The Matchups The UFC Should Make Between The Top-Ranked Lightweights
The UFC lightweight division has some of the most talented fighters not just in the UFC currently, but it could be the most stacked division we have ever seen in MMA. There are no clear number-one contenders for current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The obvious choice would be #1 Conor McGregor, who had his title officially stripped at UFC 223 when Nurmagomedov (26-0) had the belt wrapped about his waist after his five round decision win over Al Iaquinta. McGregor, never lost his belt due to losing a fight, but rather, that he hasn’t defended or even fought in the octagon since his UFC 205 knockout win over Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.
McGregor (21-3) has been dominate inside the octagon, winning nine of his ten fights and of those nine victories, with seven of his nine wins being KOs or TKOs. McGregor is excellent on the mic and is the most popular fighter in the history of the UFC. Of the five highest selling pay-per-views, McGregor headlined four of them.
The elephant in the room with McGregor fighting is the legal trouble he currently finds himself in. On the week of UFC 223, McGregor threw a dolly through the window of a bus with UFC fighters scheduled to fight on the card on it. Due to the dolly being thrown through the window, two fights were cancelled after Michael Chiesa was cut on his face and Ray Borg got glass in his eye.
McGregor appeared to be going after Nurmagomedov, who had confronted McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov the week of the fight. So, McGregor flew from Ireland with about 20 of his friends and attacked the bus. McGregor was later arrested and charged by the NYPD. He is due to appear in court on June 14th.
Another potential fight for Nurmagomedov is #2 Tony Ferguson. A fight between these two has been scheduled four, yes four, times before, with a fight never even happening. Both fighters have pulled out of the fights due to injuries two times apiece.
Ferguson (23-3) is on a ten fight win streak, but after he tore a ligament in his knee the week of UFC 223, he will be sidelined for awhile. Ferguson had surgery this past week and if he is able to fight this year, it won’t be until late 2018.
A third contender for a shot at the lightweight title is former lightweight champion, #3 Alvarez. He was never able to defend his belt, but he is clearly one of the best fighters in the world at 155 lbs. He is coming off one of the most impressive wins in his career, a third round knockout against Justin Gaethje.
Another fighter who just had their biggest win, also over Gaethje, is #4 Dustin Poirier. Big wins over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, Gaethje and veteran Jim Miller have Poirier quickly climbing up the ranks.
The wildcard in the lightweight division is #5 Kevin Lee. He’s a fighter who is slowly becoming a superstar in the sport. He is great on the mic, has the look and is only 25-years-old. He is coming off a dominate victory over Edson Barboza last weekend, where Lee got the 5th round TKO win.
Lee (17-3) was close to UFC gold when he fought Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 216, but lost via third round triangle choke.
With all these fighters, all worthy of a title shot against Nurmagomedov, who will get the next shot? The UFC isn’t the same as it was a few years ago. Who deserves the next title shot sometimes gets overruled by who will help generate the most PPVs.
In today’s UFC, the organization is going to give Nurmagomedov an opponent who can sell the fight, because as great as Nurmagomedov is, he doesn’t not sell PPVs. The UFC will most likely wait until after McGregor’s hearing in June before announcing any matchups between any of these fighters.
If McGregor is suspended and not allowed to fight for the remainder of 2018, look for Lee to leapfrog Poirier and Alvarez for a title shot against Nurmagomedov. Lee can sell the fight, but the UFC may be worried about both Nurmagomedov and Lee making 155 lbs, something both fighters have struggled with in the past. Both fighters have to weigh 155.0 or less in order for the title to be up for grabs.
If Lee gets the title shot, on the same card schedule a rematch between Poirier and Alvarez. The two fought back at UFC 211 with the fight ending in a no-contest after Alvarez landed illegal knees to Poirier while he was grounded. Make this a number one contender fight and either fighter can step up in case Lee or Nurmagomedov get injured or miss weight.
If McGregor is able to fight this year, he should and will get the shot against Nurmagomedov. Especially after the dolly incident, this has the potential of becoming the biggest fight in UFC history. You’ve got the fighters representing two passionate countries in Ireland and Russia. The arena will be roaring that night and the world will tune in to watch how Nurmagomedov will be able to handle McGregor’s striking and in contrast, how McGregor will be able to handle Nurmagomedov’s grappling.
Keep the matchup between Poirier and Alvarez on this card for the same reasons listed above and why not add Lee on the card as well against Nate Diaz. Lee and Diaz’s trash talk would help sell this card even more and with all these lightweights on the card and so many fighters missing weight and getting injured, if a fight were to fall apart at the top of the card, one of the other fighters can step in, be in fight shape and save the card.
These matchups are all assuming Ferguson isn’t able to fight the rest of 2018. But with the lack of superstars and PPVs numbers not as high as they once were, the UFC needs to establish this exciting division and show the world how talented all these fighters are.