What Do We Do With Khabib Nurmagomedov?
What is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Next Step?
UFC 219, was a lackluster card that really only served one purpose. It confirmed what many of us suspected but struggled to verbalize. With respect to “El Cucuy”, Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best lightweight in the world.
But what the hell do we do with that information?
We sort of already knew that. However, as I said before, we struggled to verbalize it and when we did, often missed the whole picture. It’s difficult to describe how good he is. And it’s even more difficult to describe exactly how he is able to decimate a division with a seemingly one dimensional, yet uberly destructive fight plan. But perhaps the most difficult thing to put into words is what we do with him. Because, as is heavily noted, Khabib just finds ways out of fights. Now I don’t mean he runs or fakes injuries to get out of competing. I simply mean, whether it be through injury or weight cutting problems, he has failed to remain even semi-active.
Which is what brings us to the overall issue.
What Do We Do With Khabib Nurmagomedov?
As much as I love him, I hate to even say his name when talking about the lightweight division due to his total neglect of the division he is champion of. However, given his current status and because we’re talking about a contender in that division, i’ve got to.
Conor McGregor is the “real” champion. Tony Ferguson holds the “fake” belt. But what is real and what is fake at this point?
We are (in some respect) forced to consider a fight with Conor as being the “real title shot”. And by all accounts, Khabib deserves that opportunity. But Ferguson holds the interim title. Which means he should get the shot if and when Conor returns.
So what do we do? Well, the obvious answer is to book Ferguson x Nurmagomedov for the first quarter and determine the next challenger. But we’ve got to pour through the variables involved with that decision.
#1: Will the Fight actually happen?
I really hate doing this. Especially after watching one of the most impressive performances i’ve ever seen. Khabib Nurmagomedov walked into the cage with the #4 ranked lightweight, which is the deepest division in combat sports, and one of the most dangerous strikers on the planet and walked out without a scratch. He did so over 15 minutes, mauling Barboza without absorbing any significant strikes and arguably besting him on the feet. How was he able to do that? Because he’s the best grappler in the history of the UFC and can do, essentially whatever he wants with that trump card. But, I digress.
With all that said, he’s fought four times in just under four years with a hiatus lasting 2 years and most recently one lasting 13 months. And if that’s not enough, the Tony x Khabib fight is nothing new. It’s been booked 3 times previously and has been rumored for years now.
It’s most recent brush with reality was a co-main slot on UFC 209 for the interim title. And as we all know, Khabib landed in the hospital the day before and was pulled, forcing a title fight and Ferguson off the card. That’s an enormous stain on the reputation of “The Eagle”. But this situation is nothing new. We’ve had this experience with AKA teammate, Cain Velasquez.
Why do I bring this up? Because I insisted Cain fight at least twice before he was given a shot at the title to prove he could stay healthy and not destroy a card by having to pull out. So, while I think Khabib deserves the fight and while I hate to dwell on the negative, do we want to go down this road again?
Yes, we do. But i’m bracing.
And though Khabib appeared to make weight with ease, reports indicate he was on weight the night before, can he do it on a consistent basis? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter, for better or for worse, the UFC must continue to book this bout until we finally get to see it happen.
#2 Shouldn’t this be for the “Real” belt?
So we’re gonna start defending interim titles now?
Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov is the fight to make. But shouldn’t it be for the undisputed title?
After all, Conor won the belt over a year ago but still has yet to even seriously entertain a defense. Tony, for all intents and purposes, cleaned out the division and won the interim strap. And Khabib just took out a top-5 lightweight and ascended to an unbelievable 25-0. These are the two best lightweights in my eyes, but it’s tainted a bit. Because we cannot count Conor out. He’s a tremendous fighter whose skills are often overlooked because of his brash personality and loud antics. But he doesn’t fight. And he seems pretty content sitting on the sidelines waiting for the UFC to up their price. So, #defendorvacate is real. It’s a shame it’s come to this but it doesn’t seem right for this fight to be booked under the guise of an interim title defense.
Interim titles are not to be defended. Their placeholders for #1 contender status and symbols of the fighter’s right to fight for the undisputed title. Now, if Tony was holding on to this title for so long due to injury of the champion, that’s one thing. But Conor at least appears to be completely healthy and is just holding the division up. It’s a problem the UFC has been dealing with for a while but one they can end quickly. Strip him and make Ferguson x Nurmagomedov for the undisputed title.
After all, Conor has always said he’s his own title fight. “Moneyweight” and all that good stuff. So let him defend that belt. It will make it easy to book him and Diaz for their trilogy fight while letting the lightweight division move on from it’s hijacking. Conor not having a title subtracts nothing from his drawing power. If the trilogy is booked, no casual will know there isn’t a title on the line and no serious fight fan will care.
Easy solution. Time for the UFC to show they still hold power in that relationship.
What is the Answer?
Well, you already know it. Book the fight the fans want to see and let the chips fall where they may.
Rumors are that Conor will return in the summer and while I think the UFC would be just in stripping him, I don’t really care. Because we know what Ferg x Khabib represents. Titles and rankings are for the casuals. We know when those two fighters take to the cage, it will be the best two lightweights on the planet. Whether it’s official or not.
So, to that end, I suggest we all just breathe. I’m seeing a lot of anger on social media in response to how Conor has handled his championship reign. But that does nothing. The UFC is gonna do whatever they want just as Conor will. So just relax.
Titles mean nothing, rankings mean nothing and hype means nothing. Belts are for show.
*Max Holloway voice*
It is what it is.