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Conor McGregor hopes to ‘legitimize’ UFC lightweight title with long-awaited defense

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After a run of “money fights,” we may finally see a UFC title defense from lightweight champion Conor McGregor in the near future.

Conor McGregor After-Fight Party And Wynn Nightlife Residency Debut, Encore Beach Club At Night In Wynn Las Vegas Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Wynn Nightlife

Conor McGregor seems finally ready to defend his UFC title. As the organization’s most popular fighter (by far) – and the only one currently who attracts a mainstream audience – the Irishman superstar has had a run of “money fights”; fights that don’t make the most sense going by the rankings but receive lots of attention and a lot of pay-per-views. Most notably, McGregor’s last bout, his boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather in August.

McGregor has yet to defend a title in the UFC, despite having held them in two divisions now. He won the featherweight belt with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in December 2015, but fought Nate Diaz twice in a row at welterweight afterward. McGregor’s win over Diaz in August 2016 led to his move to lightweight. In his first UFC fight at 155 pounds, McGregor finished then-champion Eddie Alvarez. “The Notorious” has not fought in MMA since that November 2016 title fight.

Apparently however, the Irishman is now willing to give the fans what they want: a UFC title defense.

“Look, I’ve got the UFC title to defend and that means something to me. I will defend that world title,” McGregor said at An Evening with Conor McGregor at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow, Scotland (via MMAFighting.com).

“I’ve done the money fight. I’ve done the pinnacle of a money fight. ... Now the question I always get is about defending the belt and legitimizing the sport and the rankings. Maybe now it would be a good time for me to go and do that and shut that side up.”

Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee are fighting for the interim 155-pound title in the UFC 216 main event next weekend. And the winner of that bout could be McGregor’s next opponent. But, of course, a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz is always an option, McGregor said.

“In my head now, I’m very interested in seeing this fight this weekend and to see how the lightweight title picture pans out and to go in and correct that whole situation,” he said. “Nathan (Nate Diaz) is there. He’s trying to come in here and make all of these demands. If he starts pricing himself out of an event, I probably will defend against the person who wins this interim belt — or someone along that line to legitimize it again.

“I also have history with Nate. It’s 1-1 and that has to happen. It will happen. The more I spend time away from it, I think I’ve already done all of the money fights. Now, to legitimize a title and to bring it back, I could potentially bring it back.”