While the UFC lightweight title picture remains murky, things at least are starting to come into focus.
Let’s start with two important developments.
First, RT Sport reported today, citing venue officials, that the UFC has booked Moscow’s Olympic Stadium for Sept. 14 and 15 to bring an event to Russia for the first time. If that happens, there’s no doubt the plan would be to have Khabib Nurmagomedov, a bona fide star in his home country, included on the card.
There’s also talk of UFC 223 coming to Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 7. Although nothing is official, a person with knowledge of the situation has told MMAjunkie that is the plan. This matters to Nurmagomedov’s more immediate future, because Brooklyn’s large Russian population and the promotion’s desire to bring a major headliner to the Big Apple make UFC 223 perfect for his next booking.
It’s also important to note that the two planned events coincide with his desired fight schedule for 2018. Following his UFC 219 dismantling of Edson Barboza less than two weeks ago, Nurmagomedov said he wanted three fights in 2018: once before May, followed by September and December. A devout Muslim, Nurmagomedov won’t fight during Ramadan, which begins May 15.
When you consider all of that, UFC President Dana White’s recent assessment of the lightweight title picture surrounding champion Conor McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC), interim titleholder Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) makes complete sense.
“As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib vs. Tony … and then the winner fights Conor for the title,” White told Yahoo! Sports earlier this month. “Or, if Conor wants to sit out until next fall, then we’d have to make Khabib vs. Tony for the title – not the interim title.”
The recent announcement of a featherweight title fight headliner between Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar for UFC 222 on March 3 in Las Vegas obviously means McGregor, who hasn’t fought MMA since winning his belt in November 2016, isn’t coming back by then. And since we haven’t heard anything to indicate otherwise, a McGregor return in April also seems like a stretch.
What looks probable – at least to me – is McGregor sits out until the fall as White hinted at, is stripped of his title, and Ferguson defends the undisputed championship against Nurmagomedov at UFC 223. The outcome would directly impact the potential Russia event in September.
Win or lose, you’d expect Nurmagomedov to fight in Russia regardless. A win over Ferguson, though, would likely all but guarantee McGregor’s return for a showdown with Nurmagomedov in Russia, something White told MMAjunkie last year was on McGregor’s radar.
We’re not quite there yet, but the definitive answers to the burning questions surrounding the UFC lightweight title picture should be coming soon.
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
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