Last week, I wrote in an article here at MMANews.com that, in the wake of UFC 223, I believed Eddie Alvarez was the front-runner for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lightweight crown. With Alvarez coming off of a massive knockout win over Justin Gaethje back at UFC 218, plus the way he matches up stylistically, I believed he was the top guy in the running for Nurmagomedov. That’s especially the case because former champ Conor McGregor’s legal issues are likely to keep him sidelined for a while, and former interim champ Tony Ferguson suffered a freak injury and is likely to miss a significant amount of time himself following surgery. But following this past Saturday’s UFC on FOX 29, another fighter has officially entered the running.
After a thrilling fourth-round knockout win over Gaethje in the main event of UFC on FOX 29, Dustin Poirier has stamped his name as a title contender. With Poirier going undefeated in his last four fights and 7-1, 1 NC as a lightweight overall, the native of Lafayette, Louisiana is right there with Alvarez in regards to a title shot after taking home “Fight of the Night” bonuses in three of his last four fights and going unbeaten in those contests. The 29-year-old American is coming off of back-to-back wins over Gaethje and former champion Anthony Pettis now and UFC president Dana White himself admitted that Poirier is “absolutely” in the running to get a crack at Nurmagomedov, who figures to fight again in the fall or winter following a religious-based absence for the champion. With McGregor and Ferguson out, Poirier and Alvarez — who famously fought to a controversial No Contest last year at UFC 211 — are the de facto contenders for Nurmagomedov’s title, and both men would be well deserving considering their exciting, destructive victories over Gaethje in both fighters’ last bouts.
It’s ultimately going to come down to two main factors when it comes to Nurmagomedov’s opponent. The first is timing, and the second is drawing power, because both guys already have the merit — usually the most important criteria — to land a crack at the belt. Each guy is coming off of a beautiful knockout win over Gaethje in amazing fights so the UFC can truly do no wrong when it comes to their selection for the next title shot. When it comes to timing, we have to keep in mind Nurmagomedov celebrates Ramadan and he will not be fighting this summer because of his religious belief. That’s fine, plus he deserves a break after the craziness that was UFC 223. So let’s peg Nurmagomedov for a return anywhere from September to December, likely as the headliner for one of the UFC’s last three pay-per-view cards of the year. By that point, someone else may have emerged as a contender for his title. But for the sake of this piece, let’s assume the top two guys in the mix are still Alvarez and Poirier.
If the choice is indeed between Alvarez or Poirier, the UFC can truly make no bad pick as both men have ample highlight material for the UFC to promote either guy and both have the stand-up ability that makes a fight against the current lightweight king interesting. But given Alvarez’ history of headlining pay-per-views and drawing big numbers, he would likely get the nod first. Here’s the thing, though. If Nurmagomedov isn’t fighting again for six-plus months, maybe the UFC could book a rematch between Alvarez and Poirier with a title shot on the line. Both guys have so much unfinished business after the first fight so a rematch is welcome, and would basically serve as an interim title fight while Nurmagomedov is out. Of course, both guys may not want to fight again and risk injury, plus Poirier is healing up right now from those nasty kicks Gaethje threw at him. But ideally, since it’s such a tough choice to pick between Poirier and Alvarez for who gets the next title shot, a rematch between these two studs makes a lot of sense.
Ultimately, the UFC can do no wrong booking Nurmagomedov’s next opponent as both Poirier and Alvarez are well deserving of a title shot with McGregor and Ferguson being out. It’s possible a new contender could emerge in the time Nurmagomedov is sidelined due to his religious-based absence, but as of right now Poirier and Alvarez are the top two contenders for the lightweight belt, and they likely still will be six months from now. A rematch would be welcome between these two in the meantime to determine the next title contender, but if that’s impossible the UFC is going to be forced to choose one of them. And honestly, considering both Alvarez and Poirier are coming off of destructive knockout wins over Gaethje in “Fight of the Year” candidates, the UFC can’t make a bad pick here, but Alvarez ultimately may get the tiebreaker as he’s the former champion and deserves that respect.
Do you think Dustin Poirier is a viable challenger for Khabib Nurmagomedov?