Tag Archives: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Islam Makhachev can prove Khabib Nurmagomedov right at UFC 267

Last weekend marked one year to the day that Khabib Nurmagomedov officially retired from mixed martial arts as an undefeated champion, following a submission win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.

After the fight and subsequent confirmation of his decision to retire from the sport, Khabib did a round of media interviews across the world where he was asked who he believed the best fighters in the division were now that he was gone.

One name consistently popped up, his teammate and long-time friend Islam Makhachev.

Makhachev has since improved his record to 20-1, with two wins this year against Drew Dober at UFC 259 and then a main event win over Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31 in July.

This weekend at UFC 267 he returns to Abu Dhabi and Fight Island to take on Dan Hooker in a three-round lightweight fight on the main card.

It was supposed to be Rafael Dos Anjos in a grudge match, but the Brazilian withdrew following knee surgery and it was ‘Hangman’ who stepped in on short-notice after he snapped a two-fight losing streak with a decision win over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266.

Stylistically, the fight still favours Makhachev. He is a great striker on the feet with good power to match up with Hooker’s kickboxing, but he has the ability to take a fight to the ground and keep it there in a dominant way – much like Khabib did.

Hooker will be looking for a huge upset on the night, but if Makhachev can get the victory that many are predicting and expecting on the night then he will further help to prove that Khabib was right about him the whole time.

With the lightweight title fight at UFC 269 in December just around the corner between Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier, a stand-out win for Makhachev could easily see him installed as the next contender for the belt.

He is currently ranked at number 5 with Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler ahead of him scheduled to fight each other, with both men coming off title shot defeats.

Beneil Dariush is the other man ahead of Makhachev, but proving Khabib right at UFC 267 means he is likely just two wins away at most from becoming the lightweight champion of the world.

Islam Makhachev back to continue his journey to gold at UFC 259

It’s been nearly 18 months since Islam Makhachev was last in the octagon and he’ll be eager to remind everyone why many tip him to become a champion in the lightweight division, including the man who still holds the belt.

Following in the footsteps of his training partner, friend and fellow countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov is exactly what Islam has set out to do in his career. Their coach obviously sees the potential too.

In a recent interview with RTA Sport, Javier Mendez said although Khabib is the best there’s ever been when it comes to the ground game, Islam’s standup skills are stronger and could lead him to becoming a better fighter all round.

“Islam technically in the stand-up, he’s better. On the ground, they’re both two-time Sambo world champions, so it’s just a matter of luck. If they get the right fights, and they don’t get hit with some great shots that could put them out, if everything goes according to plan, Islam is going to be a little bit of a better version of Khabib in the technical sense.”

That is very high praise considering he has worked with Khabib regularly since 2012.

It won’t be long until we see how much of that will be true as his opponents begin to get tougher. Makhachev is on a six fight win streak since suffering his only loss of his career back in 2015 and now he faces the American Drew Dober at UFC 259, looking to make it seven.

The Dagestani fighter was supposed to face former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 254, before the Brazilian tested positive for COVID-19 and the bout was cancelled. It was then quickly rescheduled to headline UFC Vegas 14 until an injury to Islam forced him to withdraw and Paul Felder was brought in to save the card.

The UFC clearly have big plans for Makhachev hence trying to match him up with a former champion and still somewhat of a contender. A win there would have likely seen him move into the top ten of the rankings.

He also had an earlier fight due for May of last year against Alexander Hernandez that was cancelled due to the pandemic, so it’s been a frustrating time for Makhachev and he’ll be eager to get back into the octagon and continue his run.

Drew Dober may not be the higher ranked opponent Islam would have wanted but he’s found himself in a similar situation that Khabib was once in, in that no one really wants to fight him.

Finding someone willing to get in the octagon with Makhachev has been hard. The risks posed with fighting Islam outweigh the rewards at the moment due to his vast skill set, so he’s been on a long road into the rankings where he currently sits at number 14.

Even Michael Chandler dismissed the chances of fighting him at UFC 254 when Islam called him out to fill in for Dos Anjos, despite already being there on Fight Island and ready to be on weight as back up for the main event.

