The future of the UFC’s lightweight division following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his title against a hungry and reformed Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in October, the Russian superstar established himself as the promotion’s pound-for-pound king whilst cementing his place in the UFC record books.
The euphoria of the moment was short lived, however, as Nurmagomedov announced his retirement following a bittersweet victory in the octagon, having lost his father and life-long coach who died of COVID-19 complications at the age of 57 last July. At 32 years old and seemingly in his athletic prime, Nurmagomedov’s retirement would be questioned among fans and media for months.
Nurmagomedov and the UFC’s president Dana White finally took to social media nearly five months later on March 18, where they officially declared the lightweight king retired for good.
In the blink of an eye, the UFC’s destined 155-pound champion for years to come was abruptly out of the picture, transforming the entire UFC lightweight landscape as a result.
The lightweight show must go on
Shortly after the news broke, the UFC made headlines by booking a title bout for the newly-vacated lightweight belt between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira. The matchup will serve as UFC 262’s main event, scheduled for May 15.
Chandler is currently ranked number four in the lightweight division, boasting a record of 22-5. He signed with the UFC in September 2020 after spending most of the decade in Bellator MMA as the promotion’s lightweight champion. Chandler made his anticipated promotional debut against Dan Hooker at UFC 257, where he would win decisively by technical knockout in the opening round, firmly establishing his name in the 155-pound title conversation.
Meanwhile, Oliveira signed with the UFC in 2010 at 20-years-old and was widely regarded as a developing and promising star. Over a decade later, the Brazilian mixed martial artist has seemingly put everything together and ridden the success of a monumental eight-fight winning streak into his first UFC title shot.
Notable future UFC lightweight matchups
Dustin Poirier (1) vs. Conor McGregor (6) trilogy: Following their rematch on Jan. 24 that saw Poirier shock the world by brutally stopping McGregor in the second-round by technical knockout, Poirier was the clear-cut number one contender in the division. He eventually opted towards the trilogy bout with McGregor that will surely captivate the masses and garner all parties a hefty pay cheque.
It’s worth noting that while the fight is not yet officially booked, with the drama and hype built up around the two rivals, it’s only a matter of time until the final negotiations are set in stone.
Tony Ferguson (5) vs. Beneil Dariush (9): At 37-years-old, Ferguson has been among the top of the UFC’s lightweight division for over half a decade. Due to inconvenient circumstances, he never got the chance to fight for the undisputed lightweight title and has recently been on the receiving end of ruthless, drawn-out losses to Gaethje and Oliveira.
He will need to slow down a surging Dariush who has finished four of his last five opponents in the opening two rounds. Another loss to Ferguson’s resume would irrefutably spell the end of an era in the division.
Nurmagomedov’s retirement is disappointing to see for MMA fans, but one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions will endure and continue to produce outstanding fights with marketable stars headlining its bright future.
Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion