Khabib Nurmagomedov is officially the UFC’s lightweight champion, now comes the hard part, defending his title. Its obvious who the fans want him to fight, but will it happen?
With Khabib Nurmagomedov now holding the UFC’s lightweight championship following his dominant win over Al Iaquinta on short notice at UFC 223, you would think that the division has undergone some form of clarity, instead more questions have emerged since winning the gold. Most notably the question of Nurmagomedov’s next opponent.
The 29-year-old has been somewhat of a mystical entity throughout his UFC tenure. In part due to his inactivity and in part due to his undeniable dominance every time he’s managed to make it into the octagon. Prior to capturing gold, the Team AKA product was recognized by many as the uncrowned champion given his dominant victory over previous UFC lightweight titleholder Rafael dos Anjos.
The Eagle’s winning ways only really paralleled one man in the division, Tony Ferguson. Ferguson is a 10 fight winning streak with his last defeat taking place six years ago. Nurmagomedov is undefeated with 10 of his overall 26 wins taking place in the UFC. For years now fans have been teased with what seemed like the inevitable showdown only to be let down at the very end. Now the battle for 155-pound supremacy is further than its ever been.
Fortunately, the biggest name in mixed martial arts today happened to march into the division and insert himself at the top by dethroning Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. Nurmagomedov put on an emphatic performance earlier that night against Michael Johnson and referred to a match up against McGregor as the easiest fight in the division during his post-fight speech.
Ultimately, the Conor McGregor sweepstakes were placed on hold last August when the former champion opted to chase a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather instead. The feud between both men was reignited days before Nurmagomedov’s title victory via the infamous bus attack, but now the current champion doesn’t appear that interested in a grudge match against McGregor.
Nurmagomedov’s post-fight speech wasn’t aimed at McGregor or Tony Ferguson, instead the Dagestani warrior called for a contest against Georges St-Pierre in November. While the potential scrap is fascinating, it’s farfetched given GSP never making 155 lbs in his professional career. Also, fans weren’t too pleased to hear their new champion’s target return date to be seven months from now.
The latest action in the lightweight division was Dustin Poirier’s knockout win over Justin Gaethje last week at UFC on Fox 29 and with that the former inserted himself into title contention. According to Poirier, Nurmagomedov’s management team expressed interest in the “Diamond” being his first title defense. The match up sounds exciting, but it doesn’t compare to the level of excitement that Nurmagomedov facing Tony Ferguson or Conor McGregor brings.
Should Kevin Lee be victorious against Edson Barboza tomorrow night at UFC Fight Night 128 perhaps he can insert his name back into title contention. Lee has been calling for a fight against Nurmagomedov for some time now and would make for a compelling opponent given his wrestling background.
The champion appears content on watching the division play out until he Is ready to return. There is no clear cut opponent for him to face next even with the McGregor debacle leaving fans wanting to see more. Nurmagomedov might be the only current UFC champion not seeking a “money fight” instead fighting for his legacy and that’s oddly refreshing, but its hard to get excited when the two names he’s been linked to don’t appear to be returning to competition anytime soon.