Don’t be fooled by the fact Dober isn’t in the rankings right now though. He was ranked 15th after his last fight and only moved out after Chandler’s debut win at UFC 257 which saw him positioned in 4th and subsequently everyone below moving down a place.

The American has won six of his last seven fights and the last three coming via knockout which all earned him performance bonuses. This won’t be an easy fight for Makhachev and certainly is another step up against a dangerous and powerful opponent.

No One Wants to Take a Fight With Him"- Khabib Nurmagomedov Comes Out in  Support of Islam Makhachev - EssentiallySports

Dober isn’t phased by the hype though and suggests it’s only due to his training partner that it is there. Speaking to MMA Junkie he said, “I think a lot of his hype comes from when you have one of the greatest of all time talk so highly of you.”

A loss wouldn’t be tragic for Islam, but a win will move him towards the top ten and will certainly set up an interesting summer for him. The lightweight division is moving quickly and is stacked with talent so there are huge fights awaiting him should he pass this latest test.

The stage is set for Islam to put himself into the mainstream and make him unavoidable this Saturday at UFC 259. Featuring on the main card before the first of three title fights on the night, which many will be tuned into due to the historic main event, gives him the platform to make casual fans aware of his presence.

Whenever the lightweight division is spoken about names such as Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira are suggested as potential next champions, but Makhachev is someone they should all be looking over their shoulders for.

Dana White announces unofficial lightweight title tournament

The UFC lightweight division is still up in the air after Dana White’s latest comments about the title picture following UFC 258.

After Dustin Poirier knocked out Conor McGregor at UFC 257 and Michael Chandler knocked out Dan Hooker at the same event, it was believed the title picture was down to four men – Poirier, Chandler, Charles Oliveira and champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

With the Russian adamant that he is retired and has no plans of returning to the cage, it looked destined to be Poirier taking on either of Chandler or Oliveira in a bout for the title.

The UFC seemed to be pulling in the same direction, offering a fight between Chandler and Oliveira on short notice for UFC 258 which Chandler accepted, but Oliveira turned it down. It now seems that the president of the company is opting to buy more time in the battle to get Khabib to return for one more fight, by creating an unofficial mini tournament for the belt.

According to White Oliveira didn’t turn down a fight with Chandler specifically, he just turned down a short-notice fight. He now believes that fight could serve as a bracket for a tournament he is planning in his head, which would be headlined by the trilogy fight between Poirier and McGregor this summer.

Speaking exclusively to ESPN, White said:

“When you have two guys – Dustin who’s the No. 1 guy in the world ,and a guy like Conor – and they both want it that badly, you do it. These guys (at lightweight) are all going to fight it out and we will narrow it down to the two guys that will face off for the title.

What’s fun for us, being the fans, if you look at the No. 1 ranked guy in the world, Dustin Poirier, all the way down to No. 7, Rafael dos Anjos, the fights that can be made to find out who becomes the next champion are unbelievable. So we’re in for some incredible fights to find out which two of these guys from 1 to 7 will square off to become the next world champion.”

With seven fighters name checked as potential contestants in this “tournament” it sets up some fun fights. We already know it will be Poirier vs McGregor 3 and the assumption is that Chandler will fight against Oliveira. That leaves Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Rafael Dos Anjos left to battle it out.

None of the three currently have a fight scheduled, but Gaethje and Ferguson fought just last year – with the former winning in dominant fashion by way of a fifth round stoppage. With Dos Anjos winning comfortably on his return to the division against Paul Felder on short notice, the obvious choice would be to pair the two of them together.

That leaves Ferguson as the odd man out but with Islam Makachev scheduled to fight Drew Dober at UFC 259, a win for Khabib’s training partner could see him enter the bracket to fight Ferguson next and work his way up towards the top of the mountain.

All this would leave Dana White more time to try and convince Khabib to return, while also setting up spectacular fights throughout the year and at the end what we’ll have is a legitimate champion who earned their way to the belt.

That’s what everyone wants, right?

UFC 257 Fallout: Poirier smokes McGregor, Chandler shocks everyone

The first pay-per-view of the year lived up to the hype, as Dustin Poirier knocked out Conor McGregor in the second round of their UFC 257 rematch.

