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Making Sense of the UFC Lightweight Division

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The UFC lightweight division is arguably the strongest division in the sport and possibly in the sport’s history. Never has there been so many contenders with an opportunity to go on a championship run. With the ‘retirement‘ of the champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, the division is wide open. We take a look at some of the fights already made, suggest potential fights that should be made and look ahead to future contenders.

Booked Fights

UFC 256

As it stands, we only have two fights booked inside of the UFC lightweight division top 10. That being said, what a phenomenal two fights they are. UFC 256 will see one of the most exciting match-ups the UFC lightweight division has to offer. The return of ‘El Cucuy’, Tony Ferguson, who steps back into the octagon following his loss to Justin Gaethje. This loss marked his first since 2012, snapping a 12 fight winning run. Although the loss was devastating, don’t let that take away from Ferguson’s ability. He’s legitimately one of the best mixed martial artists the game has seen. He possesses devastating striking and a slick ground game which sees him snatch necks, legs or anything he can get his hands on. What makes him so impressive is the shots that he can take and keep walking forwards, embodying the ‘El Cucuy’ name.

His return will be far from straight forward, however. He runs into ‘Do Bronx’, Charles Oliveira. The Brazillian is arguably the most in-form man in the UFC lightweight division. Enjoying a phenomenal seven-fight win streak, all of which have been finishes, Oliveria is a dangerous man at 155lbs. He’s the holder of the most submissions in UFC history, along with 16 post-fight bonuses.

With Ferguson ranked #3 in the division and Oliveria #6, the winner of this one could see themselves face the winner of the UFC 257 main event for the lightweight strap.

UFC 257

You may have heard that ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor will be making an octagon return? His opponent? A former foe in, Dustin Poirier. In their first encounter (a whopping six years ago), McGregor TKO’d ‘The Diamond’ inside two minutes. That being said, the American has come on leaps and bounds since that bout, going 10-2-1 since the 2014 fight. One of these losses was to the champion, it’s worth noting. Poirier is ranked #2 but will enter the bout as an underdog.

With McGregor having only competed twice at lightweight, both in title fights, he’s (strangely) ranked #4. He’s without a win in the 155lbs division since 2016, but what are rankings when the golden goose is concerned? UFC 257 will mark almost a year to the day since McGregor last competed, will ring rust be a factor? If his last performance is anything to go by you can’t believe it will.

The bout will likely determine the next contender for the belt, that is if Nurmagomedov doesn’t return. Be sure to tune into UFC 257 to see what this highly anticipated rematch has to offer.

Matchmaking

With four of the top 10 booked, we look ahead to the fighters left without a fight. There are a number of names that stick out. Former interim champion and #1 Justin Gaethje isn’t booked and nor is promotional newcomer, Michael ChandlerDan Hooker is without a scheduled bout, nor is returning former champion, Rafael dos Anjos. Further down the rankings, Paul FelderDiego FerreiraAl IaquintaBeneil DariushIslam MakhachevKevin LeeDrew Dober and Gregor Gillespie are all without fights as of yet.

Fights to make:

  • Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker
  • Rafael dos Anjos vs. Islam Makhachev
  • Diego Ferreira vs. Drew Dober
  • Kevin Lee vs. Beneil Dariush
  • Paul Felder vs. Gregor Gillespie

There is one omission from this list… Gaethje. Gaethje could find himself as an alternative for the UFC 257 main event in either a rematch with Poirier or an exciting bout with McGregor. That being said, Iaquinta is without a fight but it would certainly be a big step down in the rankings for Gaethje, although it would be a fun fight.

Looking Ahead to Future Contenders

There are a number of contenders that could come to fruition in the future. Alexander Hernandez looked good in his most recent bout, bouncing back from a TKO loss to Dober. Arman Tsarukyan is also a prospect at 155lbs. He’s scheduled to face Nasrat Hasrat Haqparast, who himself bounced back from a loss to Dober recently. Tsarukyan has only lost to Makhachev in the past five years but has notched two big wins since.

Renato Moicano also has the chance to make a run in the UFC lightweight division, having moved up from 145lbs. He’ll only make a run, however, if he can get past fellow prospect Rafael Fiziev in December.

If Spaniard, Joel Alvarez is able to put a few wins together, he could also break into the top 15 in a few years. At 18-2, the rangey submission specialist is 3-1 in the UFC. Alvarez could see himself run into fellow prospect, Ottman Azaitar if the two continue to pick up victories. At 13-0 (2-0 in the UFC), Azaitar is scheduled to face Matt Frevola at UFC 257.

Retired?

All of this could just be hot air, however, if the ‘former’ undefeated champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov makes a return. Both Dana White and Nurmagomedov himself have hinted that he may not be retired after all…

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Frazer is a 24 year old MMA and boxing enthusiast from Coventry, England. You can follow Frazer on twitter @Frazer_Krohn

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