When the UFC inaugurated its first weight classes, there were only two divisions: the Lightweight (200 pounds and below) and the Heavyweight (200 pounds and above). In a previous article, we discussed the state of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Thus, in this feature we are going to carefully examine, analyze and scrutinize the UFC’s Lightweight division.
It’s safe to say that the Lightweight is the deepest division in the UFC. No other weight class of the UFC can claim of having a deeper roster of fighters than the Lightweight. There are a total of ninety-nine highly talented fighters in the UFC’s 155 pounds division.
The Lightweight division has vicious strikers like Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson as well as suffocating submission experts such as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Joe Lauzon. It also accommodates veterans like Jim Miller as well as upcoming, young prospects like Sage Northcutt and Lando Vannata.
When Conor McGregor won the 155 pounds belt at UFC 205, the entire sporting world took notice. Internet exploded and fans were sent into frenzy. However, in this entire razzmatazz, a lot of fighters in the division have been forgotten as McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Nate Diaz hog all the spotlight. Many other fighters might not have the charisma and popularity, but they surely do have the skill to cement their position in the upper echelon of the 155 pounds division.
Thus, the 155 pounds division is a mishmash of promising, young fighters as well as veterans. So let’s separate the sheep from the goat and analyze where the lightweight division lies before its first interim champion is crowned.
Conor McGregor was expected to face former lightweight king, Rafael Dos Anjos. However, the Brazilian got injured and pulled out of the fight. “Mystic Mac” faced Nate Diaz instead at UFC 196 and lost the fight via submission due to a rear-naked choke. He then faced Diaz in a rematch at UFC 202 and won the fight via majority decision. Many eyebrows were raised when “Mystic Mac” got the title shot against then lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. However, the Irishman remained unfazed by all the criticism and questions about him receiving an undeserving title shot in most people’s eyes.
At UFC 205, as soon as the referee ‘Big’ John McCarthy yelled “Let’s fight” and initiated the fight, “Mystic Mac” started obliterating “The Underground king” with huge punches and vicious kicks. Alvarez somehow managed to survive the first round. However, McGregor turned the lights off for the American with a brilliant four punch combination in the second round. Hence, he became the first fighter in UFC history to hold two title belts simultaneously.
He is a vicious striker who has mastered the art of knocking people out. His grappling game has been his primary achilles heel. However, in recent fights he has shown considerable improvement in his takedown defense. Thus, the champion is surely improving his overall game.
A lot of voices have been raised about the credibility of his title reign. Many people believe him to be just a paper champion, as “Mystic Mac” has a knack for not defending his title belts. A vast majority of the fans feel that the Irishman might not defend his title against Khabib or Ferguson and will instead face Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing match. All this incertitude and scepticism surrounding McGregor’s MMA career has put the future of 155 pounds title into jeopardy.
Numerous fans and pundits have an unfavorable opinion of McGregor’s MMA future and legacy. Thus, this should serve as extra motivation for “The Notorious” to prove his critics wrong. He holds the most prestigious lightweight title in MMA, which certainly makes him the best lightweight on the planet. If he can successfully make a few title defenses, it will surely cement his legacy. He has the power to knock-out almost all the fighters in the division. However, overcoming “The Eagle” or “El Cucuy” will surely be a herculean task for the Irishman.
The Title Challengers
Khabib Nurmagomedov is quite easily the best grappler in the division. His grappling skills can be quantified to be at a similar level to those of Demian Maia, ‘Jacare’ Souza and Fabricio Werdum. All three of Maia, Souza and Werdum are BJJ practitioners whereas Khabib is a high level Sambo practitioner who also holds a black-belt in Judo. Apart from his immense Sambo and Judo skills, “The Eagle” also has splendid wrestling ability and regularly trains with great wrestlers such as Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez.
The skillful Dagestani grappler is still undefeated in his MMA career with an astounding record of 24-0. His record surely warrants respect from fans, pundits as well as any potential opponents. However, a lot of his critics have argued that Nurmagomedov still hasn’t faced many top fighters. Thus, his undefeated record doesn’t make him the uncrowned champion of the division, as he is still untested against high ranked opponents.
The oft-injured Russian will take on Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson at UFC 209. Ferguson might be the most dangerous opponent “The Eagle” will ever face in his career. The American has great stand-up skills and more than satisfactory grappling skills. Thus, his fighting style might prove to be the unstoppable Russian’s kryptonite. However, if Nurmagomedov can consistently land takedowns against Ferguson, then his victory is surely ensured.
