A month ago, there were two bulls ready to lock horns at the top of the UFC lightweight division to lay claim to the belt being stripped from then-champion Conor McGregor.
The bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, however, never materialized. It fell apart for the fourth time when Furgeson had to withdraw due to a freak knee injury during a media appearance.
Nurmagomedov was left to face late replacement Al Iaquinta, whom he dominated at UFC 223 to capture the UFC lightweight title.
Now, little more than two weeks later and with two more events in the rearview mirror, there is a cadre of contenders worthy of throwing down with the new champion.
Though he’s currently embroiled in legal issues because of his UFC 223 Media Day attack on a busload of fighters that included Nurmagomedov, McGregor is still one of the top contenders to get a title shot, if and when he returns to the Octagon.
Ferguson hasn’t dropped out of the picture either, but he is sidelined until his knee heals following a recent surgery.
A week after Nurmagomedov claimed the title, Dustin Poirier knocked out Justin Gaethje in what was immediately hailed as an early “Fight of the Year” contender, launching himself into the thick of title talk.
Then, this past weekend, Kevin Lee, despite missing weight by a pound for his lightweight headliner opposite Edson Barboza in Atlantic City, N.J., laid waste to his opponent, immediately surging back into the upper echelon of the division.
And don’t forget about former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, whose only UFC losses were to Donald Cerrone and Conner McGregor. He holds victories over the likes of fellow former titleholders Anthony Pettis, Rafael Dos Anjos, Gilbert Melendez, and Justin Gaethje.
Nurmagomedov pointed to all five of those men when he recently commented on the state of the UFC lightweight division.
“Lightweight division is the most competitive division in UFC,” Nurmagomedov wrote on Instagram. “At this moment, atmosphere is very heated: there is Conor and Tony, Porier, Lee and Alvarez, all of them are good. Fight with any of these guys would be very interesting and competitive.”
Nurmagomedov is a devout Muslim, and with Ramadan quickly approaching (the holiday is observed from mid-May to mid-June this year), he won’t be defending his belt anytime soon. In fact, he doesn’t plan to return to the Octagon until late this year.
“I never choose opponent, fought with any fighter who was offered me to fight, and I’m not going to change that,” he said.
“I’m coming back November – December to defend my belt. Whoever UFC decide to fight me with, I’ll sign.”
Lightweight division is the most competitive division in #UFC At this moment, atmosphere is very heated: there is Conor and Tony, Porier, Lee and Alvarez, all of them are good. Fight with any of these guys would be very interesting and competitive. I never choose opponent, fought with any fighter who was offered me to fight, and I’m not going to change that. I’m coming back November – December to defend my belt. Whoever @ufc decide to fight me with, I’ll sign. ❗️ Лёгкий дивизион всегда был самым конкурентным в #ufc В данный момент ситуация очень накалённая, есть Конор, есть Тони, есть Порье, Ли и Альварез, каждый из них хорош по своему. С любым из них получится хороший, конкурентный бой. Я никогда не выбирал себе соперников, дрался с теми кого мне предлагали и сейчас тем более не собираюсь выбирать соперника. Я собираюсь вернуться в ноябре или в декабре ИншаАллагь. Какое решение #ufc примет то и приму. #bigdramashow #ufclightweight #mma #ufc #победатолькоотВсевышнего #inshaaAllah