of a cut,” Chandler said.

Pro fighter T.J. Laramie agreed that there should be more weight classes in the UFC and MMA in general. “Every 10 pounds would make more sense.”

“McGregor/Chandler would have been a good opportunity to make it on a large scale. I think the UFC refrains from doing it for the reason that they wouldn’t have enough room in their year to be able to put on more fights as it is,” Laramie told Blaze News.

Analyst and former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen disagreed that Chandler and McGregor were the right men for the job, though, stating that the two were far too unreliable to carry a new division.

“There is no 165-pound belt coming,” he promptly said. “History of the UFC and the psychology of Dana White says ‘I don’t give anybody a world title opportunity that’s coming off losses, let alone multiple.’ History of Dana White psychology says ‘I don’t give anybody a world title opportunity even if they’re the number one contender if I have reason to believe they’re not going to come back and defend it.’ He’s still upset that George St. Pierre relinquished the belt after he beat Michael Bisping, and that was in 2017. I mean not for nothing, these aren’t the right guys.”

Cormier related those comments to his own career.

“Going back to me, they had no intent of giving me my first championship opportunity. But when Alexander Gustafsson got hurt, I stepped in, and I never left the title picture after. I was reliable. They could always call me and say ‘Hey, you want to fight this guy for the belt?'”

Referee McCarthy disagrees with Sonnen, albeit indirectly, and said the details about whether Chandler or McGregor deserve to be champions of a new division don’t matter.

“It doesn’t matter if you put it as the fight with Chandler and Conor and it makes sense because they do better with Conor being a champion. Just be honest, they do better. So it’s a business. And so why not say well, you know, right now we don’t have that weight class,” McCarthy added.

UFC 303 will air on pay per view June 29, 2024, from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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