In the 155 pounds division, “El Cucuy” is most certainly the man to beat. His career is on an all time high, as he is riding a wave of a nine fight winning streak. If there were any doubts about his ability, he has certainly quashed them with his highly impressive victories over Edson Barboza and Rafael Dos Anjos. He is a physical specimen who holds an unreal reach of 76.5” for someone of his height. His massive reach gives him a huge advantage against his opponents. RDA can certainly vouch about how much trouble he experienced in closing the distance in his fight against “El Cucuy”.
Apart from possessing great stand-up skills, he is also a decent grappler with great takedown defense. His amateur NCWA wrestling background and his mastery in submitting people with vicious D’Arce chokes have given him submission victories even over BJJ black-belts like Gleison Tibau.
Thus, his brilliant stand-up skills combined with decent grappling technique might help him in becoming the interim Lightweight champion over the unstoppable Russian at UFC 209.
On the verge of title contention
Edson ‘Junior’ Barboza is a Brazilian mixed martial artist who is primarily known to be a dangerous striker. He is well-known for his phenomenal kicking based striking game. UFC commentator and pundit Joe Rogan has often stated that the Brazilian is probably the best kicker in MMA. His leg kicks are known to be even more vicious than those of Jose Aldo, RDA and Renan Barao.
‘Junior’ is a fighter who has always been just a few steps away from a title shot. He was expected to be in title contention if he could triumph over ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. However, he fell short and Cerrone submitted him. He was then expected to be in title contention if he could defeat top contender, Tony Ferguson. However, he again lost in a barn burner of a fight.
With the help of impressive victories over Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, he has risen up to fifth in the UFC Lightweight rankings. He is currently expected to face Beneil Dariush. If he can defeat Dariush and win another fight against a top contender, then the Brazilian kicking machine might find himself in the title picture.
Still a long way to go
When Alvarez won the title, he was termed to be fortunate. Many fans as well as pundits claimed that he was fortunate to secure the title shot and got lucky against RDA. He was expected to cement his position as a true champion and prove his critics wrong by successfully defending his title against Conor McGregor. However, he was slept by McGregor’s big, powerful punches in the second round.
His next opponent is currently tentative. However, there is some hearsay that he might face Michael Chiesa in his next fight. Even if he manages to defeat Chiesa, he will still have to win at least 4-5 more fights against top 10 opponents to secure another title shot.
The Stockton native’s journey to success has been truly phenomenal. About a year ago, he was a popular MMA fighter but wasn’t a superstar by any means. Though, after his two battles against the current champion, he has turned into an international celebrity and a household name, who charges millions of dollars per fight.
The younger Diaz currently holds a record of 3-2 in his last five fights inside the octagon. With many other top contenders doing pretty well, he will have to put together at least a 5 fight win streak to secure a shot at the 155 pounds gold.
At just 24 years of age, Vannata is the youngest fighter in this list of lightweight prospects. He is a product of Jackson Wink MMA Academy and trains in Greg Jackson’s Gaidojutsu. He holds a purple-belt in BJJ while also having NCAA amateur wrestling credentials to his name.
He has an MMA record of 9-1. He suffered his only career loss inside the octagon which came against the marvelous “El Cucuy”. In his last fight, he showed a glimpse of his true potential when he put John Makdessi to sleep with a stunning wheel kick. He has a brilliant fighting style and trains at arguably the best MMA gym. Thus, he has all the right tools to make him a future champion.
Dariush is a 27 year old Assyrian-American MMA fighter. He is currently ranked ninth in the UFC lightweight rankings. He has an MMA record of 14-2 with notable victories over Jim Miller and Michael Johnson. He is currently on a two fight winning streak and is scheduled to face Edson Barboza. He is likely to be an underdog in his fight against ‘Junior’. Though, he would surely want to make a huge statement by defeating the dangerous Brazilian.
A Kings MMA product who serves as a training partner of former UFC champions Fabricio Werdum and RDA, Dariush will only get better with time. He has a very high level grappling game, due to his BJJ and Wrestling background. His striking has also improved leaps and bounds.
Chiesa first broke into MMA limelight when he won The Ultimate Fighter 15 in 2012. He has an MMA record of 14-2 with notable victories over fighters like Jim Miller, Mitch Clarke, etc. Since the finale of TUF, he has had a UFC record of 6-2 which has helped him to rise up to eighth in the rankings. In his last fight, he defeated fellow upcoming prospect Dariush.
Chiesa has always been known for his submission skills. He was widely considered to be a one-trick pony. However, over the past couple of years he has certainly evolved into a more well rounded fighter.
The Washington native is just 29 years old and is surely the fighter to keep an eye on.