UFC: State of The Lightweight Division

With UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov likely facing a lengthy suspension and or possibly attempting to be released from the promotion, chances are he will get stripped of his title or an interim lightweight title will be introduced in his absence.

“If I have to be arrested, then I have to be arrested.” Those were the words  spoken by the self proclaimed Floyd Mayweather of mixed martial arts following his win at UFC 229. While Khabib Nurmagomedov hasn’t been arrested, it looks like he won’t be allowed to make a living at the expense of those who agree to share the octagon with him. The UFC’s unofficial, “the show must go on,” credo is one they’ve exhibited more often than not as of late.

2018 was the year Khabib was finally crowned UFC lightweight champion. It’s also the year he demonstrated the success he said he’d have against the UFC’s megastar Conor McGregor while shattering the previous UFC pay-per-view buy record in the process. But all good things must come to an end and like Jon Jones, fans will have to wait as another talented champion deals with consequences outside of the cage.

The window of opportunity is now open for several 155-lb UFC fighters as a result starting with one Tony Ferguson. Could 2019 be Tony time? Ferguson was once sporting UFC gold around his waist two years ago and while he was forced to settle for Anthony Pettis this time around, he could find himself in a similar position in the early part of 2019 against Nate Diaz.

While many could argue that Diaz has no business fighting Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title, the UFC did show interest in matching the two up at UFC 213 until Diaz balked from negotiations. The relationship between Dana White and Nate Diaz has been bumpy for years now, but with McGregor and Nurmagomedov gone for the forceable future and no real superstars left to headline the early part of 2019’s UFC pay-per-views, Diaz could be the answer to their current 155 lb problem.

This would leave Dustin Poirier without a dancing partner since withdrawing from UFC 230. As of now there is no timetable for a return from the undisclosed injury. The #3 ranked UFC lightweight is on a three fight win streak and is likely going to be inserted into the title picture if Diaz proves to be too big of a nuisance for the UFC. Being a pawn during UFC title negotiations doesn’t sound all that great, but at this point it’s better than nothing.

Should Poirier not get a title shot in his next bout then he could fight the winner of UFC on Fox 31’s headline. Kevin Lee and Al Iaquinta are set to do battle on December 15th. A win for Lee would be win no. 7 in his last 8 bouts. A win for Iaquinta would be his sixth in his last seven bouts. Both Iaquinta and Lee’s five fight win streaks were ended by Khabib and Ferguson. Dustin Poirier facing the winner could be the route the UFC goes barring any injuries.

One fight we might see lightweight contenders chase after is against former UFC featherweight champion, Jose Aldo. We’re two months away from UFC 231 – headlined by Max Holloway and Brian Ortega – and Aldo expressed interest in competing on the card at lightweight or featherweight. Given that he doesn’t want to fight someone below him in the feaherweight rankings and the only two men ahead of him are fighting for the UFC featherweight title, we could see Aldo make his long awaited lightweight debut.

Names like, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez come to mind as potential opponents, but the latter has to re-sign with the promotion first. Perhaps Dustin Poirier decides he’d like to take on Aldo, a man he had his eyes set on during his days at featherweight.

When discussing MMA’s arguably most stacked division, you can’t forget about the up-and-comers. Alexander Hernandez is without an opponent and currently ranked 13th behind Jason Vick. The 14th ranked Dan Hooker will be fighting his biggest opponent to date in Edson Barboza on the night of Lee-Iaquinta 2. Don’t look now, but the lightweight division could be experiencing a makeover by early 2019.

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