Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov made it through the most chaotic week in UFC history and emerged from April 7’s UFC 223 with the lightweight belt after beating Al Iaquinta – his fifth potential opponent in six days’ time.
“The Eagle” was originally set to face oft-scheduled rival Tony Ferguson for a fourth time at UFC 223, but when the former interim champion suffered a knee injury fulfilling media obligations the weekend before the fight, a strange set of events unfolded. First, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway replaced Ferguson, and then, of course, came former champ Conor McGregor’s violent Brooklyn bus attack.
After needing to cut an insane amount of weight to make lightweight, ‘Blessed’ was then deemed medically unfit to compete, and the UFC frantically sought an opponent for the undefeated Russian wrestling protege. Anthony Pettis was mentioned, then Paul Felder, and finally, Iaquinta officially accepted the fight. The Long Island native was game as could be, but that didn’t stop Nurmagomedov from dominating him in both the striking and the grappling departments en route to a 50-43 tally on two judges’ cards.
With his biggest win in the books, talk quickly moved to whom Khabib would face in his first defense, and the clear choice was the massive allure of McGregor, especially considering the mutual hatred now pre-installed. The devout Muslim champion will take a break for the yearly religious holiday of Ramadan, but he issued a statement on his fighting future on his Instagram today, offering when he plans to return and who he would prefer to face:
“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.”
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
The UFC lightweight division is indeed one of the most competitive divisions in MMA, and it’s arguably at the highest level it’s ever been – something that says a lot about the already-storied class’s evolution.
But Khabib’s title-sealing victory at UFC 223 was supposed to give some much-needed clarity to the 155-pound arena, not clog it up even more with a logjam of possible contenders like McGregor, Ferguson, Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier, and Kevin Lee all having a legitimate claim for a title fight while waiting in the wings.
They’ll just have to wait, however, because Khabib vs. McGregor has a legitimate shot to be the biggest fight the UFC has ever signed.
But will it be the one they’re able to book?