Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully retained the UFC lightweight title with a one-sided 4th round submission win over Conor McGregor at UFC 229 last weekend.
Nurmagomedov’s near perfect effort went for naught after he triggered a post fight brawl that is now trending all over the world. Given Khabib’s role in the melee, what’s next for Khabib Nurmagomedov?
If this were a perfect world, what’s next for Khabib should be a title defense against Tony Ferguson. If you take a look at the rankings, Khabib just defeated the #1 ranked contender in Conor McGregor. If we strictly follow the UFC rankings, Tony Ferguson would be next in line to challenge Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title.
The former TUF winner was ranked 2nd entering UFC 229. After an impressive stoppage of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and the loss of Conor McGregor in the main event, Ferguson has been rightfully elevated to #1 contender status effective this week as per the UFC’s website.
A fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson is long overdue. In fact, experts are calling it the most cursed fight in UFC history because it has been booked four times before and has been cancelled each time because one of them had to pull out of the fight with an injury.
The two were first penciled to fight at the TUF 22 Finale in 2015 but Khabib suffered a rib injury two months before the fight. The following year, they were booked to fight again at UFC on Fox 16 but this time around, it was Ferguson who asked to be removed after suffering an illness that caused fluid and blood to accumulate in his lungs.
Their third booking was the closest they were to fighting but with one day to go before the fight, Khabib was hospitalized due to weight cutting issues. A fourth booking was set for UFC 223 last April but Ferguson suffered a freak knee injury while doing a media show for the event. But with Khabib finally getting McGregor out of the way and Ferguson healthy again, the next logical move would be to pit these two and decide who is the best lightweight in the planet. As we know though, that reason isn’t enough for the UFC so….
When its current owners purchased the UFC for $4B in 2016, they did so to make money not to determine the best fighters in the planet. When WME-IMG made the purchase, they did so when the UFC was at its peak, commercially.
It was the reign of the then unbeatable Ronda Rousey and the rise of an Irish icon named Conor McGregor. But as we know, Rousey fell from grace in 2016 and retired the following year. McGregor also took the entire 2017 off to concentrate on a huge money boxing fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. After losing to Mayweather, McGregor went on hiatus again.
It was only in August when the UFC announced that their top cash cow would be returning to the octagon again at UFC 229. So you can just imagine how much potential earnings the new owners lost during the entire 2017 and from January to August 2018 without both Rousey and McGregor headlining their PPV events. It’s a fact that 2017 was one of the UFC’s leanest years in terms of PPV numbers. 2018 was shaping up to follow 2017 until Dana White made the big announcement last August.
UFC 229 easily did 2M PPV buys. That’s what White is saying right now. The official numbers aren’t out yet and won’t be out until perhaps after a month. But industry estimates are saying that UFC 229 could easily topple the current UFC PPV record of 1.6M PPV buys which was set by UFC 202, headlined by none other than Conor McGregor.
UFC 229 was supposed to be just the start of big things with McGregor back. The Irishman had just signed an 8 fight contract with the UFC. McGregor also renewed his contracts with Reebok and Monster Energy Drink. He just launched his Proper 12 Irish Whiskey. But after losing to Khabib last weekend, the UFC could lose its momentum if McGregor takes the backseat to a Khabib vs Ferguson bout.
The smart businessman and stubborn fighter that he is, McGregor has reportedly asked Dana White for an immediate rematch. Not only does McGregor want to redeem himself inside the octagon, he knows that after what happened at UFC 229, a rematch would sell even better than the first fight.
Emotions have been fired up. Egos have been touched. The animosity has never been worse. Regardless of who started the post-fight melee, it has become clear that the war is not over yet. When you have a storyline like this, you have a sure hit just waiting to happen. The UFC knows this. Conor McGregor knows this.
As for Khabib, he hasn’t spoken much after the fight except perhaps for explaining his side on the unfortunate events at the end of the bout. During the lead up to the fight, all Khabib was saying was that he was going to teach Conor McGregor a lesson and smash him inside the cage. He already did that. I’m not sure if he wants to do it again.
While McGregor is a businessman first and fighter second, Khabib is the opposite. He’s always said that his legacy is what is most important to him. Sure, he has already defeated McGregor and 26 other souls before him. But Khabib won’t be the best lightweight in the planet until he beats the bogeyman of the division in Tony Ferguson.
If you ask me, Khabib would prefer to beat Tony Ferguson and become the universally recognized best lightweight of this era rather than earn more millions fighting Conor McGregor again. Not only would fighting McGregor cost too much emotional investment, it would also mean nothing to his legacy. After all, he has already beaten Conor, and badly at that.