The lightweight contenders were matched up in order to figure out who would be the next challenger for the 155lbs championship, with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s future unclear.

It was a wonderful performance from Poirier, as he implemented a game plan to smother the early power of McGregor before smashing him with calf kicks to stop his movement. After getting a takedown early in the first round and exchanging in the pockets, Poirier’s leg kick really damaged McGregor and in the second round the boxing exchanges were easier.

He hurt him with some big shots and while McGregor fired back with great accuracy, the difference in durability between their first fight and now was evident – Poirier could take the power now. He went to work with big combos against the cage, before a short right hook landed flush on the nose and dropped McGregor. He landed two more while Conor was down, but the fight was already done and the referee waved it off.

It was a showing that really emphasised the coming of age ‘Diamond’ has had since that first fight at featherweight in 2014. He has now won 11 of 14 fights at lightweight, with arguably the best CV of fighters on his record of anyone else in the division – including the champion Nurmagomedov.

His next fight will almost certainly be for the title now, although Dana White announced after the fight that the chances of a Khabib return from retirement are “not looking so positive.”

That means that he will likely fight either Charles Oliveira or Michael Chandler for the vacant belt later this year, after the latter’s successful debut in the co-main event.

Chandler took on number six ranked Dan Hooker and applied pressure from the opening second of the fight. As they circled, Hooker looked nervous and barring a few tame leg kicks didn’t throw any strikes. Chandler threw two long jabs to the body before a huge left hook landed flush on the chin and dropped him. He landed a barrage of shots before the referee stepped in and looked powerful to make an impression on all the eyes tuning in for the card.

It was a big eye opener for many, as his pressure seemed to freeze Hooker and has put the rest of the division on notice.

White commented in the post-fight press conference that Poirier vs Hooker for the vacant title makes the most sense if Khabib doesn’t return, although Poirier “guaranteed” that he would not be fighting Chandler in his next fight as he doesn’t feel he’s earned a title shot in the promotion just yet.

As for McGregor, he vowed to return later this year as he needs the activity and hopes for a rematch with Poirier to settle their trilogy at some point in the future.

What this performance showed though was that right now, Dustin Poirier is the best active lightweight in the world. Paid in full.

Dustin Poirier isn’t just here to make up the numbers

UFC 257, the return of Conor McGregor. All the promo, all the hype and all the attention has been on the Notorious one and that’s probably fair.

He’s the biggest star in the history of the sport and is one of the best in the world when it comes to actually fighting in the octagon. The attention is warranted, but definitely shouldn’t be one sided.

On the other side of the cage will be Dustin Poirier. A former interim world champion at lightweight who has won ten of his 13 fights at 155lbs, Poirier is one of the best boxers in the sport with fantastic power in both hands and good grappling skills.

The two fought previously six years ago at featherweight, where McGregor stopped Poirier in the first round with a big shot that landed just behind the ear.

He has promised to do the same thing again this time around, but Poirier is a completely different fighter now.

For a start, this fight is at a more natural weight class for both fighters. We’ve seen Poirier develop a more durable chin since that fight, and he’s only been knocked out once ever in the division. He’s fought some of the best strikers since his move up in Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway and Dan Hooker and yet he’s beaten them all with powerful striking on display.

He’s a great pocket fighter, with fantastic footwork and a left hand that could put anyone to sleep if it lands flush.

This is not your typical superstar return fight, where they get a tune up and walk through someone. Dustin Poirier is not someone who lets occasions get to him like Donald Cerrone, he is a prize fighter.

He’s felt Conor’s power before and has improved ten-fold since that fight. The fact that people are overlooking him is scary, because there is arguably nobody in the division that can go toe-to-toe with Conor on the feet other than Poirier and Gaethje.

He’s got knockout power, he’s got grappling skills that he can lean on if he is in trouble on the feet against McGregor and he’s shown in the fights against Holloway and Hooker in particular that he can go the distance giving and taking huge shots in the process.

McGregor has a window in the opening two rounds where his power is at it’s best and he’s at his slickest, but after that we’ve seen countless times that his cardio is his biggest deficiency.

