Since the lockdown in the states, the UFC has been putting on fights on fight island, a small island just off the Abu Dhabi coast and despite fans being unable to attend, their pay per view figures have been record-breaking. There was concern that Khabib Nurmagomedov’s withdrawal from the UFC would impact the popularity and leave a vacuum in the lightweight division. Well, there is certainly a vacuum left behind but there is no shortage of interest in the UFC still and in particular this division.
Khabib left because of a promise he made to his mother after last year’s passing of his father, that he would not fight again after his defence of the championship title against interim champion Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. Well, he won it emphatically and cemented his reputation as the most fearsome and dominant champion across any weight division in the organisation.
Despite a broken foot, he dismissed Gaethje in just 2 rounds with a chokehold to end his career on 28 and 0. Some still harbor hopes of his return to the Octagon including UFC President Dana White but if Khabib is true to form, such a loyal and earnest character will not go back on his promise to his mother.
It’s been reported that Dana White has offered Khabib the biggest purse in UFC history, potentially over $5.5 Million, to return but even that has so far failed to entice Khabib back. Who would he fight if he did return as there is no interim champion holding the belt – more about his opponent later?
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The Void to Fill
Without the Russian, Khabib and at the time of his announcement no Connor McGregor either because he had “retired”, it seemed that the UFC would be void of a global superstar and would have to be content to put on fights between the best of the rest. Well, back stepped McGregor probably for financial reasons rather than an altruistic mission to save the UFC. McGregor’s appeal meant that UFC 257 would pull in just as many viewers as UFC 254.
His comeback fight was against the talented but once-beaten Justin Poirier and the best thing that could have happened for the division happened, Poirier got his revenge and beat McGregor forcing him to tap out in the 2nd round. It means a decisive 3rd bout between the two could take place and questions about who in the division deserves the title belt that Khabib has vacated could be resolved.
Division’s Top 5
The other top 5 fighters in the 155lbs division are Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira, Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson according to ESPN. They have all beaten each other and lost to either McGregor or Khabib in previous fights. So, it means there is no standout champion in the current ranks unless Khabib comes back.
The plan is to have a knockout tournament between the top 5 or 6 ranked fighters and McGregor, with the overall winner becoming the champion. If Khabib then reverses his retirement decision he can then fight to reclaim his title.