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8/10/16: Five Fights to Make in UFC’s Lightweight Division
The UFC’s lightweight field is in flux with Eddie Alvarez’s UFC Title win, so today we look at five of the best fights to be made in the division from the top down.
5. Michael Chiesa vs. Al Iaquinta II: These two fought in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter’s only live season, and they’ve only gotten better since that time. Chiesa’s on the mend after being forced out of a fight with Tony Ferguson, and Iaquinta himself is returning from an injury layoff sometime later this year. The talk has been of an Iaquinta bout with longtime welterweight Thiago Alves, which works, but if Chiesa can heal up soon enough that’s probably a fight Iaquinta might want to try getting back, and it would be even more competitive and entertaining than it was in 2012.
4. Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson: Fans in Hidalgo, Texas, have an excellent fight on their hands in the five round main event on Sept. 17, as the fast-rising Poirier welcomes Johnson back to the cage for the first time in 2016. Poirier’s been violent and highly impressive since moving up from featherweight, finding new life after eliminating a debilitating weight cut. Johnson’s wrestling game, combined with the occasional power punching finish, make him a well rounded and dangerous test. This is a statement-making fight for both, and the winner will find themselves in a very good spot as 2016 winds down.
3. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza: If I’m Joe Silva right now, I want to see a healthy Khabib Nurmagomedov get one more win within the year before building an event around him in a title fight. If I’m Edson Barboza, I want an opportunity to fight for the title myself, and beating the undefeated Dagestani after taking out a former champ and two-time title challenger in back to back fights would do that. Nurmagomedov’s merit as a title contender isn’t really in question given his run and the clear win he holds over former champ Rafael dos Anjos. However, the two-year injury layoff between fights is concerning, and the UFC should want to see him shake that off entirely after his return came against a last minute replacement.
2. Tony Ferguson vs. Rafael dos Anjos: The Mexico City main event in November is a perfect opportunity for both fighters. Ferguson’s been on the most significant winning streak in the division this side of Nurmagomedov, and dos Anjos needs to get back to a title fight after dropping the belt last month. Ferguson believes he’s the best fighter in the division, and beating the former champion will go a long way towards letting him prove that. A win here may very well set up a title shot, while dos Anjos can keep himself very close to that title mix with a win of his own.
1. Eddie Alvarez vs. Nate Diaz/Conor McGregor winner: Though Nurmagomedov wants this title shot, the right fight to make will be Nate Diaz should Diaz defeat Conor McGregor a second time later this month. And on that end, McGregor-Alvarez is a much more intriguing fight than Alvarez-Nurmagomedov should the Featherweight Champion exact revenge at UFC 202. Obviously the UFC and Jose Aldo want McGregor to drop back down after the Diaz fight, but that cut still may not be realistic for him after bulking up for 170 lbs, and would make lightweight his better, more natural weight class. Stylistically both Diaz and McGregor are fighters who can bring out Alvarez’s best the same way we saw in the Rafael dos Anjos fight, so if the UFC wants the most thrilling Lightweight Title fight they can book, it’s going to be between Alvarez and one of these two.
[Photo (c) Bob DeChiara via USA Today Sports]
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