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LAS VEGAS – For all the copy generated by Conor McGregor’s team about Nate Diaz and the inevitability it lent to a rubber match, the reality, according to Dana White, is that the UFC lightweight champ needs to unify the belt.

That means newly minted interim champ Tony Ferguson(24-3 MMA, 14-1 UFC) is next for McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC), and not Diaz (19-11 MMA, 14-9 UFC).

“Nobody’s talked about Diaz – Diaz has never been talked about,” White said at the post-event presser for UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “That’s Internet bull(expletive). Tony’s the interim champion, Conor’s the champion. It’s the fight that makes sense.

“It’s the fight that has to happen – it doesn’t ‘make sense,’ it’s the fight that has to happen.”

White already has shot down one rumored date for McGregor vs. Diaz 3 – the promotion’s year-end event at UFC 219 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas. But he didn’t say Diaz wasn’t even an option for McGregor’s next fight.

McGregor’s team then stepped into the breach, with the champ’s longtime coach John Kavanagh and boxing coach Owen Roddy opining that a rubber match with Diaz made sense for the Irish champ’s next fight.

And what of the man himself? McGregor, flush with options after a box office blockbuster against Floyd Mayweather, said he could rematch the undefeated boxing kingpin. Or, he said he could fight a rubber match with Diaz. He could box. He could fight Paulie Malignaggi. The only restrictions to his options, it seemed, were those that were less than lucrative.

But ultimately, unless McGregor wants a court fight on his hands, White remains his promoter. And after green-lighting the UFC champ for a foray into boxing, the UFC executive no doubt wants him back in the octagon, earning for the UFC. Possibly on Dec. 30 at UFC 219.

“We didn’t specifically talk about it, but we talked about it kinda,” White said. “He wants to fight again this year. He went and partied in Ibiza for a while and went back home for a while. You’ve got to let him blow off some steam, and then we’ll figure it out.”

That’s no doubt music to the ears of Ferguson, who called out Conor “McNuggets” in no uncertain terms after his third-round submission of Kevin Lee.

“Defend or vacate,” was Ferguson’s refrain, as it’s been since McGregor has detoured from defending the UFC lightweight title.

Now, it appears he’ll get his wish. If McGregor signs off, of course. That should be easy.

For complete coverage of UFC 216, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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