Sorting UFC lightweight division after Khabib retires

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The UFC lightweight division is open after Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement following his 155-pound title defense against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 last weekend.With “The Eagle” out of the picture, who should face the vacant belt? What are the other key clashes to do in the sport’s deepest division? Is there a particular fighter to watch out for? Let’s dive in.

The title fight to do

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A rematch between former interim champions Gaethje and Dustin Poirier should serve as a fight for the vacant title.

Prior to his loss to Nurmagomedov, Gaethje was leading a four-game winning streak, which included a TKO victory over Tony Ferguson earlier in 2020. Gaethje is the UFC’s No.1 ranked lightweight, and many would consider him second. best behind Nurmagomedov.

Poirier, meanwhile, recently rebounded from his 2019 loss to Nurmagomedov with a victory over Dan Hooker in a “fight of the year” candidate. He is ranked No.2 and holds a TKO victory over Gaethje from April 2018.

Their first clash was one of the best that year, and a rematch would be no different. While Gaethje and Poirier most deserve an opportunity, it doesn’t always matter much in the UFC, especially when a certain Irish superstar is looming.

The title fight the UFC wants to do

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Former champion Conor McGregor is getting closer to a return to the Octagon and, from a business standpoint, the UFC would be foolish not to give him the title shot. McGregor verbally agreed to face Poirier on January 23 in what would have been an untitled fight, but that can easily be turned into a fight for the vacant title.

McGregor is the sport’s biggest star, which makes this rematch the most likely option. He was stripped of the belt in April 2018 due to his inactivity, but UFC president Dana White would love to see the Irishman – who knocked out Poirier in 2014 – as the 155-pound titleholder.

He hasn’t won at lightweight for nearly four years, and his only win since then has been a stoppage of Donald Cerrone at welterweight in early 2020. The No.4-ranked lightweight is far from the most deserving of his , but don’t be surprised if he fights for the belt anyway.

Potential matchups for # 1 candidates

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If Gaethje and Poirier meet for the vacant title, it would make sense to reserve McGregor against Ferguson to determine the new champion’s first challenger.

But assuming that doesn’t happen, Ferguson is set to face recent UFC signatory and former Bellator Champion Michael Chandler in what could be a No.1 fight.

Chandler was Nurmagomedov-Gaethje’s backup fighter, so it’s obvious the UFC wants him to move up the ranks quickly. This would give Ferguson a chance to bounce back from his loss to “The Highlight”. Some wonder if “El Cucuy” still has what it takes to be a top contender, then Chandler would be a great yardstick to see where the 36-year-old stands.

If the UFC goes with McGregor-Poirier, another fight that could determine the No. 1 contender is Gaethje against Hooker No. 5. That would give both fighters a chance to bounce back from the recent losses, and that would be a heck of a junk.

Wild card léger

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I still believe former featherweight champion Max Holloway could make himself relevant in the lightweight division.

‘Blessed’ rose to 155 pounds for an interim title fight against Poirier in 2019. He lost a competitive decision and immediately returned to 145 pounds, but with more time to properly adjust to the increased weight. , Holloway could become a light suitor.

Holloway has just suffered back-to-back defeats against current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. He won’t be fighting for the 145-pound belt anytime soon, so he might as well try lightweight again.

Looking back, it wasn’t smart to throw Holloway to Wolves at 155 pounds without more time to prepare. If he wants to progress, I would tell him to give him someone like Al Iaquinta and see how he behaves. If Holloway wins, we can start talking about him fighting the Gaethjes and Fergusons of the division.

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