View gallery . Conor McGregor has stated he wants to fight for more than one title. (Getty Images) B.J. Penn won the UFC's welterweight title in 2004, defeating Matt Hughes in what at the time was regarded as a mammoth upset.
Conor McGregor has stated he wants to fight for more than one title. (Getty Images)
Not long after he won the belt, which came on the heels of a loss and a draw in two bids for the lightweight title, Penn spoke of holding multiple UFC titles at the same time.
Penn was an ambitious, audacious athlete who wasn't satisfied just beating up guys his own size. He said he wanted to try to win all of the UFC belts.
UFC president Dana White just about blanched upon hearing Penn's words. His answer was a very loud, very emphatic no, and no amount of cajoling could change his mind.
That has remained White's stance for the last 12 years. In those rare instances when a UFC champion would even whisper about going after a title in a different weight class, White would pour ice water on the idea.
The requirement was, and always has been, that the moment a champion goes after another belt, he or she must vacate the one that he or she was holding.
And then Conor McGregor hit the scene, began selling tickets and pay-per-views like he was the second coming of Ronda Rousey, and White's stance began to soften.
After defeating Jose Aldo for the featherweight title on Dec. 12 in the main event of UFC 194, a bout that sold more than a million on pay-per-views and had a paid gate of more than $10 million, McGregor said he wanted to fight for the UFC lightweight belt.
But then he was very clear that he wanted to retain his featherweight title, and, presuming he won, defend both belts.
On Wednesday, during an episode of "UFC Tonight" on Fox Sports 1, White officially altered his long-held stance. If McGregor wants to try to become the first athlete to hold two titles simultaneously in the UFC, White will endorse it.
"Conor has said he'd like to win the 155 belt, fight four times a year, and defend both belts," White told Fox Sports 1 hosts Kenny Florian and Daniel Cormier. "If anybody can, he could. He's done everything he's said he would. I'm interested. Normally I'd say if you move up in weight, you have to give up the belt. He wants to fight. He really likes money. If anyone can do it, it's him."
It's the right decision, even though it's an extraordinarily difficult undertaking.
Big fights, ones that captivate the general public, are the lifeblood of combat sports. Those mega-events help grow the sport, exposing it to fans who don't necessarily pay attention to it on a regular basis.
McGregor is already moving steadily toward the mainstream. Rousey is the only fighter the UFC has who is fully in the mainstream now, as evidenced by the events of this week in which it was announced she's hosting Saturday Night Live and will appear only in body paint in the next issue of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
McGregor, though, is on his way toward that kind of status. Whenever a fighter of his ilk fights, it also helps to create more fans, so by going after a second title, McGregor is simply helping to create a bigger event.
View gallery . Dana White could bring more eyeballs to UFC by letting Conor McGregor fight as much as he wants. (Getty Images … That will mean, in this instance, that lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will make more defending his belt against McGregor than he would against anyone else.
Dana White could bring more eyeballs to UFC by letting Conor McGregor fight as much as he wants. (Getty Images …
And it will have a trickle down effect, potentially leading to more pay increases, both in terms of fight purses and outside sponsorship money.
On top of that, big fights are more enjoyable for the fans. There is a noticeable buzz in the air for those events that is clearly missing from standard events.
If he knows, White's not saying how he's going to handle McGregor.
But let's consider a scenario of how things could work out. Since McGregor and No. 1 featherweight contender Frankie Edgar both fought in December, it should be no problem for them to be ready to fight by late March/early April. The UFC is planning for Cormier to defend his light heavyweight title at UFC 198 in April in New York against Jon Jones, and a McGregor-Edgar card would be a terrific edition since Edgar is from the area.
But if New York doesn't come to fruition – MMA is still illegal in the state of New York – the UFC could put McGregor-Edgar either in March, or in Anaheim, Calif., the backup location for UFC 198, behind Cormier-Jones II.
That would give Edgar the featherweight title shot he's so richly earned, and allow for dos Anjos to defend his belt around that same time against Anthony Pettis, if Pettis defeats Eddie Alvarez in Boston on Jan. 17.
Assuming that McGregor defeats Edgar, then the UFC could book him at UFC 200 in July for his lightweight title fight against either dos Anjos or Pettis.
Now, let's assume McGregor wins that fight, which I concede is a major assumption. He could then return to featherweight in early October – the UFC usually has a fight in Texas in the first week of October – and defend against the top contender.
Successful there, and he could fight on the year-end December card in Las Vegas in what would be his first lightweight title defense.
That would be four fights in nine months, an extraordinarily grueling pace for an MMA fighter. The odds would be hugely against him pulling that off, but it would certainly generate massive attention.
It would also put at least one high-profile match on UFC 200 and could help make two million pay-per-view sales for it a reality, given that it's the most likely landing spot for Rousey's return.
It may be asking far too much for anyone to pull off, but the fun of it is in watching for history to be made.
McGregor deserves the chance to try to make it.