Now that International Fight Week is over, we have a lot to talk about.
UFC 200 became the largest event in MMA history, three new champions were crowned, Brock Lesnar won in his return and the UFC was sold for $4 billion. With all the excitement that has taken place over the last week, it is important to take stock and see where the sport stands. Here is the state of the UFC's lightweight division.
The 155-pound division has a newly crowned champion after Eddie Alvarez defeated Rafael Dos Anjos on the Thursday night fight card of International Fight Week. Alvarez came in with a great game plan, avoided any serious damage that RDA was trying to inflict, and came out with a first round TKO to establish himself as the premier lightweight fighter in the world.
Now that Alvarez has the belt, it is time to figure out who his first title defense will be against. RDA will be calling for an immediate rematch, and he may have some legs to stand on. Dos Anjos went on one of the most impressive win streaks in UFC history to win the belt. His four fights prior to Alvarez were against Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone and all were dominant wins. Pettis appeared to be one of the greatest fighters in the UFC and RDA defeated him with ease. The one drawback for Dos Anjos is that he only successfully defended his belt once. It may be time to give the rest of the division a shot.
The next logical opponent would be the No. 1 contender, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov is 23-0 in his professional MMA career and 7-0 in the UFC. He has long been considered one of the premiere 155 pounders in the world and has been waiting for a title shot for some time. The biggest drawback is his tendency to pick up injuries. A part of American Kickboxing Academy, Nurmagomedov has picked up multiple injuries that saw him out of the Octagon for two years. He has returned and looked strong against Darrell Horcher, but we will have to wait and see how he performs against the division's best.
Nurmagomedov was supposed to return to the UFC to fight No. 3 Tony Fergusson, but it was Fergusson who pulled out of the April fight with blood and fluid in his lungs. El Cucuy will fight on the July 13 card in Sioux Falls. Originally slated to face Michael Chiesa, he now will fight Lando Vannata. A win tonight would bring his win streak to eight, the longest such streak in the division. While that would earn most people a shot at the belt, the matchmakers of the UFC may want to see Nurmagomedov and Fergusson finally face off and the winner get the title shot.
Diaz may also find himself in the Octagon competing for a title once again if he keeps up his fame. Diaz has mostly been in the news for slapping Dana White and beating Conor McGregor in their welterweight bouts. He will rematch Mystic Mac at UFC 202 and a win would cement him as an incredible fighter. Why wouldn't the UFC want to capitalize on that success? Diaz could jump the three fighters ahead of him in the rankings and finally return to his proper division. He can thank McGregor for this potential chance.
However, much of the rest of the division is a bit of an enigma. No. 5 Cerrone has long been great at 155, but has found recent success at 170. His next fight will once again be at welterweight against Rick Story and he seems to enjoy the smaller weight cut. We may have seen the last of Cowboy at lightweight.
Edson Barboza has long been a talented and exciting UFC fighter, but he has failed to be consistent as of late. He has not won back to back fights since 2014 and has lost three of his last seven. He seems to digress whenever he fights a high level opponent, with exception to his most recent win against Pettis. The former champion may not be a win to brag about for much longer. He is in free fall after three straight losses and has seemed to have lost his identity as a fighter. He is set to face off against Charles Oliveira in August, a fight he should win. But a loss would be absolutely devastating for Pettis and may make him drop outside the top 10.
Dustin Poirier has found recent success inside the Octagon by winning his last four fights, but none of them were against guys currently in the top 15. While he has impressed in those fights with three knockouts and two performance of the night awards, it is still unclear whether he can compete against anyone else in the top 10. While no one is questioning his talent level, Chiesa is currently recovering from his injury that is keeping him off the Sioux Falls card. It is unclear how serious the back injury is and when we can anticipate his return.
Though there are several question marks at lightweight, there is one particular promising prospect on the horizon for the division. Will Brooks made his UFC debut on the TUF 23 Finale card where he picked up a unanimous decision win against veteran Ross Pearson. Prior to entering the Octagon he dominated in Bellator, winning eight straight before switching promotions. His one fight jumped him to No. 12 in the rankings and he is looking to crack the top 10 soon. He is definitely the fighter to keep your eyes on in the coming year.
RDA losing the belt has shaken up one of the most talent filled divisions in the UFC. Any of the top four contenders could arguably contend for the belt and any fight between them would be explosive. Alvarez has brought a lot of uncertainty to the division, but he is looking to add some stability by going on a long title defense streak. The lightweight division is not the one to sleep on in the coming year.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)