The UFC’s Stacked Lightweight Division, On the Move

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The UFC’s lightweight division is–and has been–one of the deepest and most competitive divisions in MMA history, and considering it is currently home to Conor McGregor–the most recognizable person in the history of MMA–it is worthy of significant interest and debate.  Conor McGregor has brought legitimate attention to the UFC, MMA, and the UFC’s lightweight division.  The recent activity and controversy in this division has created a sort of shakeup, and in the settling, numerous interesting possibilities.  The McGregor-Diaz fights, the beat-downs delivered by Khabib Nurmagomedov, the Khabib-Tony fallouts, the rise of Kevin Lee in the division and the recognition of Raging Al Iaquinta as a top contender, are all developments that draw deserved attention.  Considering the addage “if it makes dollars, it makes sense”, it is not hard to see the UFC making the Khabib vs. Conor rematch, but I don’t particularly want to see the immediate rematch, so I will discuss other possibilities here.  The following are some potential matchups in the UFC lightweight division top ten.  The asterisks connotate fights of significance and ones I would like to see.

*Khabib vs Tony:  Since Khabib’s and Conor’s immediate future is uncertain until NSAC gives them their official punishment, I will discuss other potential fights in the meantime and write a special piece on Khabib vs Tony soon.

*Raging Al Iaquinta vs The Notorious Conor McGregor:  The buildup would be phenomenal and the fight would be a barn-burner.  I’d give Raging Al the Edge here:  he is much more well-rounded than McGregor, can take a shot, and has phenomenal cardio.  Yes, it is true that Conor has the skills and the potential to knock out anyone in the early going, but he has always relied on creating a significant, psychological advantage to do so: his mind games have seemed to be able to freeze up fighters in the cage on fight night.  I don’t see this happening with Raging Al.

*Raging Al vs Nate Diaz:  If the Raging Al vs Conor fight doesn’t get made this could be a fun matchup.  The buildup would be fiery and these two would bang it out.  I’d give Al an advantage due to his being well-rounded and having a speed advantage.  Yes, Al would be at a reach disadvantage, but his toughness and well-rounded skills should overcome that.

Tony Ferguson vs Conor McGregor:  Conor could put Tony away early–because Tony does get hit–but if it goes into the second or third round Tony would outpace Conor and likely end up with a submission generated off of a scramble.

Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor 2:  Dustin deserves this fight, and I’d like to see him get it, but it just isn’t as sexy as some of the other potential matchups.  Dustin has been a beast and really on the upswing and could give McGregor a run for the money–especially since Conor has stumbled as of late.

*Kevin Lee vs Justin Gaethje:  Based on the rankings this matchup makes sense, but I am not sure it will get made.  I’d give Kevin Lee the edge here, due to his athleticism, reach, and his well-rounded skill set.

*Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz 3:  Everyone would like to see this rubber match, but again, Nate’s future seems uncertain in the UFC.  I see another battle between these two, but would give Conor the edge.  After defending takedowns well and surviving with Khabib on the ground, I think Conor would be able to keep it standing, as long as his cardio holds up.  In a three round fight I would give Conor a significant edge.

Conor McGregor vs Anthony Pettis:  This is a dream matchup for those who want to see a technical striking match.  I’d give McGregor the edge, especially the chance for a knockout early in the fight, but Pettis is a great striker and could outscore Conor over a 3 or 5 round fight.  In addition, if the fight went to the ground off a scramble, Pettis could get a submission.

Dustin Poirier vs Edson Barboza:  This is a matchup I could see happening, especially considering Barbosa’s dominant performance against Dan Hooker.  I understand that Dustin should be getting a higher ranked opponent, but this fight is one hardcore fans would like to see.  I’d definitely like to see it.

Justin Gaethje vs Nate Diaz:  This fight could be a banger for the ages, but who knows when (or if) Nate will return??  If this fight were to take place I would give Justin Gaethje the slight edge.  He has been more active and has a pretty well-rounded game.  However, it is worth considering that Nate has a significant reach advantage, and an iron chin.  But, when considering multiple factors, I do see Gaethje piecing up Nate with leg kicks and creating openings to land significant strikes.

The UFC’s lightweight division is deep and there are many interesting matchups to be made in 2019.  I am looking forward to seeing which matchups are made and if a 165lb division is created.  The creation of a 165lb division in the UFC could affect the lightweight division matchups, or at least the timeline of some.  Either way there are monsters in and around the lightweight division and I can not wait to see what happens next.  Happy New Year!

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