If Poirier gets the chance to apply pressure going into those rounds then he will cause big, big problems. I expect some leg kicks early from Poirier to avoid the power shows of Conor before he starts working the body and firing his power left-hand.

McGregor is the favourite and based off their last fight against each other it’s no surprise, but Poirier is not there to just make up the numbers. He is a world championship level fighter and will pose a huge threat on the night.

If I have a word of advice for Saturday night’s UFC 257 main event, it’s don’t sleep on the Diamond.

Who should Khabib Nurmagomedov face to go 30-0?

The last time the UFC were on Fight Island, we saw the end of arguably the greatest career in mixed martial arts history.

Khabib Nurmagomedov took just two rounds to submit Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in October to move to 29-0 professionally, before retiring in the octagon post-fight in honour of his father.

Abdulmanap has been the coach of his son Khabib since forever, and the two shared a very close bond. When he passed away due to complications from COVID-19 during the summer, the lightweight champion’s future was cast into doubt.

He decided to fight on and the UFC made the fight between him and interim champion Gaethje. Fight week seemed normal, as the Russian spoke about potentially moving to 30-0 after the fight but in his post-fight interview he revealed that he had made a promise to his mother that he wouldn’t fight again without his father.

Since then though, the UFC haven’t stripped him of the title and he hasn’t relinquished the belt leaving question marks over his future.

He has reiterated on several occasions that his decision is final and that he won’t fight again unless he receives the blessing of his mother, but that hasn’t stopped Dana White from talking about it.

UFC president White has insisted that he believes Khabib will fight one more time, to hit the 30-0 mark that his father had wanted for him. Opponents have been loosely discussed and the two will have a meeting in Abu Dhabi during this two week spell that the UFC are back on Fight Island.

But who should have the honour of being Khabib’s final fight, when he’s already beaten the best of the best in the division?

UFC 229 - Press Conference : News Photo

The obvious answer is the winner of UFC 257’s main event between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor. Both men have already fallen victim to Khabib during his title run, both tapping out to the Russian champion.

However, both have won in impressive fashion since then and another win would see them right back at the front of the queue. Dana White has also admitted that they would probably be next in line, although it would depend on Khabib’s thoughts on the fight too.

Another option would be the winner of the co-main event at UFC 257, as Michael Chandler makes his UFC debut against Dan Hooker. Chandler seems to have a rocket strapped to his back, with White pushing him to the moon. He served as back up for the title fight at UFC 254 and now his first bout is against someone in the top six of the rankings.

A win would likely propel him straight into the title picture as a new challenger for Khabib to take on, who would be carrying big momentum into the fight.

Charles Oliveira will have something else on the mind though. After dominating Tony Ferguson to a decision victory, he has now won eight fights in a row and is ranked at number three in the official rankings.

He has called for the next title shot or a fight against the winner of Poirier vs McGregor, but White has recently said that if “everything goes to plan” his next fight will be against Justin Gaethje.

As crazy as it may sound, ideally none of them should get the next shot. That should be reserved for a super-fight against Georges St-Pierre.

GSP was the reigning welterweight champion for five years before taking a long break from the sport, before returning to become middleweight champion and then retiring.

He has continued to train though and when Khabib mentioned the prospect of potentially fighting him, he responded in a positive manner. The weight cut could prove to be a problem, but if GSP could guarantee that he would be able to make the weight, there is no better legacy fight.

Both men have made a name for themselves with their tremendous ground game and it would be a spectacle between two fighters who have looked unbeatable in the octagon for the vast majority of their career.

Both men are in the conversation when it comes to greatest of all-time and are physically in phenomenal condition. What better way to sign of both of their careers than a fight against each other?

Who will be a male UFC champion in 2021?

As 2020 comes to an end, the UFC hasn’t seen much change at the top of each of its weight divisions this year.

Stipe Miocic retained his heavyweight title by defeating Daniel Cormier in their trilogy fight in August, while Israel Adesanya successfully defended his middleweight crown twice against Yoel Romero (UFC 248) and Paulo Costa (UFC 253).

