Horror behind hurt: Battle for next UFC Lightweight Champion is promising

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Psycho, Scream and The Shinning are quintessential horror movie classics to watch on Halloween with your family or friends. If horror movies are not your vibe, then perhaps a childhood classic such as Halloween Town or Twitches will resonate just as well. However, the next best horror movie is currently in the works: the battle for the new UFC Lightweight championship.

The UFC lightweight division has some of the greatest fighters ever to enter the octagon. Legends such as B.J. Penn and Conor Mcgregor have aided in the continuous rise of both the division and the sport as a whole. On top of that, there have been many entertaining fights in the division this year; the anticipation has only grown after UFC 254.

Last Saturday, Khabib Nurmagomedov retained his belt with a submission win over Justin Gaethje in the second round. What followed was an emotional response from the champion, as he began to cry in the center of the octagon. It made perfect sense to see Nurmagomedov in a flood of emotions as he had lost his father to complications from COVID-19 back in July and experienced a rougher training camp than usual. But it did not end there.

“Today was my last fight,” uttered Nurmagomedov to commentator John Anik in the post-fight interview.

Nurmagomedov ended with a perfect 29-0 record, posting a 13-0 run in the UFC and finishing as the number one UFC pound for pound fighter. His submission skills were legendary and he never failed to put away the competition. It’s hard not to consider what may be lost. An epic rematch versus McGregor or booking the “cursed” Tony Ferguson fight for the sixth time will seemingly forever fall under the “what if?” category.

Yet, with such a loss, there is always something gained.

With the talent pool in the UFC lightweight division consisting of Gaethje, Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, Dan Hooker, Paul Felder, Diego Ferreira and many others, the matchup potential is endless.

The best fight for the belt is pairing either Gaethje, Poirier or Ferguson against McGregor if he decides to fight again. If not, a rematch between Gaethje and Poirier would be exciting to watch, as Gaethje has grown since that second loss in his career. Poirier is also coming off a substantial war against Hooker back in June, which means he is ready to face anything thrown his way.

Out of these three top-ranked fighters, Poirier and Ferguson have not faced each other. Considering how it failed to come to fruition at UFC 254, this matchup could decide who is most deserving to face off against Gaethje or McGregor for the title.

Beyond the belt’s movement, Hooker fighting Charles Olivera or taking part in a rematch with Felder could decide who is truly worthy of maintaining the fifth-ranked spot. Kevin Lee facing off against Ferreira will have a similar approach in determining who should be up next to fight Al Iaquinta or top-five talent in general. As for below the top ten fighters, Nurmagomedov’s teammate Islam Makhachev might slide into the top ten with a win over fighters like Lee or Ferreria.

Even with this abundance of matchups taking place in the future, there could also be featherweight fighters moving up ten pounds to take on lightweight talent. Though unsuccessful in his first time against Poirier, Max Holloway carries a two-fight losing streak against Alexander Volkanovski, which may mean a change of scenery for the former champion. Speaking of Volkanovski, the potential to be one of the few fighters in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously can lead to a move up that would draw even more attention, as two champions will always attract more of a crowd than one.

Other fighters in featherweight that can bring a new dynamic of talent and competition to the lightweight division include Brian Ortega, Yair Rodríguez and Chan Sung Jung. The idea of seeing a crossover fight between talented strikers such as Rodriguez and Gaethje, or Jung and Poirier promises entertainment and blood spilled somewhere on the canvas.

What makes all of these possible fights so excitingly scary are these matchups’ potential intensity and the anticipation of what might come next. If Gaethje wins the belt, he may not keep it for long, and the next to claim it will surely do whatever is possible to sit atop the throne. There is no clear sense of direction, which is sure to leave fans craving more and more.

Losing Nurmagomedov may feel like a gut punch now, but the endless possibilities for lightweight division matchups in upcoming years should have fans both terrified and excited.

Raven Gatson is a sports staff writer. Contact her at [email protected].