March 17, 2017

UFC: Lightweight Divisional Disarray Makes It Hard For the Next Star To Emerge

By Raphael Garcia

Anticipation is a major part of combat sports. Conversations surrounding potential fights and a “who would beat who” mentality create a number of different alluring possibilities. However, there are points in time when the messiness of uncertainty becomes almost unbearable because there’s no clear path to correcting the situation. This is where the UFC finds itself with the lightweight division. While it seems like there are a number of possibilities to resolve it, the organization is limited at this point in time.

The conversation starts at the top. Current lightweight champion Conor McGregor is away from the sport tending to his growing family as they expect their first child. While this is an understandable reason to be away from competition, there’s also the lingering notion that he wants to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match. While mainstream outlets cover the story as if there’s going to be an announcement of a signed fight any day now, in MMA circles, there remains the fact that McGregor is a world champion without a potential return in mind. McGregor’s voice will always overpower the idea of someone else being considered the champion at 155 pounds, so the UFC has to continue making plans with him in mind.

The conversation also includes the moment at UFC 209 when the UFC, who had made a decision to move forward without McGregor, saw the situation fall apart at the seams. A fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov fell apart for the third time a mere day before the men were to meet in the Octagon for an interim title. With Nurmagomedov off the card and Ferguson not fighting Michael Johnson as a late replacement due to no title being on the line, the lightweight division was left with a massive void to fill.

Edson Barboza put on a violent display to stop Beneil Dariush at UFC Fight Night 106, but his recent defeat to Ferguson keeps him out of serious consideration for the role of a potential stand-in for an interim title bout. Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier are due to fight at UFC 211, but both of these men were dispatched by McGregor in rapid fashion and shouldn’t be in the title picture at this time. Rafael dos Anjos is moving up to welterweight. Johnson is coming off of a loss to Nurmagomedov. If the UFC wanted to book an interim title fight with anyone in the Top 10 of the division, its matchmakers would be hard pressed to find an individual to fill the position without some recent detraction standing in their way.

This was the danger that the UFC risked as McGregor become such a force within the sport. He held up the featherweight division and in circumstance is doing the same with the lightweight division. As the sport waits for his first title defense of any kind, the organization needs to move forward with building up a viable fighter’s name recognition to the point that he could hold the title and carry the division. Ferguson may seem like the front-runner, but that looming spectre of the thrice-failed bout with Nurmagomedov casts a dark shadow over any potential crowning.

The UFC needs to figure out how to fix the lightweight division. Conor McGregor is already a superstar; now it’s time for the UFC to build up the proper foil. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t have the tools available.

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