Kamaru Usman is still the king of the welterweights, winning his only fight of the year by defeating Jorge Masvidal in dominant fashion at UFC 251 while Khabib Nurmagomedov choked out Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 to retain the lightweight title.

Featherweight’s hierarchy remains unchanged too, as Alexander Volkanovski beat Max Holloway at UFC 251 in their rematch via split decision.

The only new champions we saw in the UFC this year came due to the title being relinquished by whoever carried the belt into 2020, thus becoming vacant.

Henry Cejudo relinquished the flyweight belt at the end of 2019, which allowed Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo to fight for it twice. He vacated the bantamweight title after beating former champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 before retiring from the sport.

Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight strap to chase the heavyweight belt, something we expect him to do at some point in 2021. That allowed Jan Blachowicz the chance to claim the crown, by knocking out Dominick Reyes at UFC 253.

But who will take the crowns in 2021?

At flyweight, if Figueiredo can navigate the rematch against Moreno then it’s hard to see anyone beating him. Garbrandt would likely be next in line, moving down from 135lbs, but with a 10lbs cut and with how easily he gets hit it’s hard to look past Figueiredo knocking him out and reigning supreme for years to come.

UFC 250: Sterling v Sandhagen : News Photo

At bantamweight, Aljamain Sterling has a great chance of taking the belt in 2021. He is scheduled to take on Petr Yan at some point and stylistically has a great chance of taking Yan to the ground and securing a submission. On the feet he can hang too with his range management and it should be a great fight.

The returning TJ Dillashaw will also have a say in where the belt goes in the new year. The former champion has been suspended for two years for a failed drug test, but is available again from January to return. He has been linked with a fight against Jose Aldo in his comeback and a win in that fight could put him right back into title contention.

Cory Sandhagen, Frankie Edgar and Rob Font could all also potentially be just one win away from a title fight too in what should be a stunning year for the 135lbs division.

At featherweight, Alexander Volkanovski has moved on from Max Holloway for now and is expected to make his next title defence against Brian Ortega. T-City showed a new and improved striking game when he dismantled ‘Korean Zombie’ and is a genuine threat to Volkanovski’s reign. Zabit Magomedsharipov is also waiting in the wings and another win in 2021 will likely see him enter title contention, while the chances of Max Holloway re-entering the frame are possible too.

Overall, I think that Volkanovski has all the tools to hold on to his strap for as long as he wants to. He has striking and wrestling and a durability that makes it hard to stop him. Unless he gets back in there with Holloway for a third time, expect Volkanovski to retain throughout the year.

UFC 205: Alvarez v McGregor : News Photo

Lightweight will almost certainly see a new champion at some point in 2021. Khabib Nurmagomedov retired after his last fight, but Dana White seems confident that he can lure the undefeated champion back for one more fight. If he’s successful, then Khabib will likely retire following that fight which means a vacant title later in the year. If not, then the title will be vacated sooner and a title fight could be made in the summer featuring the winner of Poirier/McGregor and another top lightweight such as Gaethje, Oliveira, Chandler or Hooker.

My money is on a return to the top for McGregor. The fight against Poirier is huge, but the fact he has beaten him before is a big advantage for him. A win guarantees him the next title shot, whether it’s against Khabib or not. If it is, he’ll lose again. But if it isn’t, he has a skillset that can cope with almost anyone else except possibly Charles Oliveira.

At welterweight, the division is stacked but it’s firmly in Kamaru Usman’s hands. The Nigerian Nightmare has defended his belt successfully twice since dethroning Tyron Woodley and is set to defend against Gilbert Burns next. His skillset is so dominant though, and he is so strong and powerful that I don’t see a 170lber in the world, never mind the UFC, that beats Usman any time soon.

Moving up to 185lbs, I expect this division will likely be on hold for the majority of 2021. Adesanya will be moving up to light heavyweight to take on Blachowicz at UFC 259 in March and I expect him to be too fast and too slick for the Polish veteran. That would see him become a double champion and with more contender at 205lbs rather than 185lbs, if he is to fight again it’ll probably be at light heavyweight.

