We had a lot to digest coming out of UFC 254 this past weekend.
Lauren Murphy announced herself as a true contender in the ever-growing Flyweight division, Magomed Ankalaev put his rivalry with Ion Cutelaba to bed and Robbie Whittaker put on a stellar showing in the Co-Main Event.
However, as I’m sure we are all aware of by now UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov stole all the headlines coming out of the event.
Khabib successfully defended his lightweight crown in the main event against Justin Gaethje in dominant fashion. He controlled the pace and pressure for the entire fight and pick up the win via submission in the second round.
Thank You Khabib
After the fight Khabib would somewhat surprisingly but understandable retire from the sport with an undefeated record of 29-0.
He explained in a heartfelt post fight speech that he didn’t want to continue without his father in his corner who recently died. His mother didn’t even want him to fight here, Khabib gave her his word that this would be the last time he will step into the Octagon.
I have seen people already speculating when he will return. Folks he is done. He spelled out his reasoning and he will never come back. We will never see him fight GSP or Tony Ferguson and he won’t rematch Conor McGregor, he is done.
He was never going to do all those things anyway.
The word always was that he was going to try and achieve 30-0 and walk away.
All this now leaves the lightweight division wide open. It’s one of the more talented divisions in the organisation that is packed with viable contenders. While it’s sad to see Khabib walk away it makes everything extremely intriguing.
Who Should Fight For The Vacant Strap?
Like when Jon Jones relinquished his light heavyweight title, Dana White will want to get a new champion crowned sooner rather than later.
For many fans five names have emerged as the most likely contenders and I must agree.
Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, and Michael Chandler have all been mentioned for various reasons. We can only have two fighters fight for the vacant lightweight title, so who should it be?
Too Soon For Michael Chandler?
I’m a big fan of Chandler and his work in Bellator.
He is coming off a quick win over former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson in that promotion. Chandler is a former three-time Bellator Lightweight Champion in his own right. However, he lost his title recent enough.
He only recently signed with the UFC and acted as a replacement fighter if either Khabib or Justin couldn’t make the walk this past weekend. Michael even successful made weight and was good to go if they needed a late replacement.
It could be nice to thank him for cutting weight, arriving on Fight Island, and not expecting to fight at the end of it.
While has held gold before don’t chuck him into the deep end in his first outing with the organisation. Without disrespecting other promotions, the UFC is the cream of the crop.
Just look at world class talents like Ben Askren and Hector Lombard. Two former champions outside of the UFC. They both arrived with huge expectations and fell flat on their faces.
As a fan of the sport it was just sad to see it happen, especially in the case of Askren. He was said to be the best fighter to never fight for the UFC. But he eventually arrived and looked awful for most of his tenure.
Chandler is exciting but give him a fight to settle in. Best course of action here would be to give him a top ten contender. Putting him into the title picture might clip his wings from the get-go.
Someone like Al Iaquinta could be a good test of judgement to ease him into the organisation. If he wins his first fight, then you can look at brining him into the title picture.
What About Tony Ferguson?
Tony Ferguson is another guy that might need another fight under his belt.
Everyone loves Tony and it breaks our hearts that we are never going to see him fight Khabib. He is as tough as they come, extremely talent and championship calibre.
However, Tony lost his last fight to Justin Gaethje in devastating fashion. He was beating senseless for five rounds, a beating that most men would of falling to much sooner. Nobody can deny his heart but when the fight was over many of us where relieved to see it come to an end.
Tony was on an impressive 12 fight win streak before that defeat. Due to this you wouldn’t get many fans complaining if he were to get put into another title fight. The former Interim UFC Lightweight Champion has probably earned it and one defeat arguably shouldn’t take that away from him.
But for me we must remember the way he lost that last fight. Another defeat against the elite of the elite in this division could be detrimental to his career at this time.
Give him a fight against someone high in the top ten to try get some momentum. Dan Hooker could be a fun opponent.
Hooker is a top five contender and has a fan friendly style like Ferguson. He is coming off a loss to Dustin Poirier in a Fight of the Night contest back in June of this year.
It’s a fight that has both guys coming off a loss, it would pique the interest of fans and is a good stylistic match up.
I would personally prefer to see Ferguson fight one more time in this somewhat delicate time in his career.
Does Justin Gaethje Get Back On The Horse?
Honestly, it’s hard to tell what the next step for Justin is in the short term.
He said in his post-fight interview that he would be good to fight again in the next six to eight weeks.
Justin was out classed by Khabib this past weekend but in a weird way doesn’t lose that much credibility. It’s Khabib and losing to him is never an embarrassment.
Both Poirier and McGregor lost to him in convincing fashion and are still here in this conversation.
Personally, I don’t see him getting another shot right away. I think he deserves one right away, but I don’t think it’s in the plans of the promotion.
Some of us forget Justin has only fought eight times in the UFC. Coming up against known names in each of those fights.
The big question is what do you do with Justin Gaethje now?
Justin could be the welcoming party for Michael Chandler. But away from that nobody wants to see him fight Ferguson again this soon and both Poirier and McGregor are likely to be occupied.
You could put Gaethje in a fight with either Dustin or Conor for the vacant title in early 2021. But both Conor and Dustin are the only two guys coming off a win in the UFC in this conversation.
Besides that, Gaethje gets nothing from dropping down and fighting someone lower in the rankings.
He seems to be the type of man that wants to stay active. But a defeat to someone lower down in the rankings would be disastrous and a win wouldn’t mean an awful lot at this time.
Taking some short time off and coming back in early 2021 could be a sensible decision for Justin Gaethje.
McGregor vs Poirier II For The Vacant Title
I think in an ideal world you could do a mini tournament of sorts to crown the champion. But Dana White notoriously hates the idea of tournaments in MMA.
So, this is the fight you should go with to crown your next lightweight champion. Oh, the lad from Dublin wants McGregor in a title fight what a shock.
Unlike Khabib you must take a Conor McGregor retirement announcement with a massive pinch of salt.
He is turning into the Rolling Stones of the MMA world with these comebacks starting to rack up.
McGregor starting this year off with a decisive victory over Donald Cerrone. This was meant to be the start of a run of fights in 2020 for McGregor but for a few different reasons he thanked us for the cheese again and went on his merry way.
To the shock of nobody he has already verbally agreed to fight Dustin Poirier in January 2021.
This would be the pairs second meeting and McGregor wants it to go down in AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
If that is to be the case and is made official expect it to be for the vacant UFC Lightweight Championship.
The fight is already in the works and would have been must watch even without the title. Chucking the vacant title into the mix would make for some huge numbers and Dana White loves him some huge numbers.
Both men are also coming off the backs of a win each. Dustin Poirier beating Dan Hooker in a brilliant Fight of the Night and McGregor beating Cowboy as I already mentioned.
Say what you will about the value of McGregor beating Cerrone at Welterweight but when you are an ungodly star like Conor, one win is all you need with his commercial appeal.
The first encounter between these two was heated. With McGregor constantly getting under the skin of Dustin. I wouldn’t imagine they have been sending each other Christmas cards ever since.
So, with the fight reportedly only a few months away this seems to be the next logical step in the UFC lightweight division.
It’s hard to judge who will win this time. I would expect a closer contest with both men maturing their games and at a different weight.
Hopefully, we can get an official announcement soon on this fight and the lightweight division in general.
Do you agree that this is the way forward for the lightweight division in the UFC?
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