Conor McGregor's absence from the UFC lightweight title picture alongside the uncertain futures of interim champion Tony Ferguson and top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov has jammed up the lightweight division at the top.
"Conor McGregor is 100 percent coming back this year," he said. "He will fight this year. And we'll see how thing plays out, and we'll go from there."
The lightweight title has been in limbo since UFC 205 in November 2016, when McGregor captured the belt in dramatic fashion with a knockout win over Eddie Alvarez. That extraordinary moment ultimately plunged the division into chaos, as the Irish striker immediately shifted his focus to a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr. last August.
Between that and the ensuing contract dispute between McGregor and the UFC, a glut of lightweight contenders kept spinning their wheels until Ferguson became the interim lightweight champion at UFC 216 last October by defeating Kevin Lee. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were supposed to battle for the undisputed title at UFC 223 on Saturday, but that plan fell apart when the former had to bow out due to an injury.
White is now planning to strip McGregor, keep Ferguson in place (though his championship status is unclear), put another belt on the winner of Saturday's bout between Nurmagomedov and Max Holloway and go from there. That would give McGregor the option to reclaim gold while also keeping superfights with Georges St-Pierre or Nate Diaz in play.
White gave no specifics about when McGregor will return, though the UFC's next appearance at Madison Square Garden would make the most sense.
Either way, the frozen lightweight division is finally beginning to thaw, and the sport's biggest draw should return to the cage before long.