Should he end up vacating the 185lbs title, Robert Whittaker will step into any title fight as the favourite. Paulo Costa, Darren Till, Marvin Vettori and Kevin Holland could all end up in the title picture with him with one more win in the new year although I would expect ‘The Reaper’ to come out on top against them all.

UFC 247: Jones v Reyes : News Photo

At heavyweight, Stipe Miocic has reigned supreme now for four of the last five years and has lost just once since 2014. He will fight Francis Ngannou for a second time in the first quarter of 2021 and should he get through that bout, which isn’t a given by any stretch, a fight against Jon Jones awaits.

As good as Miocic is, Jon Jones is undefeated but for a dodgy disqualification and has done nothing but fight for titles since 2010. A move up to heavyweight could cement him in the conversation as the greatest of all time if he is successful and he certainly has the skillset to defeat anyone in the world.

Jones’ wrestling, striking, range management, durability and experience could see him reign supreme among the big men for a long time and I think that starts in 2021.

Tap Ins & Tap Outs MMA Awards 2020 – Submission Of The Year

The UFC have finally completed their set of fights for the year of 2020 and what a crazy year it was.

456 fights total in a year that saw a global pandemic bring a close to all live sports for almost two months at least before Dana White and co. became the leaders of getting the show back on the road.

Among those 456 fights we saw some incredible fights, some incredible knockouts and some incredible submission wins across the weight divisions. But which ones were the best?

We’re going to rank our personal top five of the year, before handing out the award for each of the following categories:

  • Submission of the year
  • Knockout of the year
  • Fight of the year
  • Breakthrough fighter of the year
  • Fighter of the year


5. DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO vs Alex Perez (UFC 255, November 2020)

The first title defence of the scariest flyweight in the world, Deiveson Figueiredo stepped into the cage with bad intentions. Many expected him to strike with the wrestle heavy Perez and use his grappling if needed and what happened was something a little different.

Both men traded blows in the centre before Figueiredo started to have the timing figured out and started walking him down. Perez went for a takedown, Figueiredo defended and then rolled through which led to a scramble. From there Figueiredo synched in a deep guillotine and refused to let go, even as Perez tried to get back to his feet to force the tap. That made it three finishes from three fights in 2020, before his UFC 256 bout, and it was a stunning submission.

4. MACKENZIE DERN vs Hannah Cifers (UFC Vegas 1, May 2020)

When you hear the name Mackenzie Dern, the first thing that should come to mind is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Of her ten professional wins, six of them are by submission and this was one of her best.

After a bit of a striking battle, Dern was able to throw Cifers down and land on top but a scramble saw Cifers able to get back on her feet. Dern stayed on her back and grabbed a leg and while Cifers looked to land a strike, she managed to hook in a leg-lock. She locked on, sealed the technique perfectly and secured a brilliant knee-bar submission. It was the first leg-lock submission in women’s UFC history too.

3. JIMMY FLICK vs Cody Durden (UFC Vegas 17, December 2020)

A UFC debut for the ages, as Jimmy ‘The Brick’ Flick made sure to be remembered going into 2021. In the first half of the first round, Flick was outmanoeuvred by Durden who used his superior wrestling to score an early takedown and land some decent strikes.

As Flick got back to his feet, Durden began showing his kickboxing skills and out-struck Flick in what looked like it was going to be a long night for the Contender Series graduate. Then Flick threw a head kick which connected but instead of bringing his leg back down, he threw up his other leg and locked in a triangle. He fell to his back, tightened it up and after a few adjustments got the tap. Beautifully done and a great way to ensure we all remember his name.

2. KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV vs Justin Gaethje (UFC 254, October 2020)

Arguably the most high profile fight of the year, ended with a new contender for the GOAT conversation as Khabib Nurmagomedov notched his third straight submission win in a title fight.

The Russian champion was expected to face his toughest challenge in the octagon against Justin Gaethje, but the opening round saw ‘The Eagle’ land plenty of strikes on the feet before getting the fight to the ground late in the first round. He couldn’t get the armbar in time but when the second round started he wasted no time whatsoever. He got the fight down early, wrapped his legs around the head of Gaethje and choked him unconscious with a triangle choke to retain the title and move to 29-0. Simply stunning.

