So UFC 219 is tonight and with it comes the return of one the most intriguing, frustrating fighters in UFC history: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov. The dominant Dagestan-native is 24-0 and has long possessed a championship level grappling game with some great boxing to boot. However, he couldn’t even make it to weigh ins at UFC 209 which set in motion Tony Ferguson’s ascent to the Interim throne at 155 lbs while Conor McGregor was out collecting a $100 million payday from Floyd Mayweather. This all leads us to today, UFC 219 and Khabib’s fight against Edson Barboza, and in my honest-to-God suspicion, another step in the long term plan regarding the 155lb division and Conor McGregor….
Beyond being a championship level fighter, The Eagle is also a star/main event money maker in the making. His brutal ground and pound combined with his terse yet comical, Russian-accented mic skills make for an excellent package for the UFC and the man himself to cash in on in a big way. To that end, there really aren’t many fights that make sense right now for the Undisputed Lightweight Champion, Conor Mcgregor, to take. No offense to Tony Ferguson, who has built up quite the name for himself both in and outside the Octagon, but McGregor-Ferguson just isn’t a fight people are totally clamoring for yet.
What they are clamoring for, and have been, is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s shot at the belt and whoever holds it. He’s a draw already, even if his true superstar potential has yet to be reached. The UFC knows that. Conor knows that. Khabib knows that. So with Conor taking 2017 to box and Khabib not fighting until now due to an embarrassing failed weight cut at the aforementioned UFC 209 in March, they allowed the interim 155 belt to be decided. They let Tony due his thing. They gave Khabib time to get ready. What everyone wants -the UFC, Conor, Khabib, and A LOT of the fans – is for Khabib to win tonight against a verrrry tough Edson Barboza and then beat Tony for the right to fight Conor. Think about it. Why did Dana White recently say he hopes Conor is back by the summer? Conor is probably ready at a few months notice (Feb, March, April). As is Tony Ferguson, who recently had a minor surgery but shouldn’t be shelved too long. If they wanted to book that fight for the spring they could. OR, they could stall, let Khabib sort his shit out in the form of hiring rising star in the fighter nutrition/weight cut world Tyler Minton, win a couple fights, and book McGregor-Nurmagomedov for late summer/early fall. It makes too much sense for all involved.
Now this also comes with huge risks. I mean this all could play out the EXACT opposite, Edson Barboza could beat both The Eagle and Ferguson and make for an awkward contender for McGregor’s belt. Or Ferguson could win the already twice-cancelled fight between he and Nurmagomedov and McGregor and the UFC might have to eat that fight to find get to what’s next (again, hopefully, in their minds). Above and beyond all this, Nurmagomedov isn’t the most active fighter we’ve seen, having only fought 8 times in the almost 6 years he has been in the UFC. 3 fights in 6-9 months, let’s say, would be a drastic shift Combat Sambo World Champion.
In conclusion I think the last few months to a year in the 155 pound division represents a lot of business saavy from multiple parties who are doing all they can to set up a MASSIVE fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. The next step to make that fight happens has to be taken by Khabib. Tonight.