UFC: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s unexpected retirement from mixed martial arts Saturday has made a huge void in the game generally, and a very specific one in the lightweight division. The top of this 155-pound division goes from a dominant champion in his prime to an empty seat with no clear heir. The UFC has lots of good possibilities for what to do with possibly its deepest weight class, but that will it pick?
When asked regarding the division shortly after Nurmagomedov’s bombshell statement, UFC president Dana White said, “Do not inquire about the long run. I have no idea.
“Option 1: Book Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23 for the vacant lightweight championship”
This is definitely the clearest solution. McGregor and Poirier have agreed to confront each other on Jan. 23. Evidently, expectations were this could be a non-title struggle, but that changes with Nurmagomedov’s departure. Poirier is currently No. 2 in the UFC’s official rankings, McGregor is currently No. 4. They’re each coming from a win, though McGregor’s was not at lightweight, it was a welterweight victory over Donald”Cowboy” Cerrone in January. Regardless, it’s a justifiable choice to create and has great commercial appeal.
“Option 2: Host a mini-tournament in early 2021”
I use the phrase”championship” loosely since the UFC does not do”tournaments.” White isn’t a lover of tournaments, in the standard sense of the term, and never will be. However, the UFC could publication McGregor vs. Poirier as a non-title struggle, and publication Tony Ferguson vs. Michael Chandler as a non-title fight, with the understanding that the two winners will face off for the name.
Now, the UFC could basically create the exact same understanding by just making the McGregor vs. Poirier battle for a name, and calling Ferguson vs. Chandler a No. 1 competitor fight. It’s more or less exactly the same, right? But this would be another way to advertise essentially the same thing, based on what storyline the UFC wants to produce.
Option 3: Scrap McGregor vs. Poirier on Jan. 23 and publication McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje for your vacant lightweight championship
I don’t find this one probably, since McGregor and the UFC have more or less committed to the Poirier matchup (although, contracts have not been signed) — but it is worth mentioning. Before this season, McGregor badly desired to battle Gaethje. And on Saturday, Gaethje said he’s prepared to jump right back into camp and fight in the near future. And despite Gaethje’s reduction to Nurmagomedov on Saturday, no one is saying he’s not as great as advertised.
Nurmagomedov was just that great to make everybody else look bad. If McGregor suddenly really wanted Gaethje instead of Poirier, whom he beat in 2014, the UFC could pivot. Again, I do not think this will occur, but it is not impossible.