As we said earlier, we don’t live in a perfect world. And regardless of who has the true right to fight Khabib next or who Khabib wants next, it will ultimately be his employers who will make that decision for him. And knowing Dana White, he wants Khabib to fight McGregor again.
But because Nurmagomedov may be facing a possible suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the champ may be on the shelf for a while or even longer. The NSAC has issued a statement regarding the incident at UFC 229 and it says that an investigation is underway and a decision could be handed out next month. So right now it’s a waiting game really.
However, Dana White has already talked about Khabib getting stripped of his title if the NSAC is going to give Khabib a long suspension. It’s not clear what White meant by a “long suspension”. While the NSAC could indeed hand out a suspension to Nurmagomedov, it shouldn’t be more than the November 2016-April 2018 period where McGregor held the lightweight title hostage before getting stripped.
What seems to be sure though is Dana White wants to get that belt off Khabib’s waist. I mean the NSAC didn’t suspend Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier after their UFC 178 brawl. Neither did they suspend McGregor for the bottle throwing incident during the UFC 202 presser. Sure, the events last weekend were far worse, but how can White talk of a suspension when the NSAC hasn’t even commented yet?
Well, White may be beginning to brainwash the rest of the world for what he would likely do next in case the NSAC indeed gives Khabib a “long suspension”, whatever that is or for how long that will be. For sure, White is already thinking one step ahead and he may want to bring back Conor McGregor as soon as possible.
The only way for the UFC to make money is to put their cash cow back in the limelight. If Khabib gets suspended and then stripped of his title, there will be a vacuum in the lightweight division. To solve that, White would most probably book a title fight between the next top two ranked contenders in the 155 pound division. And who would those be? Tony Ferguson at #2 and Conor MCGregor at #3.
Conor McGregor. Those two words are music to the UFC’s ears. McGregor would get a chance to win his old belt back and if he does, he would lure Khabib into a rematch. As for Ferguson, he’ll be the winner of the Conor Mcgregor lottery so there’s no doubt he is going to grab this chance. For the UFC, any fight with McGregor back would mean better profit. If McGregor wins, it’s going to be even more money.
If McGregor has little to no chance of beating Khabib because of the Dagestani’s wrestling, the Notorious One has a better chance at beating Ferguson. While El Cucuy looks invincible with his record breaking 11 fight win streak, he has shown too many vulnerability, especially on his feet. We’ve seen Ferguson getting dropped in his fights only to recover and win.
We saw him get dropped by Pettis but Showtime could not finish him. Imagine if that were Conor McGregor landing his vaunted left hand on Ferguson. That could have easily been another story, another ending. McGregor is so much more powerful than Pettis and the better finisher.
If McGregor does fight Ferguson next and then defeat him, then the chants for a Khabib rematch would be much louder. While Khabib may no longer have interest in McGregor, he will want that belt back. And if he has to go through McGregor again to do it, he would gladly take that fight and beat up McGregor again.
But before any of these can happen, first things must come first. What will be most crucial will be the decision of the NSAC and what kind of punishment they are going to hand out to Khabib and/or McGregor. If it’s a lengthy one, then we know Dana’s gonna be happy.
Maybe if Khabib gets suspended and he gets stripped of his title, he may want to quit the UFC because of politics. I’m pretty sure Scott Coker and Bellator would gladly add him to their growing roster at Bellator. He would definitely become the #1 fighter there however, the competition wouldn’t be as good as in the UFC.
Going elsewhere is just my opinion. Maybe Khabib will even quit the sport if he gets suspended or stripped. You know the man. The most important thing to him is his legacy and his honor. Having won the title and successfully defending it against the man many thought would be his biggest challenge would be enough for him. He isn’t greedy about money. Nor attention and even power.
But getting suspended and stripped is just one side of the coin. The other side of it says that Khabib will only get fined. If that’s the case, he can easily fight again in a couple of months. He’s not the guy who wants to take a long break unless of course he gets hurt (fingers crossed). McGregor may bully his way to a rematch, the way he did against Nate Diaz. Ferguson may get the Khabib fight while Conor completes the Nate Diaz trilogy. There are too many options for the UFC right now.
For Khabib though, the biggest penalty he is going to get out of all these is from his father. Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov told Russian media in the aftermath of the incident that he will punish Khabib “severely” for his role in the brawl. Even Khabib himself said after the brawl that his dad would “smash him”. If that smash is the same meaning of the word when he referred to McGregor (“I’ll smash your boy”), don’t expect the elder Nurmagomedov to be easy on Khabib. Good luck Khabib!