While there's no doubt Khabib Nurmagomedov is -- or was -- the best lightweight fighter in the world, and arguably the most dominant champion in UFC history, sometimes the best thing for a division is a bit off parity. With Nurmagomedov choosing to retire after his UFC 254 main event win over Justin Gaethje, the 155-pound division suddenly feels wide open in a way it did not with Nurmagomedov's complete lockdown at the top.
Between 2010 and Nurmagomedov's title win in early 2018, the lightweight title was won by six men. While Nurmagomedov reign did not last considerably longer than the standard title reign at 155 pounds, it did feel as though he would hold the title as long as he saw fit.
Lightweight title since 2010
2 (Draw def. Gray Maynard)
687 days (2010-2012)
2 (def. Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez)
552 days (2012-2013)
1 (def. Melendez)
560 days (2013-2015)
Rafael dos Anjos
1 (def. Donald Cerrone)
481 days (2015-2016)
128 days (2016)
|Conor McGregor||0||511 days (2016-2017)|
|Khabib Nurmagomedov||3 (def. McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje)||931 days (2018-2020)|
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor have verbally agreed to face each other on Jan. 23 in a fight that could easily be promoted to a bout for the vacant title. Of course, McGregor has added a wrinkle of wanting the fight to take place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas and a verbal agreement is much different than a signed contract, especially with as volatile a personality as McGregor.
Gaethje is still very much in the lightweight title mix. A loss to Nurmagomedov was more or less expected of Gaethje, just as it was for Poirier and McGregor before him. And the biggest win in the division with Nurmagomedov gone is Gaethje's dominant victory over Tony Ferguson this past May. Of course, Poirier also has a 2018 win over Gaethje, a win that speaks to just how volatile and chaotic the new lightweight division could be.
Ferguson also shouldn't be removed from the conversation of potential new division leaders. Prior to the loss to Gaethje -- which carries a small asterisk for being a late replacement fight early in the unprecedented chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic -- Ferguson was riding a 12-fight winning streak and had cemented himself as the next man up for Nurmagomedov. Of course, that fight fell apart on five separate occasions, leading to one of the sport's great "What if?" matchups.
The UFC also signed one of the best lightweight fighters in the world in Michael Chandler, the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion. Chandler could immediately enter the title picture, depending on his first performance on the biggest stage in the sport.
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This list of immediate title contender-level fighters doesn't even take into consideration a man like Dan Hooker, who took Poirier to the limit in June, or Charles Oliveira, who is undefeated in seven fights since 2018.
Looking at the lightweight division in a post-Nurmagomedov world is exciting not just because of the deep list of contenders for the title, but because of the fact that each man discussed is an all-action fighter.
While lightweight lost an all-time great, it may have been propelled into the most exciting time in the division's history. Now it's up to the UFC and the fighters themselves to make good on the opportunity created by Nurmagomedov's retirement.