After accumulating a 29-0 MMA record, it was previously reported that Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has retired from the UFC. With three successful title defenses, there is little doubt that Nurmagomedov will be considered one of the best in the history of the company.
After a dominant reign, what does the future hold in store for the Lightweight division? At this time, there are considered five elite contenders in order to determine the future at one of the most competitive divisions in sports:
5. Michael Chandler (+900)
After being signed by the UFC in September, former Bellator Champion Michael Chandler was expected to backup the title fight between Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. Chandler, who supports a 21-5 MMA record, was considered one of the brightest talents competing outside of the UFC.
After holding Championship status on three different occasions with Bellator, the spotlight is nothing new to someone of Chandler’s caliber. In 2011, he secured the title with a win over veteran Eddie Alvarez.
The UFC previously attempted to book a bout between Chandler and Dustin Poirier, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. If there is some sort of “tournament” to determine the next Lightweight Champion, then Chandler should be viewed as a contender.
4. Tony Ferguson (+750)
Like Chandler, it would be difficult to argue that Tony Ferguson deserves an immediate title shot. In his loss to Gaethje at UFC 249, he absorbed 72% of his opponent’s strikes. The loss was his first since 2012, and was the first time in his career that he has lost via KO/TKO.
Still, prior to the loss in May, Ferguson was riding a 12-fight win streak. Among the names he beat included Anthony Pettis, Kevin Lee, and Donald Cerrone.
His next fight will likely be for a top contender position, instead of for the vacant title. With an impressive victory to kickstart 2021, Ferguson will return to contender status.
3. Justin Gaethje (+600)
As the most recent challenger for the Lightweight Championship, Justin Gaethje could still find himself contending for the vacant title. His loss to Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 was only the third defeat in his career, and he had previously won his last four bouts via KO/TKO.
There have already been ongoing talks about Gaethje going against Conor McGregor for the Lightweight Championship, instead of McGregor competing in a charity bout against Dustin Poirier in 2021.
With his current style as a striker, Gaethje makes for an interesting matchup against most contenders in the division. There is no certainty on what his next matchup will look like, or when he will compete next.
2. Dustin Poirier (+250)
After failing to secure the Lightweight Championship in September of 2019, Dustin Poirier rebounded with an impressive win over Dan Hooker in June. In fact, Poirier landed 26 more strikes than his opponent during the unanimous decision victory.
Poirier and McGregor have already agreed to a bout that will take place at the start of 2021, but with Nurmagomedov’s retirement, could this become a matchup for the vacant title? Both fighters are coming off impressive wins, and have marketable personalities. Against McGregor, Poirier would enter as the early underdog at this time.
1. Conor McGregor (+150)
It could be a stretch, but with Nurmagomedov’s retirement, Conor McGregor could be viewed as the next-best contender in the Lightweight division. In January, it will mark one year since McGregor has defeated Donald Cerrone via KO/TKO in a mere 40 seconds.
However the UFC proceeds, McGregor should remain part of the Lightweight contender conversation. He is informally retired at this stage in his career, but has verbally agreed to a bout with Poirier for charity. If the opportunity to fight for the belt arises, expect for McGregor to enter as the favorite.
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