The UFC is in a state of reset following UFC 254, after Khabib Nurmagomedov announced he will never fight again.
After choking out Justin Gaethje in the second round of their main event clash, Khabib Nurmagomedov revealed he will be retiring following the passing of his father and a promise made to his mother.
The decision was met with an acceptance among the MMA community that it wasn’t one of those typical MMA ‘retirements’ where they eventually come back when offered a big pay-day. This is the end of one of the greatest careers in sports history.
The show must go on however and the UFC now need to crown a new champion at 155lbs for the first time since Khabib defeated Al Iaquinta back in April 2018.
The obvious names pop out immediately with Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson, Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje all staking their claim for title reign. So what’s the best way for the UFC to go about this?
Many have suggested that Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier’s scheduled bout for January 23rd 2021 should have the title added to it and that should be the end of it, but that’s not fun at all.
I suggest a mini-tournament. Yeah, I know, not that original. Just hear me out.
Conor McGregor wanted a ‘season’ of fights in 2020. COVID-19 put a stop to that but in 2021, it could easily work out. January’s fight against Poirier will mark just over a year since his last fight with ‘Cowboy’ Donald Cerrone, so the dates he had in mind for that can still work.
A win over Poirier can put him forward in the ‘tournament’ final against the winner of a fight between Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson was on a 12-fight win streak prior to his loss to Justin Gaethje back in May and was due a title shot against Khabib before travel restrictions caused it to fall apart for a fifth time. I don’t believe in granting title shots off the back of a loss or just a single win, so he should fight to get back in the race.
Chandler was signed from Bellator and was immediately made the back-up for the main event at UFC 254. He travelled to Abu Dhabi and made weight during fight week, although he was ultimately an unused reserve as Gaethje and Khabib both made it through the process.
While I don’t agree with it, Dana White clearly sees him in the title picture in the near future. What better way to solidify that than by taking on the ‘boogeyman’ of the division in Tony Ferguson. With both guys free to fight in the near future, the UFC could put that fight together to happen at a very similar time to the McGregor vs Poirier bout with the winners fighting each other.
As for Justin Gaethje, there’s a young man who is ready to fight anyone at 155lbs who is also coming off a loss but has proven that he is of the calibre required to be in the conversation.
Dan Hooker has been called out by Stockton’s own Nate Diaz in recent times, but a fight doesn’t seem to be on the horizon according to the most recent round of reports. This leaves the opportunity for him and Gaethje to square off, with the winner of that fight potentially facing the winner of the title fight, or even facing off with one of the losers from the other two fights to determine a new No.1 contender.
While none of these are guaranteed to happen, what is guaranteed right now is that the lightweight division is as open as it has been for several years.
Khabib’s retirement is the end of a dominant era, but the start of something brand new.