The UFC 223 event week kicked off with the announcement that interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson was out of the main event title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov leaving the promotion scrambling to find a replacement.
Several fighters were contacted with featherweight titleholder Max Holloway agreeing to step up on six-days notice to face Nurmagomedov. That fight fell apart when Holloway was unable to safely make weight.
Paul Felder offered to step in, but was declined due to not being ranked. His UFC 223 opponent, Al Iaquinta, who was ranked No. 11 at the time, got the title fight and lost to Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision.
Former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez questioned the value to the 155-pound belt and Nurmagomedov’s championship during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour.
“What no one is talking about is Khabib talks about fake champion, fake belt, paper this and paper that, and everything is fake, fake, fake. No one said that they were just begging to give him that belt because he has Russia behind him. Russia is going to be an open market soon and it’s going to be convenient that Khabib has the belt. No one’s talking about that they just offered three different guys a title shot. On the third guy, they ended up with an 11th-ranked guy and this fight was for a belt. Do you think that should have been for a belt?” questioned Alvarez.
Prior to UFC 223, the lightweight title picture was held up with Conor McGregor laying claim to the belt, but not defending it. Ferguson was crowned interim champion in McGregor’s absence and both were stripped of their belts in the lead-up to the April 7 event.
To Alvarez, crowning Nurmagomedov as the undisputed champion after defeating Iaquinta made no sense and diminished the 155-pound title.
“I think that if the Philadelphia Eagles show up to the Super Bowl and New England can’t make it then you don’t bring the third place team in to play for the Lombardi Trophy. You have to wait. You have to be patient. You can’t tell number 3, 4, and 5 that you guys now get a title shot. It just got silly real fast. Everything got silly real fast and it made the belt quite meaningless,” he said. “Now, the guy who says fake champion, fake belt, fake this has a title. They should have just handed it to him to be honest with you. That’s what it looked like.”