1. ALJAMAIN STERLING vs Cory Sandhagen (UFC 250, June 2020)

Back in June the bantamweight title was vacant following the retirement of Henry Cejudo, and Aljamain Sterling had been overlooked for the title fight at UFC 251.

‘The Funkmaster’ felt like he had a point to prove against another contender in Cory Sandhagen, and boy did he make it. He came out immediately at the start of the round and pressured his opponent against the cage before engaging in a clinch. From there he took Sandhagen’s back, locked up a body triangle and took the fight to the ground. After about a minute of hand-fighting, Sterling managed to get the arm under the chin and squeezed until Sandhagen tapped, moments before he passed out. Sterling celebrated the win, and will see himself fight for that title early in 2021 if all goes to plan. Submission of the year.

UFC 256 Fallout: Main Event Produces Fight of the Year, Oliveira & Holland True Contenders

The final UFC pay-per-view of the year delivered and then some as we saw two new contenders rise as well as a fight of the year contender in the main event.

Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno made a historic three-week turnaround to compete for the flyweight title and fought to a majority draw over five rounds, in what many are calling the fight of the year.

‘God of War’ Figueiredo was given the win on one judge’s scorecard, while the two others rendered it a draw following the champion having a point deduction for a violent low blow in the third round.

Both men stepped forward landing aggressive strikes on each other, punches that would likely have seen any other flyweight crumble to the floor unconscious. Instead, we saw these two warriors keep coming forward and even scramble on the mat in takedown situations to get back to trying to concuss each other.

The result will likely raise the stock of both men but also the flyweight division as a whole. With a rematch almost inevitable now between these two, the UFC’s original plans for Cody Garbrandt to move down to 125lbs and add some name value to the division may not be necessary.

Figueiredo has made a name for himself this year as a violent destroyer, while Moreno’s performance in this fight will almost certainly have gained him some new fans to go with his old ones.

In the co-main event, Charles Oliveira proved that he does belong among the elites of the lightweight division with a completely dominant decision victory over ‘El Cucuy’ Tony Ferguson.

The Brazilian completely outclassed Ferguson on the mat for three rounds as he toyed with him and was able to do whatever he wanted for the most part of the fight.

The one-sidedness of the fight was frankly quite shocking, with many expecting that Ferguson would be able to bounce back from his defeat to Justin Gaethje in May. But he never got the chance to get going at all, as Oliveira managed to outland him on the feet in the first round to the point where Ferguson moved for a clinch.

Oliveira used that scenario to lift Ferguson and put him on the ground and that was the end of that. A nasty armbar attempt in the final seconds of the first round showed that Ferguson is still as tough as ever, as he refused to tap despite the submission being locked in perfectly.

The rest of the fight saw Oliveira maul Ferguson, in a way that can only be comparable to how Khabib Nurmagomedov mauled his opponents during his career.

It put a magnifying glass on the classic Khabib vs Ferguson fight that we all wanted but never got. Many believed that Ferguson’s ability to fight off his back would cause ‘The Eagle’ more problems than anyone else could. But his performance at UFC 256 has confirmed my opinion that the top game would surely just be too much to handle from the bottom, no matter how good he is.

Oliveira now will move on to either a title fight or a guaranteed number one contender fight, depending on the outcome of Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor in January and the future of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In the middleweight division, Kevin Holland proved to everyone that he’s a serious player in the 185lbs division with a stunning knockout win over Jacare Souza.

‘Trailblazer’ was expected to be tested on the ground by the multiple time jiu-jitsu champion, but what followed was something that proved he is a true contender in the division.

Immediately after being taken down, Holland threw heavy elbows to the head of Jacare which clearly hurt him. He then tee’d off on him from his back, KO’ing Souza with vicious punches.

Holland was originally due to fight No.4 ranked Jack Hermansson the previous week, but a positive COVID-19 test cost him that position. After Hermansson’s defeat to Marvin Vettori in that bout, a rescheduled bout between the two could be on the cards as Holland looks to shoot up the rankings in pursuit of a title shot.

Planning Out The UFC Lightweight Division Post-Khabib

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?

UFC 254: Khabib v Gaethje : News Photo

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.